Artist-in-Residence Leads Poetry Workshops at Muckenthaler Cultural Center

Writer and teacher Katharine Zaun returns to her O.C. roots as the artist-in-residence at Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton.
Photograph by Emily J. Davis

With master’s degrees from the University of Edinburgh and the University for Peace in Costa Rica, the Orange resident is the founder of the Global Poetry Project, an arts program bringing diverse people together to share their cultures and stories. At the Muck, she aims to foster creativity and a sense of community with a series of poetry workshops.

I’ve done virtual workshops on haiku and rhyme. Participation has been great. We’ve had a range of participants in age—kids all the way through seniors. Most people have been Muck members and have called in from the area, but there have been a few who have called in from New Jersey and other places. I don’t require any writing experience. I want it to be very accessible to everyone. It’s not just about having a haiku workshop; it’s also about bringing people together during this pandemic and getting them to maybe do something new since they’re sitting indoors.

Haikus are traditionally Japanese, and the Japanese sound units are very different than English syllables. It’s commonly taught as 5-7-5 because that’s an easy way to do it, but it’s not a rule that you have to follow. There’s a famous haiku writer named Jane Reichhold, and I learned that from a book that she has. In my first haiku workshop, I said let’s forget about this. There are plenty of rules we have to follow in the pandemic. Let’s ditch that one. I think it’s liberating. It can be fun for people to count syllables, but I find it cumbersome.

I started the Global Poetry Project when I was teaching at Concordia University in the (English as a second language) department. My students—who were coming from all around the world—were talking to me about their immersion experiences. I thought, let’s give the domestic students on campus poetry and literature from places where all my international students are from so they can learn about them. That’s how it started. I think there were 22 different cultures and languages represented. The poems were put in displays all around the campus. So there were poems in their native languages and in the English translation. And we had a poetry reading and some of the (ESL) students got to read poems in their native languages and share and meet students and faculty who they might not have gotten to know otherwise.

(At U Peace), I partnered with a group of Central American students who were doing a dialogue series on the history and politics of Central America. The student population is so diverse at U Peace, 50-plus nationalities. Sometimes when you put things up in a hallway, there’s no guarantee someone is going to stand there and read it. But if it’s on the bathroom door or above the urinal, they don’t have a choice. As I began researching, there’s actually a lot of politics around toilets and the use of public bathrooms. It fit the project quite well. That was fun because the involvement was high. There were poems in every single stall and above every urinal on campus.

Fall Poetry Series

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