25 February 2009

Antoni Clapes

Catalan poet Antoni Clapés, in an interview by and translated from Spanish into English by Amanda Schoenberg, says:

"Writing poetry in Catalan is something that, for me, has a strict component of naturalness. I think one writes in the language in which one dreams. And my dreams are in Catalan. I don’t think that people can be bilingual or trilingual: no Swiss, for a neutral example, would admit to being trilingual. I think that we are essentially monolingual, and that the acquisition of language is through the first sounds that a child learns from his mother and it is these which configure the basic linguistic universe. Afterwards, from the community, one can learn - and love - other languages, one can dominate them perfectly, including being able to create in them. But I am not sure that one can write poetry in a language different from that which emanates from the most intimate corners of oneself."

Hundreds of Filipino poets, writing in their second or third language (English) despite dreaming in one of 171 native languages, would disagree. As a critic, I agree. I know that some Philippine poems in English are exquisite, but as even rabid English writing defender Gemino H. Abad admits, quoting a Philippine poet writing in English in the early part of the last century, English is not "the language of our blood."


  1. The idea that English is not the language of our presumably Filipino blood has given me a passage to self-knowledge. I cannot write a coherent sentence in Bicol (my birth language), nor Tagalog (a street version of which I speak) or Spanish that I studied from high school to two years of college. I can only write in English. I'm not a poet, but my blood must have undergone a tranfusion.

  2. One does not need a "language of our blood" to write poetry. If that quote means that all poetry must come from the deepest recesses of our psyche, then no Filipino can ever write poetry in the English that he has adopted and "adapted". Otherwise, all the anthologies of Philippine poetry writing in English published (including those edited by Gemino Abad) would be a collection of verbal effusions bereft of "soul". Verbal drek. Language as an epistemological medium and artistic expression can be learned. Poetry is a stylized expression of "created realities." If the discipline of language use is not applied to it, then every "cry from the heart," every rhyming rhythmic rap, or the growlings of madmen as acts that require the "language of our blood" would be poetry. Poetry as a literary art does not require the bloodcry from primordial angst. Poetry has no cultural, racial, or national boundaries. -- Albert B. Casuga