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‘Al Que Quiere,’ A Bilingual MFA, Multilingual Poetics, and the ‘in English’ Only Poetry Contest
In a letter to Marianne Moore dated Feb. 21, 1917, William Carlos Williams wrote:
I want to call my book:
A Book of Poems:
AL QUE QUIERE!
—which means: To him who wants it—but I like the Spanish just as I like a Chinese image cut out of stone: it is decorative and has a certain integral charm. But such a title is not democratic—does not truly represent the contents of the book, so I have added:
A Book of Poems:
AL QUE QUIERE! or THE PLEASURES OF DEMOCRACY
Now I like this conglomerate title! It is nearly a perfect image of my own grinning mug (seen from the inside), but my publisher objects—and I shake and wobble.
The only one of its kind in the U.S., the MFA at UTEP [University of Texas, El Paso] offers a fully bilingual (Spanish and English) course of study in fiction, poetry, playwriting, screenwriting, literary translation and non-fiction. The MFA program requires a 48 hour commitment which usually takes three years to complete. Our flexible course offerings cover a wide array of topics, including literary translation, libretto writing, the novella and the prose poem. In addition, our students have access to courses offered by other departments, such as Theater, English and Language and Linguistics. Our bilingual literary journal, Río Grande Review, is entirely edited by our MFA students. Located in the Chihuahuan Desert, where two nations meet, our program is constantly evolving to meet the needs of students coming from the United States, Latin America and the rest of the world. We offer assistantships to many of our students, and our student to faculty ratio (3:1) allows for close mentorship with an emphasis on teaching, editing and writing careers.
MFA Programa Presencial: Creación literaria de las Américas
Única en su género, la maestría en creación literaria (MFA) de UTEP ofrece un programa totalmente bilingüe de cursos que cubren las áreas de ficción, poesía, dramaturgia, guión cinematográfico, ensayo y crónica. El programa requiere que los alumnos tomen 48 créditos académicos que normalmente se completan en el curso de tres años. Nuestras materias cubren un amplio rango de tópicos que incluyen la traducción literaria, escritura de libretos, novela corta y prosa poética. Nuestro estudiantes también pueden elegir materias en otros departamentos, tales como Theater, English y Language and Linguistics. Nuestra revista literaria, Río Grande Review, es editada exclusivamente por los estudiantes de la maestría. Situado en el Desierto de Chihuaha, donde confluyen dos naciones, nuestro programa está en constante proceso de cambio para satisfacer los intereses de estudiantes que vienen de toda América Latina, Estados Unidos y el resto del mundo. Ofrecemos asistencias de trabajo a la mayoría de nuestro estudiantes. Por otro lado, el ratio de estudiantes:profesor (3:1) permite una instrucción basada en una tutoría personalizada con énfasis en carreras en edición, enseñanza y escritura.
Q: what do you think about this program? are there any students of UTEP out there that want to tell us about their experience? do you think more MFAs will offer some kind of multilingual poetics training? do many mfa programs offer courses in translation?
two recent blogposts have explored bilinguality in relation to poetry. the first, by don share, is titled “Speaking English is Like,” and quotes from the irish poet Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill in her recent book of essays:
Does a bilingual existence really, as many claim, lead to a genuinely stereoscopic and enriched view of life, or is it the cause of mental astigmatism and blurred vision, a sense of displacement, a deep anxiety? I have found at times that the inner contradictions bilingualism entails cause psychic pain: sometimes it is as if a civil war were going on inside me, and the sheer effort of maintaining a standoff of the warring parties is deeply exhausting.
francisco aragon responds to don in a post titled “Being Bilingual is Like”:
I read Nuala’s excerpt, and it underscored for me what “bilingualism” has not meant in my life. If anything, any “sense of displacement” or “psychic pain” or “constant restlessness” has come from having to contend with external attitudes that, in ways explicit or implicit, suggest that my condition as a bilingual citizen of the United States somehow renders me “foreign” (“You speak English without an accent”) in the country I was born and raised in. Consider this article about an independent bookstore in New Haven, CT, which is requiring it’s Hispanic employees to only speak in English, because its management wants to “make our customers feel welcome and comfortable” ! My bilingualism—that is, my capacity to read, understand, write, translate from, translate into (with help), and speak Spanish—has given me an “enriched view of life.” I consider myself very lucky in this regard, because I imagine (I have no reason to doubt Ni Dhomhnaill’s sincerity) that this may not be the case with other people’s relationship to their second tongue.
Q: for those bilingual/multilingual poets out there: what has being multilingual meant in your life as an individual or as a poet? for those monolingual poets: what has being monolingual meant in your life?
i do believe that former harriet blogger, javier huerta attended the bilingual MFA at UTEP. maybe he will share his perspective with us and tell us about the program. have you read javier’s book, some clarifications y otros poemas? [you can read my review of the book here]. in the wordsworthian “advertisement” that opens the book, javier writes:
Readers may also demand an explanation for the bilingual nature of the poetry. (Some monolingual readers may even ask—as several friends of the author who only read in English or in Spanish already have—whether they can acquire a copy of the book at half-price.) Although he finds satisfaction in the linguistic symmetry, the author never intended for half of the poems to be in English and the other half to be in Spanish. The choice of language actually relates to the author’s fear that he would be accused of theft because of excessive imitation. In order to guard himself against such a charge, he attempted to conceal the sources for poems by writing imitations of English poems in Spanish and vice versa. No other special reason exists for why a poem written in one language could not have been written in the second language.
Q: to the multilingual writers out there: how do you determine your choice of language when you write? is it intuitive? do certain themes determine language choice? what about your poems that ‘code switch’?
i am also interested in the experiences of multilingual poets in mfa programs or community workshops. what is it like when you submit your multilingual poems to be workshopped by those who cant read all the languages your poem might be in? do they demand translation? is there pressure to provide a glossary? or are people open to offering feedback to a poem that they can’t fully understand? and what about when you submit your work for publication…have editors pressured you to translate, glossarize, footnote, or italicize the non-english words? are monolingual mfa programs conducive to multilingual poetics?
these are taken from actual contests:
“Manuscripts must be of original poetry, in English, by one poet.”
“In each category,$1000 and publication in the ______ is offered for the best full-length volume of original poetry in English submitted between November 1, 2009 and February 16, 2010 (postmark deadline).”
“The First Book Award is open to anyone writing in the English language, whether living in the United States or abroad.”
“The prize is open to any writer in English who is a U.S. citizen and who has not published a book-length collection of poems with an ISBN assigned to it.”
“The _____ Poetry Prize honors a book of original poetry in English by a single author; translations are not eligible for this award.”
“Open to any poet writing in English who has not previously published a book-length poetry collection.”
“The 2011 ____ Poets Series, for a poet writing in English at any stage in his or her career”
“Manuscripts must be of original poetry, in English, by one poet who is a citizen or permanent resident of the United States. There are no restrictions on the style of poetry or subject matter. Translations are not eligible.”
it must suck to be an american citizen yet an ineligible poet.