11 January 2010

Irena Klepfisz

Here's a stanza from Irena Klepfisz's poem entitled "Etlekhe verter oyf mame-loshn/ A few words in the mother tongue" (1984):

di lezbianke the one with
a roommate though we never used
the word

The use of a second language ironically called "mother tongue" (Yiddish, used by mothers) in a text primarily in a third language (English) to refer to the real "mother tongue" (Polish, used by peers) is necessary from an aesthetic point of view, because the poem focuses on the use of words to make sense of reality (by using the word lezbianke while saying that she and her friends never use the word, the persona reveals something not just about herself but also about the people around her).

In her article entitled "Pearls From Tears," Arlene Kramer Richards comments about this poem:

"She writes in two languages at once, alternating the Yiddish of her childhood and her feelings with the American English of her adulthood and of her readers. ... As she speaks to the childhood figures embedded in her soul in Yiddish, she teaches us her language. She will give us a few words in her ‘mother tongue.’ Mamaloshen is the time honored conventional way of referring to Yiddish, a language used by mothers talking to their babies and each other in a culture which used Hebrew for male religious tradition and used Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, Check, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Bulgarian and other languages in school, trade, professions and contact with the world."

We cannot get more multilingual than that.

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