Language Politics, or How to Repossess Your Voice

It’s a hectic time of the school year! Regents exams are finishing up, and doors are closing for summer recess (the longest day of the year is today!). Nevertheless, those of us who could gathered last Thursday to talk about our relationships to language. How do words empower, harm, disable, or inspire us every day? Since many of us are proud of being bilingual or trilingual, we sought to figure out ways to keep alive our mother tongues, even as our audience is primarily American and English-speaking.

Our session started with a free-writing prompt to recollect “the last time language hurt us, and the last time language touched us.” Sharing out our answers gave vent to bullying, slurs, catcalling, insults, threats, and subtle jibes, but also expressions of love, confidence, and admiration. We then launched into talking about the poets we read for this week– Sandra Maria Esteves (Dominican Republic/Puerto Rico/USA), Myung Mi Kim (South Korea/USA), and Carol Lee Sanchez (USA/Native American, Laguna Indian Tribe).

If you’re interested in learning more about Esteves and Sanchez, you can read about their biographies and links to their work in last year’s class notes on language.

Myung Mi Kim is a new addition to the syllabus. She emigrated to the U.S. from South Korea when she was nine years old. Currently, she is an English professor at the University of Buffalo in upstate New York– K-scopers applying to state schools, maybe she’ll be your professor sometime soon! Kim primarily writes conceptual poetry, postmodern, often non-rhyming free-verse whose aim is to communicate an affect, idea, or abstraction rather than a linear narrative story.


I met her in 2010, when she was a judge at the Kathryn Irene Glascock Intercollegiate Poetry Competition (the list of winners is the only Wikipedia page on which my name appears). If you’re interested in her style, check out her latest, Penury, and Durathe collection where the poem we read, “Cosmography,” comes from, at the New York Public Library.

I photographed the strategies we listed for writing your own language poetry, based on our talks about Esteves’ and Kim’s poems:

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Tomorrow, we pick up with our session on immigration; here’s the reading packet and the writing prompts if you missed class! Don’t forget that the novelist Patricia Park will be visiting us for an intimate Q&A at 7:30pm.


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