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Transnational Poetics: Some Thoughts

By Barbara Jane Reyes

What up, Harrieteers,

I wanted to say a few things about a recent Transnational Poetics panel in which I recently participated at UC Berkeley with fellow author and blogger, Javier O. Huerta, as well as local poet and performer, Maya Chinchilla.

Regarding my own apparent status as a poet from a transnational community, my interest is in that space between nations and homes, and how nation and home aren’t always geographical spaces. I think instead of languages, and the space between languages. There are many Englishes, and Javier tells us too, there are many Spanishes. If my primary language is not English, and if it is not Tagalog, then it is code switch, an ongoing process of negotiating who understands me, who’s down with my system, and/or who I want to be in on what I am saying.

I think of what Johannes Göransson has commented here in the recent past, about teaching Poeta en San Francisco; how do readers who do not know Tagalog respond to its non-translation. I wonder whether the belligerence at finding no translation comes from an unwillingness to decenter “standard” “American” English, and a related unwillingness to consider that for many people, our primary identity is the transgression of borders. The poet is a “we,” in migration, like Nate Mackey’s Andoumboulou, moving through waking and dreamtime. That’s another transgression of border, writing as a “we.”

I think also of how we experience the space between traditions, and here I mean oral and literary traditions, storytelling traditions. In his lecture, “A Natural History of Chicano Literature,” maestro Juan Felipe Herrera says many awesome things, most notably (to me):

Your friends, and your associates, and the people around you, and the environment that you live in, and the speakers around you – the speakers around you – and the communicators around you, are the poetry makers. If your mother tells you stories, she is a poetry maker. If your father says stories, he is a poetry maker. If your grandma tells you stories, she is a poetry maker. And that’s who informs our poetics.

I am glad the graduate students who attended this panel were interested in the validity of oral tradition, that it has a place in a discussion of transnational poetics. Maya discusses her use of the testimonio, in which a person’s direct experiences are a part of a larger historical memory, and which connect a person to the politics of a place.

So then, the transnational poet is always crossing borders, and as Javier points out, a person who can cross or transgress the borders regularly is one who the has the privilege to do so, the documents to do so, the languages to do so.

So that’s where I am this morning. Happy Easter Sunday.

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Posted in Uncategorized on Sunday, April 4th, 2010 by Barbara Jane Reyes.