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.

odyssey-myungmikim

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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Nanjing, 1937

Nanjing, 1937

By icejjforrest

The rising sun liberates itself within the sky

As blood-red flags flutter within the barren land

Tears disperse and stain the ground

Plastered with souls abandoned from their

Bruised and gashed molds

The harsh wind whistles and abruptly disappears into the crevasses of an abandoned building

Inside

A siren blasts a cynical anthem

It celebrates the strained whines and trembles

Of a young girl and the abduction of her radiant smile

The soldier

Who rests on top of her fragile frame

proclaims he is done and prances into the next room where another girl

Awaits to sacrifice her dignity

The girl’s father, horrified beyond words, gallops onto the bed

Wrapping her legs into a soft blanket given to her for her first birthday

He howls in grief as his fingers

Blood in the lines of his palms

Stroke her tender stomach

Duì bù qǐ1

Five minutes before

His aching feet shuffled into a corner weeping at

The blatant vandalism of his own

Wǒ ài nǐ2

 

Outside in the shadows, we see a flicker

The flicker reveals a faintly drawn scene of 5 or so months ago

Capturing a mother grazing the head of her young son

We hear his delicate laughter ringing throughout the now barren land

The flicker, in a sudden, grows dim and dwindles within seconds

The mother now clutches her son in terror

As a soldier

Bears a bayonet

Still spotted with dried blood

With fresh drippings at its tip

He viciously kicks her son with his mud-oozing boot

The boy’s ragged cloth falls off his limp body

Surrendering to the cold dirt

Both mother and boy crying for mercy

His mother sympathetically rests her son–

Now bleeding from the crack in his head–

On her bosom and showers him

With the rest of her maternal love

 

All at once

A gunshot and a shriek harmonize

As the mother’s grasp of the child collapses

Mingling with the cement ground

The soldier smirks at his deed

And runs off to brag about his heroism

Māmā3

Where her stomach should be

Is a hole

A cauldron of blood frothing at the surface

Still

She draws him into her breast and cradles him ‘

With her numb arms

Bù yào kū, háizi

Bùyào kū4

Footnotes

1Sorry

2I love you

3: Mom

4: Don’t cry child, don’t cry

 

Views

By Melany Watts

Admiring you the way an artist to a piece

Unraveling your every structure

Yes I was watching you

Book held up tightly clenched by

 Your smooth caramel hands

Nose twitching to the horrid

Details watch the book in lies

 

Yes I was watching you

Wondering if you notice me not trying to notice you

Is it obvious when you give my body attention

I leave it unnoticed

You have me in shackles

When I look up to see you smiling at me

 

Yes I was watching you

Oftentimes I try to study you yet un-researched

Until the next time you decide to approach me

 

Yes I was watching you

When you entered the room

My personal song beating in my chest

Waiting….. for you to put the headphones in

 

Yes I was watching you

My body becomes active when you log onto my eyes

God cursed for the prevailing screens you called humans

From blocking your beauty

 

Yes I was watching you

Cheeks high risen

Voice soft and warm

Welcoming to my reply

 

Yes I was watching you

watching my easy red face

thinking what I could possibly say to interest you

to talk to a youngin’ like me

 

Yes I was watching you

Too much time waste in awkward silence

Wondering what you think of me

Or if I’m thought of at all

Times I wanted to execute a conversation

But felt restricted to what I can have

 

Yes I was watching you

Watching somebody else

Could never be worked up over someone I never pursued

A book left unopened

How can I get so worked up to someone I talked to

Compared to the number of times on my short stubby fingers

 

Yes I was watching you

Your mature figure a masterpiece in the making

Pink rose colour lips,

Eyes that cut through me like a knife

Hair silky and colourful like flowers in the springtime

 

Yes I was watching you

And frankly, how can I deny myself so much pleasure

Based on principle from a book

I could never meet the author  to

Your faced fogged out a memory I cannot even imagine

 

Yes I was watching you

Speak your word you interpret so clearly

And me accepting them so fluently into my vocabulary

You’re a four-dimensional person

And I can barely handle the surface

 

Yes I was watching

Yes  you lived more days in the unremembered adolescent stage

But I’ve been told I’m more mature

Than the people my age

 

Yes I was watching you

But I’m ignoring the uptight male

Specimen prolonging my reply for a rather

Sweeter dessert

 

Yes I was watching you

But can you look beyond the page

To see I am scared to

Dive into the deep

End

 

Yes I was watching you

But I don’t look like my words

 

A note from the writer: Thanks for reading. I’m not a poet just decided to go for it, trying something new.

This poem was inspired by James Baldwin’s love poem, “Munich, Winter 1973 (To Y.S.),” from our unit on sexuality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother to Child

By Allison Danger

Danke

I set you once upon a pillow

You rolled onto the floor, laughing

Mon cher

There were times I couldn’t hold the door open

Long enough for you to walk through

Amar jahan,

I felt your words sting deep

As the shores from which you were forbidden

Koi?

I always find you here, palms under chin, staring

Out windows, you no longer wish to

Viens

If I could, I would haul the moon and place it in your hands

Every time you felt the darkness pulling you under

Bhuilo-nah

I am here, time rests between the jagged creases of rose

Leaves and when petals begin to rust

Va

Don’t let your imagination run too wild

Or it can get lost

And I’m afraid I won’t be there

To help you find it.

 

 

English Translation 

Thank you

I set you once upon a pillow

You rolled onto the floor, laughing

My dear

There were times I couldn’t hold the door open

Long enough for you to walk through

My universe,

I felt your words sting deep

As the shores from which you were forbidden

Where?

I always find you here, palms under chin, staring

Out windows, you no longer wish to

Come

If I could, I would haul the moon and place it in your hands

Every time you felt the darkness pulling you under

Don’t forget

I am here, time rests between the jagged creases of rose

Leaves and when petals begin to rust

Go

Don’t let your imagination run too wild

Or it can get lost

And I’m afraid I won’t be there

To help you find it.

This poem was inspired by a unit on language, in which poets such as Sandra Maria Esteves and Carol Lee Sanchez decolonized their writing with non-English words.