30 October 2010

Writer Wanted in Manitoba

Call for Applications: Writer/Storyteller-in-Residence

A professional writer and/or storyteller is sought for the position of Writer/Storyteller-in-Residence at the Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture at the University of Manitoba. This four-month position, from approximately September 1 to December 16, 2011, will require the successful candidate to spend approximately 16 hours per week providing mentorship and practical artistic advice to developing writers and storytellers at the University of Manitoba, to give a limited number of readings
and/or performances on campus, and to lead an informal non-credit workshop. The remaining time is to be devoted to the writer or storyteller’s own artistic projects. The successful candidate will receive a salary of $20,000.00 CAD, accommodation and return transportation to Winnipeg.

The Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture is an interdisciplinary centre with a mandate to promote the creation and the study of the verbal arts, both oral and written. Located at the University of Manitoba in the city of Winnipeg, the Centre sponsors readings, lectures, master classes and creative community projects that explore the connections between oral and written culture. Winnipeg is renowned for its vibrant arts community and its multicultural citizenry, including the largest urban population of Aboriginal people in North America. The Centre builds upon these local cultural
strengths as a basis for its creative and critical work. To learn more about the Centre, visit http://umanitoba.ca/centres/ccwoc/.

Applicants should provide a covering letter summarizing their qualifications for the position and describing the artistic work they would undertake during the residency. Applications must also include a CV or résumé of career achievements (publications, performances, awards, residencies), a writing sample of no more than 20 pages (doublespaced and typed in a standard 12-point font) and two letters of reference discussing the applicant’s skills as an artist and a mentor.

Candidates of all nationalities are encouraged to apply; however, full proficiency in English is required, and publications or performance credits in English would be an asset.

The Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture is committed to principles of employment equity. The application deadline is November 22, 2010. Electronic submissions of application materials are accepted at the Centre’s email address, but attachments must be in Microsoft Word, PDF, RTF or DocX only. Please direct inquiries and electronic application materials to ccwoc@cc.umanitoba.ca.

Applicants may also submit hardcopy applications to:
Dr. Warren Cariou, Director
Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture, University of Manitoba
391 University College, 220 Dysart Road
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3T 2M8 CANADA

Books and other materials sent in support of applications will not be returned.

29 October 2010

Never as good in a second language

Here are the first lines of the poem "Kitchen Polish" by John Guzlowski:

I can't tell you about Kant
in Polish, or the Reformation,
or deconstruction
or why the Nazis moved east
before moving west,
or where I came from,
but I can count to ten, say hello
and goodbye, ask for coffee,
bread or soup.
The lines capture the difficulty of writing in a second language.  It is very difficult, if not impossible, to discuss really important things in a language other than your mother tongue.  This poem shows it, instead of just telling it.

24 October 2010

Unnecessary mixing

Although as a theoretical principle it is better to have two rather than just one language in a poem, we have to keep in mind that mixing or adding languages should not be arbitrary.  There should always be an aesthetic reason to incorporate or adopt foreign words and ideas into a text.  This is a good point unwittingly raised by Bhisma Kukreti in a short review of Mero Bwada:  "The language is pure Garhwali and Pant tried to avoid unnecessarily mixing Hindi wordings in Garhwali poetry as Purn pant said that the poets should avoid Hindi in creating Garhwali literature."  I say "unwittingly," because Pant's dictum of avoiding a language is not aesthetically defensible.  If Pant were correct, we would have to junk not just T. S. Eliot, but a good number of authors considered canonical around the world.  What is really aesthetically indefensible is if a poet uses foreign words when local words would do as well.  The foreign words should add meanings and submeanings that are unavailable in the local language.

20 October 2010

Jahan Ramazani

Here's a year-old news item about Jahan Ramazani that still holds interest:

"Co-editor of the two-volume Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry and of The Norton Anthology of English Literature section on the 20th century to the present, Ramazani said he has tried to help make these standard textbooks global in their reach. 

"In his own research, he concentrated on 20th-century British, Irish and American poets earlier in his career, then turned his attention to Caribbean, African and South Asian writers. He realized these identifications and subdivisions in literary scholarship tended to distort global influences and conjunctions, he said. They were just plain inadequate.

"Western writers of the 20th century were influenced by contact with non-Western cultures, and vice versa. English is read and spoken all over the world, and information travels faster than the blink of an eye, but poetry has been considered 'stubbornly national,' as T.S. Eliot wrote. 

"Eliot's own poetry, however, belies that statement, Ramazani pointed out. Although he was American-born and began writing poetry in the U.S., Eliot moved to London and became a British subject and thought of himself as having a European mind. Plus, he incorporated ancient languages and Eastern religions in his work. How does a literature scholar describe him in one term?

"'My book argues against local and national visions of poetry and culture and for developing new ways of thinking about poetry's transnationalism, as embedded in language, in the metaphors, lines, rhythms and images,' Ramazani said.

"'The miracle of poetry is that in such a small space it can travel so widely, moving in all different directions. If you look exclusively at local or national canons, you miss that,' he said.

"Ramazani distinguishes this cross-cultural literature from other products of globalization, such as the one-way export of Western television to other countries or the diluted versions of foods that have become popular in the U.S., such as Taco Bell and many Chinese restaurants.

"Not only was Eliot's poetry influenced by European and Eastern literature, but his work also influenced poets in the Caribbean and Africa, Ramazani said. For example, Caribbean poets, educated in English, learned to use Victorian and Romantic styles in their writing until the mid-20th century, when they heard recordings of Eliot reading his own poetry, with rhythms from American jazz and ordinary conversation. Hearing Eliot empowered them, Ramazani said, to use their own indigenous elements, such as the rhythms of calypso and Creole.

"'A foreign import can bring the writer back to the local. Poetry can be global in its outlook, but locally responsive,' he said."

Yes, indeed.  Poets and critics that read only the literature of their own countries miss the whole point of literature.  In this blog, I have deliberately tried to include as many "unknown" or "marginalized" poets and texts as I can, in order to remove the "stubbornly national" blinders that too many poets and critics have.  I am particularly annoyed by critics that read only literatures written in English, as though the English language were the very first or the only language in which writers have written the world's masterpieces.  (I have actually met literature professors who insist that we should read only the English translation but not translations into other languages of Oedipus Rex - or the Greek original - and even critics who actually quote the English translations, as though Sophocles thought and wrote in English.  Sad.)

17 October 2010

Call for papers (deadline: Nov. 12)

Juliana Prade of Goethe University, Frankfurt, writes:

"I am organizing a seminar at the upcoming ACLA 2011 conference in Vancouver, Canada (March 31-April 3), and invite proposals for papers to enrich a hopefully interesting discourse on '(M)other Tongues.'

"Paper abstracts are invited that explore texts proposing or depicting concepts of the acquisition of the mother tongue and discuss whether it can be actually one, one’s own, or a mother’s language. Readings of literary texts are particularly welcome, but papers might as well pertain to the theory of autobiography and translation and to objects in other genres.

“'The language in which we are speaking,' the protagonist of Joyce’s Portrait says in English about English, 'will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words.' Everyone acquires language, yet Joyce raises the question: How? Does a subject, a prospective speaker lacking nothing but a vocabulary to say 'I,' acquire speech by way of reaching for and accepting a language that is thus 'gained' as a mother tongue? Or is it not rather that language only allows to articulate an 'I,' and hence shapes it? Authors from Augustine to Kafka, Nabokov and Canetti discuss what it means to acquire a mother tongue, to form and reshape the language that enables to speak – not least of being estranged from speech. Deleuze suggests that by bringing about a 'destruction of the maternal language,' literature renders into an expressive, communicative medium what is otherwise just a suppressive structure. Yet if that can be done in literature, language must itself comprise the possibility to be altered; a mother tongue might indeed not be a language until it is spoken, which means: altered, reshaped, thus becoming a (m)other tongue.

"Please submit 250-word abstracts via the ACLA 2011 page:  http://www.acla.org/submit" on or before November 12, 2010.

16 October 2010

Poetry in Indian English

In a multilingual environment, an imported language like English inevitably becomes a welcome resource, rather than an imperialist hindrance, for poets.  The language, however, undergoes radical changes, not least among which is the way the poetic tradition it brings to the new country becomes "indigenized" or "colonized by the colonized."  Here is the abstract of an article by Ravinder Gargesh that examines Indian poetry in British English from a linguistic point of view, though because it moves towards semiotics, also moves towards literary criticism:

"English is a language of intellectual and creative activity in India. After independence and particularly from the 1950s onwards, English began to acquire a distinct Indian voice through greater innovations and creativity. In the domain of poetry, since the themes and substances are Indian, most creative writers in English in India emphasize that English is at home in India and India at home with the English language, so much so that if English is to be called a foreign language it is the native English, i.e., the British English, that is becoming more foreign in India. Most poets like Kamala Das, R. Parthasarathy, etc. are conscious of their multilingual situation. The poetry emanating from a bilingual sensitivity shows unique characteristics of the kind that Braj Kachru (1996a: xiii) had recognized as the nativized variety of English in India which he terms IE (Indian English) or on the larger canvas SAE (South Asian Englishes) which function not only as an `additional linguistic arm' in the culture of creativity (1996b: 17), but also as a marker of identity in local contexts (2005: 220). The present paper is an attempt at viewing the result of the productive linguistic innovations which are determined by the localized functions of a second language variety, which also implicate new communicative strategies or the ones that get transferred from local languages. The paper highlights some strategies utilized by some poets at the phonological, lexical, syntactic and figurative levels. In terms of discourse, larger configurations of historical and functional styles are also formed. Since the user of the non-native variety is bilingual, creativity is also manifested in different kinds of `mixing', `switching', `alteration' and `transcreation' of codes. The nativized variety reveals the use of native similes, metaphors, transforming of personalized rhetorical devices, transcreation of idiomatic expressions, use of culturally dependent speech styles, etc. The paper intends to show that as an end product what we get is the cultural semiotics of English as developing in India in a localized way, a form that is gradually moving away from the cultural semiotics of the standard British English."

11 October 2010

Yiddish and Dutch

Because the Jewish bible is most likely the most quoted book in all history, it is not surprising that its translations paved the way for the entrance of new words into a language.  Here is a particular case:

"Hebraic Influences on the Dutch Language

"The influence of the Statenbijbel on the Dutch language can not be overestimated. Expressions deriving from this translation are still current in literature and colloquial usage. Besides such common words as Satan, cherubijn, etc., there are expressions like 'met de mantel der liefde bedekken' ('to cover with the coat of love'), borrowed from the story of Noah (Gen. 9:23). The influence of Yiddish began to be felt with the appearance of Dutch books by Jewish authors, which contained Yiddish expressions. Some Yiddish words that have become part of standard Dutch are Mokum, the popular nickname for Amsterdam ('place,' from makom); bajes ('prison,' from bayit); gabber ('friend,' from ḥaver); stiekem ('in secret,' from shetikah); and lef ('courage,' from lev). Many more are to be found in popular speech and thieves' slang – jatten ('to steal,' from yad), and kapoeres ('gone to pieces,' from kapparah). Others which were mainly used by Jews are disappearing with the dwindling of the Jewish community in Holland.

"The Jewish community has coined some Dutch words for its specific linguistic needs. By subtly changing the prefix of verbs and nouns, meaning has shifted – predominantly in the verbs aanbijten (lit. 'to bite on to,' to break the fast after Yom Kippur) and uitkomen (lit. 'to come out,' to convert to Judaism), and the noun voorzanger (lit. 'singer in front,' Cantor), which are not in use outside the Jewish community."

Even without researching, I am pretty sure that other languages have borrowed, perhaps even extensively, from translations into those languages of the Jewish and Christian scriptures.

09 October 2010

Sex and mixing languages

At least for Pedro Juan Gutierrez, mixing languages in a literary text is like sex.  (Talk about the New Critical dictum of yoking opposite images together!)  Here is an account of an interview:

"He once told an interviewer that 'the real leitmotiv of my books is poverty rather than sex.' At the same time, he's not making any apologies: 'Sex is very important for the condition of the Cuban people. We're a mix of races, Europeans and Africans, and I think that this mix, along with Cuba's temperate climate, with nobody wearing much clothing, encourages playfulness. We play with language, with gestures, with music, dancing - we're very playful. We're constantly inventing new dance steps. And I think sex forms a part of this playful expressiveness.'"

Language, after all, is as sexually stimulating as physical contact (how otherwise explain the universal and timeless appeal of pornography?).  Is it possible that many poets refuse to play with different languages because playing with oneself is a guilt-laden (though much ignored) societal taboo?  This is at least a nice thought to play with!

06 October 2010

Khal Torabully

Here's an account of the poetry of Khal Torabully:

"The poet framed many of his poetic texts with a distance from exotic views in which many encapsulated their experience of otherness. In his early Fausse-île I and II, Torabully made a work of reinterpretation and started a quest for a poetic language mixing the music of various languages in an idiom imagined as 'fossils of language.'

"His major work, Cale-d’étoiles-Coolitude, gave new twists to the French language, subverting and enriching it with Indian, Creole and Scandinavian sources. He argued for the centrality of the sea voyage in the indentured migration, going against the taboo of the kala pani or dark seas. In so doing, the poet framed his transcultural vision in the concept of what he termed 'coolitude.'"

You can watch Torabully reading a poem in YouTube.

03 October 2010

Jofre de Foixà

Jofre de Foixà’s dictum to writers in the early 14th century is, unfortunately, still echoed by some creative writing teachers today:  “Lengatge fay a gardar, car si tu vols far un cantar en frances, no.s tayn que.y mescles proenςal ne cicilia ne gallego ne altre lengatge que sia strayn a aquell; ne ayten be, si.l faς proenςal, no.s tayn que.y mescles frances ne altre lengatge sino d’aquell.  (You should keep the same language, because if you want to compose a song in French, it is not fitting that you mix in Provenςal or Sicilian or Galician or an other language that be foreign to that one [being used]; just as, if you compose in Provenςal, it is not fitting that you mix in French or any other language except that one.)"

Despite the ancient dictum that a text should hold a mirror up to (multilingual) nature and despite the fact that writers from the beginning of literature mixed languages, some creative writing teachers and most literary critics still consider borrowing a word or idea from another language a weakness rather than a strength of a writer.

01 October 2010


The language that Jamaicans use has been called Jamaican, primarily to avoid the negative connotations of patois and creole.  No matter what the name is, the language continues to bear the brunt of the prejudice non-scholars have against so-called "mixed" languages.  (Too many literary illiterates do not realize that English is the prime example of a language that unashamedly borrows words from all other languages.)  Poets have a unique responsibility to fight this prejudice (we need a word like racism, sexism, or ageism, but linguism would lead to the adjective linguistic and languism sounds too odd).  Philippine poet Gemino H. Abad likes to say that "we [referring to Filipinos] have colonized English."  Carribean poet Kamau Brathwaite describes Jamaican this way:  "English like a howl, or a shout or a machine-gun or the wind or a wave.  In its contours, its rhythm and timbre, its sound explosions, it is not English."