19 January 2011

Student view

Here's a comment by a student about John Agard's "Half-Caste":

"The language of the poem is a mixture of Caribbean dialect and formal British English – the poet at one point says in Caribbean dialect: ‘Ah lookin at yu wid de keen half of mih eye’, but at another in BBC English: ‘Consequently when I dream I dream half-a-dream’.   This very powerfully gets across the fact that Agard is of mixed heritage."

While obviously "amateur" and not "professional" in terms of literary theory, this comment reveals that even the ordinary reader senses that form should mirror content.  If a poem talks about prejudice against people of mixed ethnic origin or heritage, then the poem itself should be "mixed," that is, should not aspire or pretend to be "pure."  The simplest and most obvious way to do this is to use more than one language.  Of course, this is merely on the "amateur" or student level.  Literary critics have to study how the languages were mixed, why a "foreign" or "non-standard" word is used instead of the expected word in the main language, how the words in the other languages add to the sound pattern and/or visual appeal of the poem, and so on.  But the initial acceptance of mixed-language poems is clearly there and clearly effective.

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