Words Without Borders: A Reading Challenge for 2019

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire), George R.R. Martin


The Poet by Day, Wednesday Writing Prompt will return on January 16. Meanwhile, here is a reading challenge for 2019. 

The very title of Words Without Borders (WWB) suggests an exciting and elegant theme for 2019 reading, for anytime and anywhere really, but let’s concentrate on this year and challenge ourselves to read poets and writers from cultures about which we know the least. My focus is going to be Catalonia and Pakistan, inspired by Catalonian Marta Pombo Sallés (Moments) and Pakistani Anjum Wasim Dar (Poetic Oceans). With regard to the later, I’ve started with An Anthology of Modern Urdu Poetry, edited and translated by M.A.R. Habib.

“And the second [is like the first], ‘ You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The Aramaic Bible in Plain English

The injunction in the Abrahamic traditions is to love (respect) our neighbor. In tribal times our neighbors generally looked like us, spoke the same language, ate the same food, and subscribed to the same scriptures. But things change.

Today technological advances have made the world small, too small for tribalism. Too small for provincialism. Through air travel and The World Wide Web we are brought close. Visits to other parts of the world that would once have taken months by land or sea can be done in a few days by plane. Through blogging and social networking we make friends everywhere, no passports or visas needed.  Sometimes we are able to carve out the opportunity to meet with our virtual friends in person. Immigration and regional conflicts have had an impact as well. On a daily basis we rub elbows with people who are on the run in the search for safe harbor or have settled in our countries when their countries of origin are no longer viable. In our time our neighbors come in many hues and engage in diverse cultural traditions.  In this small, small world, everyone everywhere is our neighbor. Understanding not fear, books not bombs, are needed if we are to heal the crises of our day.

Words Without Borders facilitates cross-cultural understanding through the publication in English translation of works from writers representing the world’s literary wealth. As of this post, WWB reports that it has published in books and magazine some 2,200 writers from 124 countries. The site also hosts WWB Daily, a blog.

WWB’s submission guidelines for works in translation are HERE.

I appreciate World Without Borders because it helps us expand our reading, taking us beyond the familiar, obvious and/or habitual. It gives us a better quality reference than the best-seller lists.

Another engaging site – a poetry site that crosses borders – is The Poetry Translation Centre, which offers translations into English of contemporary poems from African, Asian and Latin American poets. It was founded in 2004 by English poet and translator Sarah Maguire who died in November the year before last.

Both Words Without Borders and The Poetry Translation Centre seek to expand our understanding and to celebrate the finest writers and literature from around the world. As you read the literature of the country on which you decide to focus for 2019, don’t forget to research its history and current events so that you understand the work and the author in context.

© 2019, words, Jamie Dedes; public domain airline poster Europe to South America in Three Days courtesy of the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive


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Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. I currently run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers. My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation PressThe Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman. My poetry was recently read by Northern California actor Richard Lingua for Poetry Woodshed, Belfast Community Radio. I was featured in a lengthy interview on the Creative Nexus Radio Show where I was dubbed “Poetry Champion.”


The BeZine: Waging the Peace, An Interfaith Exploration featuring Fr. Daniel Sormani, Rev. Benjamin Meyers, and the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi among others

“What if our religion was each other. If our practice was our life. If prayer, our words. What if the temple was the Earth. If forests were our church. If holy water–the rivers, lakes, and ocean. What if meditation was our relationships. If the teacher was life. If wisdom was self-knowledge. If love was the center of our being.” Ganga White, teacher and exponent of Yoga and founder of White Lotus, a Yoga center and retreat house in Santa Barbara, CA

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton

B Street Books, 2018 Reading Challenge … and Steve Wiencek’s online independent bookstore, Scholar and Poet Books


“The Bookshop has a thousand books,
All colors, hues, and tinges,
And every cover is a door
That turns on magic hinges.”
American poet, Nancy Byrd Turner (1880-1971)

One of the great fun things in life is popping into a used-book store and exploring the shelves, finding old friends and making new ones. Our local is B Street Books, a brave little independent that’s managed to keep its doors open when so many others are forced to close down.  If you live in San Mateo, California and haven’t been there, do go. Wherever you live in this world, be sure to support independent bookstores, whether they sell new and/or used books. They are as necessary to the spirit of democracy as schools and libraries.

“The replacement of independent bookstores by firms such as Barnes & Noble, Waterstones or Borders superficially provided a wide range of reading, but their policies further limited choice.” Sara Ayad, The History of the Book in 100 Books: The Complete Story, From Egypt to E-Book

B Street Books’ owner and staff put together a reading challenge for 2018.  It’s the bookish equivalent of Dr. Terry Wahl‘s functional-medicine challenge to eat two-hundred different fruits and veggies over the course of the year, something to force explorations beyond the easy, obvious and/or habitual.

“Read a book,” the B Street team encourage …

  • published in the year you were born;
  • published more than 200 years ago;
  • written by someone with the same initials as yours;
  • longer than 500 pages;
  • shorter than 100 pages;
  • in a genre you don’t usually read;
  • based on the cover art;
  • that challenges your views;
  • that you were supposed to finish in high school;
  • recommended by a friend;
  • recommended by a child;
  • on which a movie is based;
  • with a one-word title;
  • that you loved as a youngster;
  • that is set in or near your home town;
  • that has won a Pulitzer Prize; and,
  • that you bought a B Street Books.

The books I started out with this year are the ones I got for Christmas from my son:

I’ve linked you to Amazon for these books but that doesn’t mean you can’t scope them out at your local independent or check with Steve (below) to see if he has copies available.


Speaking of independents:

Check Out

Scholar and Poet Books

Steve Wiencek helped out with the September 2016 issue of The BeZine, which addressed environmental issues.  You can read his feature article, Nature … Place … Community HERE.  Steve says of his independent online store:  “We are experienced book, music and video sellers. Our extensive and varied inventory includes a large collection of classical music CDs, LPs and sheet music; colorful and hard-to-find vintage GGA pulp fiction paperbacks; vintage children’s books and more! Find us and like us on Facebook, please!”


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