18 March 2009

Rhyming in five languages

I have to hand it to poets such as Antoine Cassar (the Maltese who studied in England, Italy, and Spain), who writes mużajki (mosaic poems) such as the following:

C’est la vie

Run, rabbit, run, run, run, from the womb to the tomb,
de cuatro a dos a tres, del río a la mar,
play the fool, suffer school, żunżana ddur iddur,
engage-toi, perds ta foi, le regole imparar,

kul u sum, aħra u bul, chase the moon, meet your doom,
walk on ice, roll your dice, col destino danzar,
métro, boulot, dodo, titla’ x-xemx, terġa’ tqum,
decir siempre mañana y nunca mañanar,

try to fly, touch the sky, hit the stone, break a bone,
sell your soul for a loan to call those bricks your home,
fall in love, rise above, fall apart, stitch your heart,

che sarà? ça ira! plus rien de nous sera,
minn sodda għal sodda niġru tiġrija kontra l-baħħ,
sakemm tinbela’ ruħna mill-ġuf mudlam ta’ l-art.

To be able to rhyme (not to mention, maintain the sonnet form) in five languages is quite a feat. Of course, one might argue that this is really just literature with the small l (say that with eyebrows firmly raised!), but where is the critic that can honestly say that s/he understands the five languages enough to make an informed critical judgement?

In The Chimaera (2008), where the poem appears, Cassar himself says that "the poems aspire beyond the immediate demands of recognition and consumption and look more to transcend the slavery imposed ipso facto by the regime of 'a single language' on the free spirit of the poet." Now that globalization in economics has come, can multilingual poetry be far behind?

1 comment:

  1. Cassar is in the right direction when he aspires to bring music and meaningful sounds to poetry.

    In C'est la vie, the effort to construct rhyme in the mosaic might make it sound like doggerel. Listening to his reading of the sonnet, one concedes the staccato rhythm is a correlative to the central image of a humdrum life lived day-in-day-out. The grunt-like monotone objectifies the life lived on a one-way ticket to doom or boredom.

    Is there some future to this valiant effort to unshackle the poetic spirit from the confines of a single language? Of what use is there to express a gestalt of an idea, mood, attitude, or aesthetic experience in so many coalescing language sounds? Will that not cause the impairment of what otherwise would be a "single effect" in expressing an experential gestalt (as poetry must).

    While Cassar should be "recognized" for his rhyming "yeomanship", he would be constrained to work with languages that have similar sound systems. This does not necessarily admit that the rhyming sounds would all contribute to the "earning" of the context/content of the poetic experience or insight.

    I predict he will run into unnecessary problems of searching for linguistic devices that in the end will not serve his poetic purpose.

    Doggerel might be useful for advertisement jingles, though -- IF globalisation in marketing is not truncated by this sad economic downturn. --ALBERT B. CASUGA