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‘Al Que Quiere,’ A Bilingual MFA, Multilingual Poetics, and the ‘in English’ Only Poetry Contest

By Craig Santos Perez

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.

*

MFA Residential Program: Creative Writing of the Americas

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.

*

Comments (71)

  • On February 17, 2010 at 3:30 pm Barbara Jane Reyes wrote:

    C, lookit you startin more sh!t. Seriously though, I am not a frequent contest enterer, but when I read “in English” in manuscript submissions calls, I submit anyway. A majority of my poetry is in English, but as Susan Schultz at Tinfish emphasizes in the press’s mission statement, I think of myself as a writer of multiple Englishes, or a writer whose dominant language is code switch.

    During one of my last read-through’s of Diwata, I found there were entire phrases spoken by Diwata’s persona, which I’d originally written in Tagalog, and which, every time I read aloud (during my own editing or during literary readings), I keep stumbling over those entire phrases. I have since rewritten most of them in English.

    My decision to use Tagalog in the first place is simply because it’s my first language. My decision to write in Baybayin is because it’s Tagalog’s first written form. My decision to use Ilocano is because it’s my mother’s first language. My decision to use Spanish is because it’s Tagalog’s first intrusion by the West, and because my grandmother spoke (among other languages) Castillian Spanish to me when I was young.

    I will be reading at UTEP (where Poeta is being taught) at the end of March, and I have to say, I’m kind of intimidated, if only because my Spanish is really not very good.

  • On February 17, 2010 at 4:46 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    AL QUE QUIERE! could also be taken as “To the one who loves.”

    Or as “To the one who desires to do it.”

    Properly– particularly in your interpretation, or in the latter one above– it should be in the subjunctive: AL QUE QUIERA!

    That’s splitting hairs a bit, but maybe you’d want to go one better on the Dr.

  • On February 17, 2010 at 4:53 pm csperez wrote:

    how interesting…thot folks might also get a kick to read the text in the duskjacket to the 1917 edition of williams’ book:

    “To Whom It May Concern! This book is a collection of poems by William Carlos Williams. You, gentle reader, will probably not like it, because it is brutally powerful and scornfully crude. Fortunately, neither the author nor the publisher care much whether you like it or not. The author has done his work, and if you do read the book you will agree that he doesn’t give a damn for your opinion. . . . And we, the publishers, don’t much care whether you buy the book or not. It only costs a dollar, so that we can’t make much profit out of it. But we have the satisfaction of offering that which will outweigh, in spite of its eighty small pages, a dozen volumes of pretty lyrics. We have the profound satisfaction of publishing a book in which, we venture to predict, the poets of the future will dig for material as the poets of today dig in Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.”

  • On February 17, 2010 at 4:56 pm csperez wrote:

    speaking of translation, the epigraph of al que quiere! is a passage from the story El hombre que parecia un caballo, by Guatemalan writer Rafael Arévalo Martínez (whom Williams translated with his father):

    “I had been an adventurous shrub which prolongs its filaments until it finds the necessary humus in new earth. And how I fed! I fed with the joy of tremulous leaves of chlorafile that spread themselves to the sun; with the joy with which a root encounters a decomposing corpse; with the joy with which convalescents take their vacillating steps in the light-flooded mornings of spring.”

    [all this info can be found in the notes to the collected williams]

  • On February 17, 2010 at 6:06 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Well, “A Quien Corresponda” would be the usual phrasing.

    But if a Latino gang leader in Paterson, say, were sending an open letter concerning white chickens to other gangs in the city, he or she might write “Al que quiere,” I suppose.

  • On February 17, 2010 at 9:02 pm Guillermo Parra wrote:

    Hi Craig,
    I’ve been enjoying your posts here. For me, being bilingual means I have access to a broader range of literature from Spain and Latin America, beyond the very few writers that get translated into English. (I’m hoping the Bolaño phenomenon will help spark a tsunami of translations from Latin America & Spain into English in the coming decade, by the way.)

    Bilingualism has also led me to become a translator, which I love. Although really, in a very mundane sense, I’ve been a translator since I learned how to speak, or I’ve been translated since childhood, moving back & forth between the U.S. and Venezuela. Translation teaches me how to read more closely and it gives me the chance to live inside certain texts or bodies of work for extended periods of time.

    At times I’ve felt that sense of misplacement you cite above, but I think that comes more from the racism & ignorance towards anything having to do with Latin America that still exists in the U.S. Somehow, many “Americans” feel threatened by us, as though Latinos hadn’t been here since before the foundation of the United States. Anyways, being bilingual has amplified my perceptions, so I can’t complain.

    This month’s The Believer has a great discussion between three U.S. Latino fiction writers, one of whom writes in English and the other two in Spanish (Daniel Alarcón, Eduardo Halfon & Santiago Vaquera-Vásquez). It’s available online: http://www.believermag.com/issues/201002/?read=roundtable

  • On February 18, 2010 at 12:43 am Oscar Bermeo wrote:

    And you would suppose this from all your experience working with gangs or your knowledge of Latinos in Paterson?

    Splitting hairs about the intent of a writer who has already explained his work choice doesn’t seem relevant to this conversation but puedes hacer lo que quieres, Kent.

  • On February 18, 2010 at 1:05 am Oscar Bermeo wrote:

    Nice post, Sí Es Perez ;-)

    First off, if contest judges were serious about this “English Only” (wow, that phrase sure does evoke other images for me) then they should disqualify any ms that includes the words opera, sushi, algebra, ballet, avatar and so on.

    On my part, I started a reading series solely because I got so tired of Latino open micers starting off poems by saying, “I’d like to apologize in advance that there is some Spanish in this poem.” Context is everything and you need to build your poems toward the audience you want to discover and if that audience is multilingual or, even better, open to the possibilities of multilingualism, then more power.

    I also feel that live poetry readings of multilingual poetry are a great opportunities to discover new sound registers in poetics and allow me a chance to really feel my way through the work of poets like Bei Dao and Adonis just by the sound of their voice.

    Palabra.

  • On February 18, 2010 at 9:56 am Johannes Goransson wrote:

    I’m bilingual, but I generally refer to myself as an immigrant, because bilingual feel like a euphemism, and there’s more to this issue that just the language – how one walks (seriously), talks, dresses, writes poetry, writes about poetry all have to be policed.

    The immigrant’s body is kitsch, the immigrant’s language is kitch: either because it’s a token of the authentic (tourist tsatchkes) or because it’s not a token of the authentic. The immigrant is a site of excess (words have too many meanings, literature has too many authors, they are exotic and predatory, they ruin the illusion of cohesion, of coherence etc). And that’s why they have to be policed. And this also goes back to why I am critical of notions of “community” that are based on “realness” and “authenticity.” The immigrant is inauthentic.

    As for my poetry, I have a book called Pilot where I work with the way two (and more) languages interact to create contorted versions (very “exotic” – to refer back to your last post – at least to myself) of these languages. In part i did this by writing in a strange Swedish, in part by translating that swedish in various ways; in part by translating American canonical texts (Cronenberg, Scalapino, birthing manuals) through various langauges. I wanted to teach the reader how to read like a foreigner, like a grappler, a stumbler and bumbler of languages. Because that reading is violent and beautiful.

    Well, I could go on. I got on this site because I wanted to respond to your translation post but you’re just one step ahead of me all the time Craig and now my daughter is crying so I will respond to the Larsen statements later perhaps here or perhaps on my own blog since that thread now appears over.

    Best,
    Johannes

  • On February 18, 2010 at 10:01 am Johannes Goransson wrote:

    I realized my post might have come up as a dis against people who are bilingual but not immigrants (many people), that’s clearly not how I meant it. I just meant that’s hwo I refer to myself. Johannes

  • On February 18, 2010 at 10:08 am Kent Johnson wrote:

    Ouch, Oscar, I didn’t at all mean the comment in the way you seem to have taken it, but I apologize if my attempt at cleverness came across badly. Some quick and loose allegory and allusion, there… When I said “other gangs,” I was thinking, with a smile, of all the white gangs in poetry, too! They abound: Neighborhoods are demarcated and codes displayed. It’s one of the features that adds interest to our literary subculture. And that those of us inside it aren’t supposed to talk too much about the existence of gangs in poetry (even as turf wars explode around us and people get knifed right and left) sort of deepens the ethnographic curiosity of it all, I think.

    You’re right that I can’t claim much direct experience “working with gangs.” But I did work for two Latino community centers on Milwaukee’s South Side for a number of years and taught in a predominantly Hispanic school for two more, back in the late 70s and 80s. I met plenty of gang members, back then, I assure you– though things were a bit less intense that long ago, granted. And, you know, I do have a good friend who used to be in M-13 (for whatever that’s worth). We get together fairly regularly, so I’ve heard a few stories.

    In any case, I don’t see why you would object to my offering different possible interpretations of WCW’s title. My point was simply to show that the phrase carries a bit of interesting ambiguity.

    OK?

  • On February 18, 2010 at 10:26 am Oscar Bermeo wrote:

    To go back to Dr Williams’ title, Kent, if you want to discuss your thoughts on the ‘white gangs of poetry’ then you can go that way. (Al que quiere)

    And if you want to play around with the possibilities of the title, do what you wish. (Al que quiere)

    I don’t object to your opinion, just the example you used to flesh it out, and that’s how I roll. (Al que quiere)

  • On February 18, 2010 at 11:26 am csperez wrote:

    B, lookit me! lookit you with your devil-may-care attitude submitting your manuscript where it dont belong! i wonder if others just submit their manuscripts anyway…or if they stick to contests that dont have language restrictions (like the national poetry series).

    & i like the idea of multiple englishes / and pidgins / creole / patois / and code switching..

    & thx for sharing your personal linguistic background and how this heritage has influenced and inflected your work. speaks powerfully to how various languages can ghost one’s work in complex ways.

    i look forward to hearing about how the UTEP reading goes!

  • On February 18, 2010 at 11:36 am csperez wrote:

    hey guillermo, it’s great to hear from you! it’s so wonderful that such an esteemed translator as yourself is reading harriet!

    great point about how being bilingual means you can access more literature that isnt available in translation. i think it would be great too if the bolano phenomenon leads to other writers being translated.

    and i like what you say about how being bilingual positions you as a translator since childhood–and then your binational experience translating geographies and cultures…this reminds me of how francisco sometimes talks about his experience living in spain for many years. or for many people who cross the us/mexico to visit home.

    yeah, it’s too bad that multilingualism isn’t more embraced in the u.s. too much investment in linguistic racism in terms of power & privilege.

    & thx for the link…i shall check it out!

  • On February 18, 2010 at 12:09 pm csperez wrote:

    O! don’t give contest judges any ideas! i just wrote a manuscript, in English, titled “The Avatar of Sushi: An Operatic Ballet in Three Algebraic Equations.” It’s a hybrid work.

    Thx for bringing up multilingualism at open mics! Both surprising and not surprising that some would feel the need to apologize.

    Yes, I love multilingual readings. and i also like when there’s a reading where the translated poet reads in the original and the the translator reads their translation–tho i think that’s what you’re talking about.

    one of my favorite readings/readers ever is monica de la torre–when she read at berkeley she broke the sensitive mic with her popping p’s!

    fino, c

  • On February 18, 2010 at 12:39 pm csperez wrote:

    hey johannes, great to hear from you too (another esteemed translator!).

    what is bilingual a euphemism for? and great point about how there’s more to the issue that just language–speaks to what guillermo wrote about moving between cultures, nations, geographies, life (and i like what you’ve been writing about fashion on your own blog).

    your ideas about kitsch are interesting too, but i think it only works if seen thru a certain frame; that is, if only seen thru the specific lens of dominant culture (and even then, dominant culture is complex). what i mean is that i don’t think my body is kitsch, nor do i think other peoples of color see my body as kitsch. plus, let’s not forget that unless you are native american, you are an immigrant here…all of dominant culture is immigrant. does that mean all of dominant culture is kitsch? is english kitsch, since it too is an immigrant language?

    i forgot to mention in my post about truong’s reading that some of those who attended the gallery show–those whom i called part of truong’s community–were hipsters. the idea of hipsters as part of a community disrupts your idea about community a bit.

    again, the immigrant is inauthentic to whom?

    havent read Pilot yet, but i will be off to order my copy as soon as i finish here. sounds fascinating. i love this: “I wanted to teach the reader how to read like a foreigner, like a grappler, a stumbler and bumbler of languages. Because that reading is violent and beautiful.” reminds me of my experience reading cathy park hong’s dance dance revolution. have you–or anyone out read cathy’s book….what do you think of it….may cathy will tell us about how she wrote it. my review of her book will appear in the next puerto del sol issue.

    the thread is never over! whenever you comment here, everyone else who comments can receive an email of your comment–so people do usually respond as long as the post is still on the main page. regardless, looking forward to your thoughts either on that post or on your blog.

    thx, si es

  • On February 18, 2010 at 12:43 pm Sheryl Luna wrote:

    Hi Craig,
    I attended U.T.E.P. and graduated in 2002. I am essentially monolingual, but understand Spanglish and have implemented a few Spanglish words in my first collection. I think beyond translation, there is the issue of fused language or code-switching which doesn’t get the same airplay as “translation”. That too in some ways is based on socio-economic differences possibly.

    The program changed radically after I left when Johnny Payne became the director of the program. I believe now half of a course is taught in English and half of it is taught in Spanish. When I attended you would have to take the Spanish component in the Spanish department and the class would be taught entirely in Spanish or entirely in English.

    Overall, I love the professors at U.T.E.P. but I think the program should utilize more local poets that are born in raised in El Paso itself, since many are bilingual and the city is itself in many ways geographically isolated and poor. This is not to say South Americans shouldn’t be in the program, but it kind of breaks my heart to see this as being the focus, recruiting international students. I’d like to see the program be more actively involved in community service in the local community.

    Lex Williford and Daniel Chacon are still to this day very helpful to me. I miss El Paso and the program’s wonderful community of support.

  • On February 18, 2010 at 1:14 pm Susan M. Schultz wrote:

    You might find this book of interest:
    Julio Mazlan, _The Spanish American Roots of William Carlos Williams_. As I recall (it’s been a LONG time), Mazlan reads the English language poems for their Spanish language puns and ghosts. It’s on google books, and was published by the U of Texas in 1994.

  • On February 18, 2010 at 1:16 pm Susan M. Schultz wrote:

    Apologies, that’s Julio Marzan. Too early to see straight.

  • On February 18, 2010 at 1:22 pm Johannes Goransson wrote:

    Yes, of course it’s from the “dominant” perspective. I think the use of “kitsch” is a way of policing these dynamics.

    No, not everyone’s an immigrant – are you serious? that’s a big time cover-over of problematic relationships – but the immigrant reveals that there is nothign natural about having been born somewhere (in that sense everyone’s an “immigrant”). There is no natural “American.” And I think that’s in part what has to be policed. That idea does indeed turn the world into “kitsch” of sorts, or costume drama.

    But your point about “dominant” culture being kitsch is at the heart of this idea: the dominant culture tries to defend its own authority through kitsch. It has to police the immigrant (or any number of similar liminal figures that threaten to reveal the artifice of “American.”)

    When I use terms like “hipster” or “kitsch” i don’t use them as stable terms. There is no definite Hipster or Kitsch – it’s always used as a pejorative. And what is being criticized? That’s what I’m interested in.

    It’s interesting, having taught Barbra’s book, I have found a lot of students get at first incredibly defensive about the “untranslated” sections, but it leads to really great discussions of precisely these matters.

    Johannes

  • On February 18, 2010 at 1:30 pm Don Share wrote:

    Click here to read about a study that shows how bilingualism might well begin in the womb.

  • On February 18, 2010 at 1:38 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    The idea of dominant culture defending itself through kitsch seems paranoid to me. Kitsch can emanate from anyplace; all it takes is a manipulative approach to art.

    You devalue to “control” one of the constitutive & widely-acknowledged dimensions of US culture : that it is in actuality a “nation of immigrants”, that what defines citizenship is an assent to a political idea (democracy, freedom, opportunity) rather than an ethnic identity.

    People can debate ad nauseam all the ways US culture does or does not live up to its own self-definition as such; but I think it would be hard to argue that this is not central to its self-definition. Some might call it hypocrisy, etc… the proof is & always will be in the gumbo.

    What all this has to do with poetry (as opposed to sociology or politics) I will never understand.

  • On February 18, 2010 at 1:53 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    I read that, Don. Fascinating. Not surprising either.

  • On February 18, 2010 at 1:54 pm pam lu wrote:

    johannes & craig, are hipsters kitsch? are immigrant hipsters doubly kitsch? does this make them inauthentically inauthentic, or real in spite of themselves?

    the answer might depend on whether you’re looking at pop culture or “traditional” culture. to go back to one strand of thought sparked by nada and gary’s autre essay/talk, which i still await the last two sections of, btw…

    i particularly like cathy’s neologistic appropriations of middle english. maybe it’s just b/c i flunked chaucer twice in college and spent too much time looking up yclept again & again until i was allowed to pass. but i also like thinking about the significance of invoking middle english in a time & age of globalized capital. chaucer was a multilingual diplomat from a nation that was itself trilingual (at least among its privileged echelons) who made the conscious choice to write literature in the vernacular. a choice with many ethnic, linguistic, and class ramifications. so what does it mean to invoke that pioneering choice today, from the perspective of an asian american writer who has spent some time in the metropolises of post/modernized/capitalized asia? maybe cathy’s invented patois is a new form of realism after all, a vernacular of the actual.

    i don’t get email notification whenever somebody else has newly commented on a thread i’ve commented on. if there’s a way i could get this, i’d welcome it. for now i just rely on checking the recent comments field for any action in the aging sub-space, b/c i also feel perpetually behind the times.

    i look forward to that sushi avatar algebraic equation thing, in 3-D!

  • On February 18, 2010 at 2:06 pm Johannes Goransson wrote:

    It’s interesting thatthere’s so muchfear about “othering.” But it seems to me that “de-othering” is a biggerproblem! Andthat’s what’s going on when you say that everyone’s an immigrant. Not everyone loves coke.

    Johannes

  • On February 18, 2010 at 2:21 pm Don Share wrote:

    True, Sina. But it’s interesting evidence that maybe the mothering is more important than the othering.

  • On February 18, 2010 at 2:22 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Obviously there’s a large difference in real experience between someone who lives in the country where they were born, & someone who is an immigrant. But to use “immigrant” as a way of distancing oneself from some perceived monolithic, kitsch-protective, coke-loving America, is… well, is the mark of someone who doesn’t know the adoptive country very well yet, I’d say.

    When I argue that the US is a nation of immigrants, I’m thinking of my own immediate family (parents, siblings, children & their spouses) : English, Scotch-Irish, African-American, Dutch, Italian, German, Austrian, Puerto Rican, Bangladeshi. This is not genealogy : this is language & culture-of-origin. & I don’t think my family is unusual in that sense.

  • On February 18, 2010 at 2:28 pm pam lu wrote:

    i meant to add that the invented patois (the middle english part of it in particular) also seems like a way to cope with anxieties about the dominance of modern standard english as the lingua franca of the global economy, the military-industrial complex, etc. to orient an “english” text (a text that is at least designed to be received as a deviation from standard english semantics & speech patterns) away from the hegemonic and toward the vernacular.

  • On February 18, 2010 at 3:29 pm pam lu wrote:

    there seem to be some misleading slippages in the usage of the term “othering” in these most recent comments. what do people mean here when they speak of “othering”?

  • On February 18, 2010 at 3:31 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    I was under the impression it meant doing like otters in Barcelona, but I could be wrong…

  • On February 18, 2010 at 3:39 pm pam lu wrote:

    you mean like, i otter know?

  • On February 18, 2010 at 3:43 pm csperez wrote:

    hello all–before i jump into the conversation again and respond to many of the great comments, i want to respond to something pam wrote in the previous post. so i’m pasting her comment below and then i will respond to it in a new comment.

    pam wrote:

    “i’m thinking, for example, craig, of places in your own work where you make choices to either translate or not translate certain chamorro words into english. access is power. in my mind i’m comparing these instances of withholding translation to LRSN’s conscious decision to withhold his language skills from the u.s. state dept, how both can be seen as acts of political resistance. i shd also note that the instances where you withhold translation stand out for me precisely b/c the majority of chamorro text in your book is translated into english, so that the untranslated words strike me w/a simultaneous feeling of loss (i wish i cd know what this word means, in this language i’m just beginning to get a feel of) and of barrier (the translated text says you can come this far while the untranslated text says you can’t go any further than this. translation manages borders.”

  • On February 18, 2010 at 3:50 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    “otter-know” in the Biblical sense, yes. Now there’s some slippage all right. Slippery otters!

  • On February 18, 2010 at 3:52 pm csperez wrote:

    thanks pam for bringing my own work into the discussion. as you mention, there are times in my book when i faithfully translate, withhold translation, and there’s actually one instance when i intentionally mistranslate (creating one meaning for the english reader and another reading for the chamorro reader). additionally, i sometimes employ a “delayed translation” (where a word or phrase is translated a few pages after it appears) and sometimes a pre-translation (where a word is translated a few pages before it appears in the poem).

    in one serial poem from my first book (“from lisiensan ga’lago–those who have my book at home can follow along :) , i wanted to explore the conventions of a multilingual poetics (besides, also, exploring a particular content). these poems are supposed to be like maps, with a box (or map key) that translates, withholds, and mistranslates–a way to navigate the linguistic map, in a way.

    another convention i explore in that poem is the italicization of non-english words. so you will see that in one page i italicize the chamorro words only, on another page the english words are italicized, on another all the words are italicized, and another page none of the words are italicized.

    [continued in next comment]

  • On February 18, 2010 at 3:58 pm csperez wrote:

    there are some folks who argue that you should always translate all non-english words/phrases/poems (whether at the bilingual moment, in a glossary, in a footnote, etc) to accommodate and grant access to a wider audience. in that accommodation, there is the power of influence.

    on the other hand, there are some folks who insist that you should never translate, that you should let the reader feel alienated–or relatedly, that the reader should look up those words/phrases or should learn the language. if you translate, you are a sell-out. you must resist and in that resistance there is power.

    for me, i am more interested in the prosody of translation, in exploring all the possibilities of a multilingual poetics, as opposed to privileging one aesthetico-ideological position–which at least in my opinion limits the vibrancy of a work.

    [continued in new comment]

  • On February 18, 2010 at 4:05 pm csperez wrote:

    one of my questions in this post asks about how multilingual poets have been received in mfa programs.

    lucky for me, my cohort in my mfa program (univ of san francisco) were very open and supportive of my work. every single poem in my first book went thru the workshops. and i cant remember anyone ever demanding a glossary or footnote. their responses to the poems really helped me understand the various effects that multilingual poems can have on different readers.

    one interesting moment that i’ll never forget was when the poem ‘from lisiensan ga’lago’ was workshopped. one of my workshop mates was really affected when she read the page that had all the chamorro words normal font and all the english words in italics. affected in a good way in the sense that it wasnt till seeing that poem that she thought about how normalized and problematic it had become to always italicize the non-english.

    anyhoo, enough personal stories from me for one day. i’d love to hear other peoples stories about multilingual poems in monolingual workshops.

  • On February 18, 2010 at 4:31 pm Barbara Jane Reyes wrote:

    Craig, it’s good to hear your colleagues were very supportive of your work in progress. I think the absence of glossary/translation allows substantial discussion to happen, as Johannes mentioned above, re: teaching my book. That defensiveness he mentions trips me out; I did not experience it myself with my colleagues, when workshopping Poeta.

    Chet Wiener had been teaching The Craft of Translation at SFSU, which I think effectively decentered a singular English and monolingualism, opened many of us up to so many different translation possibilities, such that nobody really had a freak out about it.

    So, back to answering your questions, no one demanded translation or glossary, and I think I recall folks either recoiling, or discussing their experience with words and symbols they did not recognize or understand; how to approach it, how these approaches become part of the narrative. And these discussions, or my observations of folks recoiling or articulating helplessness, or earnestly trying to read the words aloud phonetically etc. surely informed my continuing writing.

    Also, back to Johannes says re: othering versus de-othering, that’s another very good conversation I recall having. How to read/view/approach/experience the “foreign” without objectifying/festishizing it? Or do we because that is what it’s been put there for?

    I ramble.

  • On February 18, 2010 at 4:35 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    nada mais que não seja um espelho

  • On February 18, 2010 at 4:45 pm Barbara Jane Reyes wrote:

    Yes, exactly.

  • On February 18, 2010 at 4:50 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Ou, um espelho é o outro mais !

  • On February 18, 2010 at 6:59 pm Richard Villar wrote:

    Ouch, Oscar. I didn’t mean to shoot you in the face.

    Signed,
    A Latino Poet from Paterson
    or
    A Latino Gang Member from Paterson

    Lo que quieres. Lo que sea. Same shit?

  • On February 18, 2010 at 7:06 pm j. zatovich wrote:

    i love this question about how multilingual students have been received in mfa programs. i grew up in el paso, and went to school at nmsu in las cruces. i had been writing all of my poems in english until i arrived at naropa. in the mfa program there i began to code-switch adding in the spanish that i knew growing up on the border. for me, it came up as a necessary part of the language and depth of the poems that were coming to me. poems that were specifically located in the borderland southwest. all of the professors i studied with during my mfa program were open to and encouraging of my decision to write in two languages. (and incidentally there were very few occasions in any of my workshops that i was asked for a glossary translating the spanish words).
    soon i discovered the artist Xul Solar who had invented his own hybrid language, which fascinated me. i did experiment some with language invention as well. i utilized it so cautiously in works that it seemed seamless, and my classmates were more than willing to imagine all sorts of meanings.
    i’ve launched myself squarely in the middle of the debate; do we translate the work or no? i understand the benefits of translating for a wider audience. but, i don’t expect it. and i don’t do it in my own work.

    thanks for such a lively conversation on this blog entry. i have really enjoyed reading along.

    jz

  • On February 19, 2010 at 2:04 am Javier O. Huerta wrote:

    “Al que quiere” can also mean, “to the one whom he/she wants/loves.” So it would be interesting to see how it’s used in the original.

    Going to definitely take a look at book discussing the Spanish puns in WCW’s work.

    I probably agree more with Johannes’s thoughts on the immigrant. They sound true. We’re not talking about the abstract concept of “a nation of immigrants,” a concept that seems to erase the difference between the power relations involved in colonization and the ones involved in immigration. We’re talking about the real inauthentic experiences of 1st generation immigrants. I should say, his points sound true TO ME. Maybe i should start reading his blog and works.

    As craig mentions, I did attend UTEP’s MFA program. I am it’s biggest promoter. My 1st book couldn’t have been written without my experience there. If you are someone who wishes to use Spanish in your poetry or fiction or drama as more than just decoration or charm and you’re looking for an mfa program then I highly recommend UTEP. You will be challenged and rewarded.

    Honestly, I’ve written many notes, blogs, papers, jokes on bilingualism that I don’t know what to say anymore.

    Choosing to write bilingual poetry is a question of audience. I write for only six people.

    1. Mi abuelita Chole.
    2. Lauro Vasquez, a young unpublished poet who has recently proclaimed Justice as his muse.
    3. Rigoberto Gonzalez, the best poet of my generation.
    4. Eduardo C. Corral, because we were separated at birth.
    5. Marcelle Maese Cohen,
    6. Leon Salvatierra, because he crossed two more borders than I did and he seems to value poetry more than I do.

    These six individuals know Spanish and English. So it’s not a problem.

    Mi abuelita Chole passed away last summer. She attended my book release party in Houston in 2007. She bought my book. When I visited her she discussed and critiqued some of my poems with me. That’s why I wrote half of my poems in Spanish. I guess now I only have five people for whom I write.

    My father called me from his prison in Guadalajara today. (He has a cell in his cell!) He asked for another copy of my book because he gifted his copy to a friend. I think of the poems that I wrote of the monster and realized that they are written in English. Maybe that’s why I wrote half of my poems in English. Im willing to share secrets with the whole world (or the handful of readers who bought my book), but not with my family. They already know those secrets. The book is on the way to Guadalajara.

    To be bilingual is to speak the language of conflict.

    I am aware that my two languages are languages of Empire.

    I want to learn the/(a?) language of the oppressed.

    Last night at a comedy show, a “white comic” said that the economy is so bad he had to get undocumented immigrants to write his material. He then proceeded to tell jokes in Spanish. It was hilarious. But then the real punchline: he said the Spanish was a translation from the Mayan.

    To be bilingual is not a choice.

    I struggle in both languages.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 9:16 am Henry Gould wrote:

    “We’re not talking about the abstract concept of “a nation of immigrants,” a concept that seems to erase the difference between the power relations involved in colonization and the ones involved in immigration. We’re talking about the real inauthentic experiences of 1st generation immigrants.”

    “Abstract” is in the eye of the beholder. As I tried to point out in my response to Johannes, being a “nation of immigrants” is not an abstract idea, when American families (such as my own, and many, many others) are made up of consecutive waves of immigrants from a great variety of different backgrounds. & perhaps the new immigrant’s feelings of inauthenticity, of which Johannes makes so much, are a temporary phenomenon – a function of newness & unfamiliarity. Something we all experience in new social situations of various kinds – & which (in most cases) eventually fades.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 10:36 am Johannes Goransson wrote:

    Henry,

    It’s not (just) my “feelings” but the way the immigrant is defined in for example poetry discussions. Also, I don’t want it to fade; I believe in homelessness.

    Johannes

  • On February 19, 2010 at 10:51 am Don Share wrote:

    “Literature in translation is a crossing of borders, but shouldn’t be thought of just as one of the easier border crossings—tourism, reportage, whatever sort of casual interest or genealogical research—but remembering the violent invasions and migrations that make up our real world and thus the theoretical field of translation. It’s useful to think of reading literature in translation not as a means of gathering ‘insight and information,’ but as a means of experiencing acts of resistance that occur between languages, between cultures, ‘simply’ between reader and writer.”

    Hilary Plum, via Phil Metres; comments?

  • On February 19, 2010 at 11:00 am Kent Johnson wrote:

    At angle to that quote, paraphrasing here from an address given by J.H. Prynne in Beijing a couple years or three ago:

    To translate is also to more deeply learn, and marvel at, how grammar works — in one’s own language and in another. And it is to begin, however tenuously, to learn and marvel at the mysterious space or interval between languages — that shimmering area between repelling poles of grammar, which traces or residues of meaning cannot traverse. An area which is very much at the heart of poetry’s substance, perhaps…

  • On February 19, 2010 at 11:03 am Kent Johnson wrote:

    Javier wrote:

    >“Al que quiere” can also mean, “to the one whom he/she wants/loves.” So it would be interesting to see how it’s used in the original [....] Going to definitely take a look at book discussing the Spanish puns in WCW’s work.

    Glad to see *someone else* is open to the notion that WCW’s title might be taken in different, even punning, ways! :~)

  • On February 19, 2010 at 11:20 am james stotts wrote:

    want, or lack, seem to be the real impulse of translation–a bringing over more than a border crossing (what i’m implying is a process of ultimate return, even if does ring that imperial bell again).\
    the ways we so often fail to translate in a mode that is more dangerous than tourism and less arrogant/thuggish than museum curating (in the viking way), seem to be corollary to our crude imerialist project, which has ruined our universities and turned students into tourists in their own minds.
    of course, this is just another way of talking about the difference between a particular kind of good and bad poetry.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 11:21 am Henry Gould wrote:

    “remembering the violent invasions and migrations that make up our real world”

    “Our real world”… these assignments to “remember… our real world” always sound well-meaning to me, very hortatory & edifying…but also a bit patronizing… the tone of a professor with an axe to grind, someone who already knows exactly what materials make up the “real world”…

    - but this seems to me one of the things poetry sometimes spurs us to examine for ourselves, & bring into question. It takes imagination to see any “real world” anew.

    She’s right, however. to emphasize the connection between poetry & culture as a whole… another area worth re-exploring. Highly recommend (to speak professorially) Harold Kaplan’s book, “Poetry, culture and politics” (Transaction Bks, 2006).

  • On February 19, 2010 at 11:25 am james stotts wrote:

    and one of the most interesting things about bilingual acquisition at even the earliest stages, is how it’s innately dialectic, how fast children grasp the concept of SEPARATE languages.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 11:27 am Henry Gould wrote:

    Got a place to stay tonight? Can you pay the rent? Need directions to the homeless shelter?

  • On February 19, 2010 at 12:43 pm csperez wrote:

    hey sheryl–great to hear from you. thanks for sharing your experience at UTEP–and i think you bring up a very interesting point about how a program like UTEP might balance their international and local aspects. a problem (in a good way) that other mfas perhaps dont have.

    and indeed i think translation gets far more play than what i’d call multilingual poetry. hopefully more folks will be discussing it here and elsewhere.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 12:49 pm csperez wrote:

    hey b, it’s good to hear that folks in your program were also able to provide insight to their reading experiences, as opposed to rejecting it or demanding translation. maybe bay area mfas are cool lidat.

    i think it would be cool too if all mfas had some kind of translation class–mine didnt (tho we did read lots of work in translation for our international poetry class).

    yeah, the question of othering/de-othering seems like it might need a new post in the future. i also want to read gary & nada’s essay, which i havent yet.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 12:52 pm csperez wrote:

    jz, thanks for your response! i can see how the multilinguality of your work can naturally emerge from your experiences, from your geography. & how great to hear that the folks at naropa were open to your work.

    you bring up a great point about work that utilizes invented languages…i mentioned cathy park hong’s book earlier, what other books of poetry out there invent their own language?

  • On February 19, 2010 at 12:56 pm csperez wrote:

    thanks for commenting javier…always a moving experience to read your words!

  • On February 19, 2010 at 1:15 pm csperez wrote:

    this comment is in response to pam, whose comments are up in the main thread.

    haha you flunked chaucer twice! that’s pretty funny. ‘a vernacular of the actual’ is so interesting…and in reading cathy’s book i hadnt thot of middle english (i have never studied chaucer). i did have suspicions that dance dance did some homophonic translation, so i searched in dante to see if there was any correlation and i couldnt find it. i wonder if i will find it in chaucer. where’s cathy at! i wish she would comment.

    it might be generative also to look at cathy’s patois in relation to native american work in ‘red english’ or in in native hawaiian & asian american in hawaiian writers use of pidgin in terms of ‘realism’. hmmm.

    and i think the themes in cathy’s book def speak to a time when english will no longer be the dominant lingua franca…perhaps then a ‘realism of the actual future.’ this makes me think too of what barbara wrote earlier about the speaker of her forthcoming book first speaking in tagalog but then being translated into english during the revision process because of the actual stumbling of reading the work. is this kind of embedded translation also a realism of the actual (that is, the actual experience of the poet’s vernacular).

  • On February 19, 2010 at 1:27 pm csperez wrote:

    [this is in response to johannes comment way up above.]

    johannes, part of my point is that you seem to use ‘immigrant’ as a stable category, or at least you frame the concept rather reductively. i didnt say everyone’s an immigrant…i said that everyone who isnt indigenous to the land that the u.s. now occupies is an immigrant. that doesn’t mean this is a ‘nation of immigrants’ (a problematic phrase), but that the u.s. is a settler/immigrant nation. as javier points out, there are differences in terms of power between a ‘settler’ and an ‘immigrant’ (with historical/cultural dynamics), but i would add that these dynamics are also entwined–most notably in recent scholarship on ‘asian settler colonialism’ in hawaii. also, you seem to elide the a generational differences of the immigrant experience (first, second, third, etc).

    from an indigenous perspective, there is something very natural (and very powerful) about being born somewhere. and, unfortunately for many indigenous peoples, about being displaced from that somewhere (often displaced by immigrants/settlers).

    my point is that ‘immigrant’ is an excessive term, and your use of it is reductive–which brings into question everything that follows regarding kitsch, authenticity, foreignness, etc.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 1:29 pm Don Share wrote:

    Speaking of Dante, the bookworms among us might check out his De vulgari eloquentia.

    He distinguishes between the “mother tongue” (the language which we imbibe with our mother’s milk) and the official language. That he preferred the vernacular was pretty revolutionary. The Divine Comedy was written in his own dialect of Italian, which made him one of the first Western writers in his time to treat a serious subject (redemption!) in a language other than Latin.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 4:20 pm Johannes Goransson wrote:

    Craig,

    You seem to want to have a different conversation than I do. I’m not interested in using immigrant in a nuanced or politically correct or academically correct way; I’m just not interested in that discussion,not interested in that line of thought (though I don’t think it’s without value). I see “immigrant” as a destabilized/destabilizing term. I want to put the verb back in immigrant – I want to make it move. I don’t think that’s “reductive”; there might be “slippage” as Pamela suggested above, but that’s exactly what I’m going for because that’s what I see as the site of the immigrant – problematic, slippage,violence.

    Johannes

  • On February 19, 2010 at 7:07 pm pam lu wrote:

    hi johannes, i enjoy slippages in concepts & conceptualizations. they lead to generative lines of thought, esp. theoretical ones. i was doing some light prodding up there for expanded definitions b/c i was feeling a little confused myself about what exactly was meant by othering/de-othering and wanting to know more. and also wanting a bit more context and clarity about what kind of conversation those terms were fitting into, which you caught onto and explained very helpfully. that’s exactly what i was getting at: these concepts/terms operate in different nuanced ways in different modes of discourse, so it’s helpful to know which mode of discourse is the “ground” here, so to speak, to avoid unnecessary gear grinding between dissonant usages of the same terms across different discourses.

    i’m compelled by your ideas about kitsch, authenticity/inauthenticity, and tranvestism b/c they resonate with my own experience on a bunch of different levels. i’ve always thought of culture and acculturation as forms of drag performance, and writing as a form of drag too. i’m deeply suspicious of authenticity, though i don’t think i’ve gone as far as you have in terms of a critique of the real. i think i still believe in the real, but my real (or actual) doesn’t have a proper name in the binary-loving streams of official discourse, and that’s what culture is for, to talk & build around this namelessness. and i think i prefer it to remain nameless and “homeless” in this way, that is, to exist but remain unfixed, protean. like you said, to maintain the site of destabilization and resist the pull toward static identification. at least in this mode of discourse we’re living in here.

  • On February 19, 2010 at 9:01 pm csperez wrote:

    hey johannes, oh come now we are having the same conversation. in your first comment you write things like ‘the immigrant’s body is…’ ‘the immigrant’s language is…’ ‘the immigrant is…’ without really thinking about the complexity of the concept of ‘immigrant’. you dont have to put the verb back in ‘immigrant’–it’s already there, as i’ve shown in my last comment…and we could push my last comment further to look at the excesses of the immigrant experience: resident, alien, undocumented, citizen, refugee, laborer, local, American, etc. yes, i agree the site of the immigrant is problematic, slippage, violence (among other dynamics)…which makes statements like ‘the immigrant is inauthentic’ reductive. yes, the immigrant can be inauthentic, but the immigrant is also so many other things in different historical, cultural, political, and geographic contexts.

  • On February 22, 2010 at 12:10 pm Annie FInch wrote:

    Craig, I’ve been enjoying your post and the good discussion. Wanted to say in regards to your question re MFA programs that Stonecoast MFA has a translation focus, and in any of our workshops, multilingual poems would be welcomed and enjoyed. Stonecoast is low-residency, but there are residency programs that also encourage translation–one that I know of is Queens. Thanks for this wonderful quote-it’s great to remember Williams’ connection to Spanish–and I also enjoyed the fascinating jacket copy you posted earlier.

  • On February 22, 2010 at 12:41 pm csperez wrote:

    thx for the info annie! glad to know there are mfas out there that focus on translations!

    c

  • On February 23, 2010 at 12:35 pm Ana Bozicevic wrote:

    Craig, Johannes, et al, what an interesting discussion. Thank you! I’d also like to point out the “American citizen” requirement in many contests grants and prizes, which disqualified this mere “Permanent Resident” from applying. Sadly I gotta say one of those awards was the Ruth Lilly Fellowship (sorry, Poetry Foundation! Why?) And I have a question for you all: could you point me to some good reviews of bilingual slash English-as-second-language poets where their languages, specifically their English(s) are discussed? Yesterday I was refreshed by a Croatian critic’s review of my recent book where he explicitly talks about my version of English, not in an “othering” or fetish/kitsch context but as a “way to inscribe into English a code of freedom” that bucks against the myth of a “natural” normalized language.

  • On February 24, 2010 at 2:52 pm Wendy Babiak wrote:

    As someone who is totally digging your English, Ana, I have to agree with that critic.

  • On February 24, 2010 at 3:17 pm Wendy Babiak wrote:

    Craig, you made this post while I was in the throes of relocating; I’m still not able to devote as much attention to it as I’d like, but I didn’t want it to close before I could answer your questions at least a little bit.

    As a native speaker here, I can’t say my also knowing (I hesitate to say “speaking” because it’s been so long since I lived in Spain I couldn’t really call myself “fluent”…”rusty” comes to mind) Spanish has caused me any psychic dislocation. Once or twice I’ve caught people talking about me in Spanish, apparently assuming I couldn’t understand them, which proved to be more humorous than painful. (The reverse happened to myself and some of my classmates — Spaniards also fluent in English — in Valencia, and we managed to embarrass the trio of British, Australian & American tourists very nicely.) It HAS made reading Neruda in translation tricky, because I’ve found a number of places where the translator seems to have failed to carry his strangeness into English; then I find I’m looking, reading the facing pages, for discrepancies, rather than trusting the translations or simply enjoying the music of the originals. A personal fault, I’m sure.

    My BA program didn’t have any classes in translation, but because I was focusing on Spanish literature in my other classes, as part of my thesis I did translate two stories of Emelia Pardo Bazan, an experience which gave me real respect for people who undertake the important work of carrying literature from one language to another. I hope more MFA programs will offer classes in translation or multilingual study of literature. A stubborn monolingualism seems to be national fault here, something worth redressing.

    I’ve always written my poetry in English, even when I was fluent enough to dream in Spanish. I don’t think I trusted my ability to make music with a language I didn’t see as “mine.” Another personal fault, no doubt. But recently Spanish has been popping up here or there, eg. the title in Spanish but the poem in English.

    One last thing: unpacking, I came across a book I thought you might like, to which you’re welcome: Alex Fellowes’s *Bilingual Shakespeare: A Practical Approach for Teachers.* Let me know & I’ll stick it in the mail.

  • On February 27, 2010 at 11:01 am Ana Bozicevic wrote:

    Thank you, Wendy! Didn’t mean to come across as braggy, I hope I did not. I was simply/purely refreshed by the optimistic outlook on hybridity (he called it ‘freedom’) this critic presented… So, everyone, no such language-conscious reviews of contemporary bilingual poets? C’mon, there must be something beyond Michael Chabon waxing lexicographic about Nabokov: “I believe that writers ought regularly to read the dictionary, paying particular attention to the etymologies of words, as a way of discovering and mapping out the skeleto-muscular system, or perhaps more accurately the deep and fundamental genome, of English. Reading Nabokov is a fair substitute. His perspective on his adopted home–I mean English–like that of all immigrants, is often far keener than that of natives, far more alert to the connective tissues of etymology, chance resemblance, homonymy, and foreign influences.”

  • On February 27, 2010 at 3:45 pm Wendy Babiak wrote:

    Not braggy!

    And I agree with Chabon, and enjoy digging into the dictionary myself. As part of the preparation for those long poems (the sestina-sonnet hybrids) you read, where I use the same fourteen words fifteen times each, I’d read the entries for each in order to discover any unknown usages (I’m embarrassed to admit there always were at least a few).

  • On February 27, 2010 at 4:38 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    But then, paradoxically, your version of the word “immigrant” seems right at home in a very familiar native nest of postmodern transgressivity, & related concepts. But one sometimes has to ask whether that native land coresponds to any livable & durable actual land, where people might settle & establish ongoing life. There’s a melodrama & romanticism about transgressivity – sort of like the mythology surrounding outlaws & pirates & piracy. But I wouldn;t want to live there permanently.

  • On February 27, 2010 at 11:05 pm Colin Ward wrote:

    @Craig:

    …what has being multilingual meant in your life as an individual..?

    I suspect that until and unless Spanish becomes an official language in at least one state yours will be an uphill struggle, especially as English continues to pervade. This reminds me of an incident illustrating the ass-saving importance of official language status–in this case, in Canada:

    My dentist agreed to open up early to accommodate a dental emergency I was having. Arriving there, I couldn’t find a parking spot. There was an entire vacant lot, though, at the adjacent City Works Department. It being 7:00 A.M., I ignored the many signs prohibiting public parking and left my car there, figuring I’d be out and gone in an hour, long before many would arrive for their 9-5 shift.

    When I returned to my car at 8:00 A.M. I saw only three other vehicles, but two of them were parked beside mine while the third was left directly behind, blocking egress. Oh, oh! Time to go inside and do some serious groveling.

    I humbly offered my sincere regrets and begged the two receptionists to move their vehicles but they insisted that I had to talk to their superior. Suddenly an imposing mujerona barged out of one of the back offices and charged at me, shouting “What’s the matter with you? Don’t you understand English?”

    Hmm, now, there’s a thought!

    “Qu’as tu dis?” I volleyed. The woman reeled back like I’d shotgunned her in the chest. All of those signs were in English! Gee, how could that happen in a government office in a bilingual country like Canada? Imagine if the press heard about this! She must have had visions of francophones with pitchforks coming for her that night.

    As the manager began spitting out apologies, I had to stare down the two receptionists, who’d heard me speaking fluent English earlier. They starting giggling but didn’t rat me out.

    The manager moved her car from behind mine, simpering more apologies all the while. Upon exiting the parking lot I waved at her, smiled, and said “Have a nice day!”

    -o-


Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 by Craig Santos Perez.