30 January 2011

Book alert: Digital Poetry

Jorge Luiz Antonio presents a panorama of digital poetry in Brazil and in the world 

There are many ways of making poetry nowadays, but the one that mostly engages the new technologies of language is digital poetry. In Digital Poetry: Theory, History, Anthologies, Jorge Luiz Antonio presents a panorama of digital poetry history, from its origins, in 1959, until our days with the most advanced and creative innovations. The author shows how the resources of computer science, apparently cool and exact, can give new life to the universe of poetry when taking their producers and appreciators to the other artistic directions inside digital culture.

For Jorge Luiz Antonio his Digital Poetry: Theory, History, Anthologies is a book that "studies a type of contemporary poetry in its relationship with the arts, design and computational technology, which is a continuation and an unfolding of avant-garde, concrete, visual, and experimental poetry". According to the Portuguese poet E.M. de Melo e Castro, the work has "clearly the intention and the author's accomplishment of a discussion about the reasons that can be invoked for the study of the transformations that the use of the technologies is already causing in the concept of poetry". 

Digital poetry: theory, history, anthologies comes accompanied by a DVD that gathers a complete anthology of digital poems and their predecessors, introducing 501 poems of 226 poets and 110 theoretical texts of 73 authors, Brazilians and foreigners, with about 1500 printed and electronic pages, giving a rare panorama of what has already been done in the area of poetic experimentation, in Brazil and in other countries. The DVD shows that "poetry, art, design, science and digital technology form the transdisciplinary quintet that a portion of the contemporary poets chose to accomplish their poetic communication", as Jorge Luiz Antonio says.  
    (Franklin Valverde, Onda Latina, Brazil)

Digital poetry: Theory, History, Anthologies is a co-edition of Navegar Press (São Paulo, Brazil), Luna Bisonte Prods (Columbus, Ohio, USA), FAPESP (The State of Sao Paulo Research Foundation (São Paulo, Brazil) and the Author. 

On the author: Jorge Luiz Antonio, university teacher, researcher, FAPESP scholarship, post-doctor in IEL-UNICAMP, is also the author of studies on Cesario Verde and Augusto dos Anjos.

27 January 2011

Roger Federer

A break from talking about literature:  let's talk about tennis.  Here's an excerpt from a newspaper article about Roger Federer's being a polyglot (Swiss German, French, English):

"It is not uncommon for Federer to stay behind after his main press conference and answer questions in several languages for a variety of media in newspapers, radio and television.

"'Sometimes I wish I never told anybody I learned French or something like that.
"'I'm happy to speak it. It's a language we speak in Switzerland. I'm proud to have learned that language. At least I can communicate and have friends as well from that part of the world.'
"Federer, who has a South African mother, said he grew up speaking English and Swiss German.
"'That (being a polyglot) comes at a cost, sure. But I don't mind it. I try to have fun with it,' he said.
"'I have different humor in all the different languages, which is kind of fun for me, too. Getting to know myself through different languages is actually quite interesting for me.'"

I was struck by his observation that another language not only helps him communicate with people, but learn about himself.  Since one of literature's major goals is to help writers and readers learn about themselves, having more than one language is surely a simple way to gain more self-knowledge.  In the same vein, a novelist working with more than one language knows a lot more about his or her characters than one working monolingually.

24 January 2011

Thomas Shimmin

For those that know English and Manx Gaelic, here's a poem by the 19th-century poet Thomas "Tom the Dipper" Shimmin.  Even those (like me) that do not know Manx can appreciate the (strict) rhyming scheme and the (almost strict) meter, probably due to its being originally a song:

I was born at the Yinnagh where stands yon big mill,
Ayns shen hooar mee'n chied greim va cur't ayns my veeal;
On the fifteenth of May, eighteen hundred and nought,
Eisht dooyrt ny shenn vraane ver-mayd eaddagh noa ort.

Not long I remained down there it is true,
Gys çheu Ballacross va mee 'choyrt lesh dy bieau.
My uncle he loved me, an infant forlorn;
Eisht cur't lesh va mee dys thie Ballagawne.

Not long I remained my youth to regale,
Eisht cur't lesh va mee dys Ballacashtal;
Whilst there I was sent to school and to trade,
As schoillar mie va mee ec three bleeaney jeig.

I began to improve in the shoemaking trade,
As greassee mie va mee ec nuy bleeaney jeig.
I soon became foreman, which was no disgrace,
Eisht phoose mee shenn ven erskyn daeed vlein dy eash.

Full thirty years long - I then lost my bride,
As dooinney treogh va mee ec jeih blein as daeed.
Again I got married to a good woman true,
Agh boggey ayns paitçhyn cha row ad ayn rieau.

Bred and born in the Lowlands I upward would go,
Son cha row mee booiagh dy ve injil myr shoh.
I am rising up higher again and again,
Ta mee nish beaghey ayns Kirkdale ec Slieau ny Garnane.

And shortly like Moses on top of the hill,
Yn çheer roym cha baghtal lane bainney as mill;
But do not mistake me, I now mean the soul.
Ta mee nish taggloo jeh'n çheer spyrrydoil.

Now I am getting old and death will devour.
Dy jean Creest leeideil as cur bea nooghyn my chour;
Then in the great judgement when all shall appear,
Goit seose marish Yeesey dys thie-mooar yn Ayr.

22 January 2011

Spanglish as literary language

The chicken-and-egg question is which comes first, the creative way in which people on the streets mix languages or the deliberate way in which poets creatively mix languages in a single text?  Did Chaucer merely capture the language being spoken in the markets of his time, or did he create that language?  In the case of Spanglish, poets can at least be credited with naming the language.  See this encyclopedia entry:

"Spanglish has existed as long as Spanish has been in contact with English in the United States and the cultures have coexisted; however, the term gained currency in the 1970s with the explosion of bilingual Latino and Latina poetry.  Nuyorican poets, such as Miguel Algarín, Tato Laviera, and Sandra Maria Esteves, and Chicano and Chicana poets, such as Alurista, Tino Villanueva, and Bernice Zamora, incorporated Spanglish in their writing and defended its use as a creative representation of the Latino and Latina vernacular.  While Spanglish is more closely associated with poetry, writers such as Roberto Fernández, Junot Díaz, and Giannina Braschi regularly incorporate it in their prose."

The answer to the riddle might seem obvious (that people mixed languages before poets), but note that poets (not novelists, who more directly capture real-life speech) were the major contributors to the spread of Spanglish as a literary language.  Perhaps William Wordsworth might have argued that ordinary human beings speak poetry in their everyday lives, but he was speaking metaphorically.  We know very well that poets craft or distill ordinary language and that we do not find people talking to each other in rhyming couplets.  I think that the role of poets in creating, not just mirroring, language is vastly underestimated.

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.

16 January 2011

Ann Cotten

The use of two languages clearly adds to the literariness of this stanza from Ann Cotten's "Die Klassenfahrt":

Ich bin ein Pechvogel, darling
was willst du von mir
Das Gastschampoo
fällt ins Klo
I wanted to kill you
but you said no
so what are we for?
Jetzt sitzen wir da
und weinen bitterlich
und niemand ist froh
weil nämlich
es stimmt gar nicht

Notice how the rhymes are possible because of the shift in languages (froh instead of happy; the initial syllable of darling and da; you to match Gastschampoo; etc.).  The words are chosen as much for their meanings as for their sounds.  In fact, the shifting of language complements the theme of the whole poem.  In translation, the stanza loses its power.  If the original were all in German or all in English, it would lose not just its power but its point.

14 January 2011

Multilingual visual poetry

At a much later stage, multilingual literary/aesthetic criticism should unpack the meaning or at least illuminate the creative process of multilingual visual poems like this one by Babi Badalov.  The words/names in different languages are chosen not only for their visual appearance, but also for their meanings and sounds (it is poetry, or at least it is called such by the artist).


11 January 2011

Macaronic, yes, but not anymore

It is sad that a standard reference book, The New York Public Library Literature Companion (2001) perpetuates the prejudice against multilingual poetry through its definition of “macaronic verse”:

"MACARONIC VERSE.  Verse that incorporates two or more languages.  The form originated in the 15th century, when Tisi degli Odassi wrote comic poetry composed of vernacular words with Latin endings, but gained popularity through the work of his student, Teofilo Foleago.  Poets since have exploited the humours potential of mixing languages.  Less commonly, noncomedic poetry can also be referred to as macaronic, as in the work of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot."

The definition, by citing two of the greatest poets in the English language, deconstructs itself.  Perhaps the word "macaronic" is similar to the word "negro."  We cannot deny the historical fact that both words were indeed used in the past to denote a certain class of poems or people, but as the human race grew in wisdom, we have since abandoned those words for more accurate, less value-laden terms.

09 January 2011

Colloquium on Translingual Literature

From Natasha Lvovich comes this good news:

I am happy to announce that our Colloquium on Translingual Literature has been accepted for the International Symposium on Bilingualism (ISB 8) to take place in June in Oslo, Norway.  I am very pleased that our group (of six people) representing a fascinating range of topics, cultures, languages, and authors will help view L2/bilingualism issues through the lens of literary text, creativity, and overall interdisciplinarity. I believe this is a step forward for both L2- and literature-related disciplines and a significant accomplishment for the emerging field of Translingual Writing.  Congratulations to the participants and a call for attendance and support for all those who will be able to come to the conference and participate in our discussions!

If you will be in Oslo in June, don't miss this colloquium.  It is one of the rare occasions when multilingual texts will be studied from the point of view of literary criticism in addition to linguistics.

07 January 2011

Sound and sense

Paul Zumthor, in Toward a Medieval Poetics (1991), talks about “rhythm as a factor”:  “Rules of rhythm played a major role in the poetic mutation that generated the medieval tradition, serving as both mold and catalyst.  The line of verse was the seat of this mutation.  If we examine the oldest poems in French or Occitanian, we find that rhythm, rhyme, syntax, and vocabulary are indissolubly interwoven in a way that reduces as far as possible the chance selection of an unpredictable linguistic feature.”

Things have not changed in poetry.  A good poet chooses a word (whether in the main language or from a different language) not just because of the meaning of the poem (whether denotative or connotative) but because of its sound.  The word must fit the rhythm (or meter) and the rhyme (or sound pattern of some kind) of the poem.  This is one reason that studying a multilingual poem is very different from studying any other kind of written or spoken text by a bilingual or multilingual person.  The poem is an artificial construct, artificial not in the sense of not real but artificial in the sense of deliberately constructed according to certain rules (i.e., artifice).  The words in a poem are there because they not only help convey the meaning of the poem, but because they sound right.  From the oldest poems to yesterday's poems in blogs (assuming the poems are good), the poet's choice of words is dictated not only by the mind (what the words mean), but by the ear (how the words sound) and, in the best poems, by the eyes (how the words look on the page).

05 January 2011

Research tips

Here's an account of some of the 20th century scholarship available to those interested in writing articles or books about the aesthetics of multilingual literary texts.  This is from “Mixed Language Texts as Data and Evidence in English Historical Linguistics” by Herbert Schendl in Volume 1, page 57, of Studies in the History of the English Language:  A Millennial Perspective (2002), edited by Donka Minkova and Robert P. Stockwell:

“Though there was some interest in ‘macaronic poetry’ before the 20th century, serious research only began with Wehrle’s study on medieval macaronic hyms and lyrics (1933).  Wehrle establishes a typology of macaronic poetry from the 13th to the 15th centuries and classifies patterns of Latin insertions from a formal literary perspective, viewing them as ‘a genre of versification.’  The second half of the 20th century saw quite a number of literary studies on the aesthetic and poetic functions of language-mixing in macaronic poems, such as Zumthor (1960, 1963) in a European perspective, Harvey (1978) for Anglo-Norman lyrics, or Archibald (1992) for the poems of Dunbar and Skelton.  These more recent studies emphasise the often highly artistic stylistic functions of poetic language-mixing.”

01 January 2011


Gelukkige nuwejaar, voorspoedige nuwejaar, ilufio ètussé, Gëzuar vitin e ri, e glëckliches nëies, güets nëies johr, عام سعيد, shnorhavor nor tari, yeni iliniz mubarek, aw ni san'kura / bonne année, urte berri on, З новым годам, subho nababarsho, asgwas amegas, mbembe mbu, bonne année, sretna nova godina, bloavezh mat, bloavez mad, честита нова година, hnit thit ku mingalar pa, sun lin fi lok, kung hé fat tsoi, bon any nou, xin nian kuai le, xin nian hao, pace e salute, sretna nova godina, šťastný nový rok, godt nytår, sale naw tabrik, mbu mwa bwam, gelukkig nieuwjaar, happy new year, feliĉan novan jaron, head uut aastat, eƒé bé dzogbenyui nami, gott nýggjár, onnellista uutta vuotta, gelukkig nieuwjaar, bonne année, lokkich neijier, bon an, feliz aninovo, გილოცავთ ახალ წელს, ein gutes neues Jahr, prost Neujahr, kali chronia, kali xronia eutichismenos o kainourgios chronos, sal mubarak, nootan varshabhinandan, rogüerohory año nuévo-re, bònn ané, hauoli makahiki hou, שנה טובה, nav varsh ki subhkamna, nyob zoo xyoo tshiab, boldog új évet, farsælt komandi ár, selamat tahun baru, ath bhliain faoi mhaise, felice anno nuovo, buon anno, sugeng warsa enggal, akemashite omedetô, asseggas ameggaz, hosa varshada shubhaashayagalu, zhana zhiliniz kutti bolsin, sur sdei chhnam thmei, umwaka mwiza, seh heh bok mani bat uh seyo, sala we ya nû pîroz be, sabai di pi mai, felix sit annus novus, laimīgu Jauno gadu, feliçe annu nœvu, feliçe anno nêuvo, bonana, mbula ya sika elamu na tonbeli yo, laimingų Naujųjų Metų, gelükkig nyjaar, e gudd neit Joër, Среќна Нова Година, arahaba tratry ny taona, selamat tahun baru, nava varsha ashamshagal, is-sena t-tajba, kia porotu te ano ou, kia hari te tau hou, navin varshaachya hardik shubbheccha, ose:rase, Шинэ жилийн баярын мэнд хvргэе, wênd na kô-d yuum-songo, umyaka omucha omuhle, godt nyttår, bon annada, subha nababarsa, naba barsara hardika abhinandan, nawe kaalmo mobarak sha, سال نو مبارک, szczęśliwego nowego roku, feliz ano novo, ਨਵੇਂ ਸਾਲ ਦੀਆਂ ਵਧਾਈਆਂ, bun di bun onn, baxtalo nevo bersh, un an nou fericit, la mulţi ani, С Новым Годом, ia manuia le tausaga fou, nzoni fini ngou, bonu annu nou, bliadhna mhath ur, Срећна нова година, mwaha mwema, goredzva rakanaka, nain saal joon wadhayoon, suba aluth avuruddak vewa, šťastný nový rok, srečno novo leto, dobir leto, sanad wanagsan, feliz año nuevo, wan bun nyun yari, mwaka mzuri, heri ya mwaka mpya, gott nytt år, es guets Nöis, ia orana i te matahiti api, assugas amegaz, iniya puthandu nalVazhthukkal, yaña yıl belän, నూతన సంవత్శర శుభాకాంక్షలు, สวัสดีปีใหม่, tashi delek, losar tashi delek, tshidimu tshilenga, itumelele ngwaga o mosha, posa varshada shubashaya, yeni yiliniz kutlu olsun, gluk in'n tuk, Vyľ Aren, Щасливого Нового Року, З Новим роком, naya saal mubarik, yangi yilingiz qutlug' bo'lsin, Chúc Mừng Nǎm Mới, Cung Chúc Tân Niên, Cung Chúc Tân Xuân, ene boune anéye, ene boune sintéye, bone annéye, bone annéye èt bone santéye, blwyddyn newydd dda, bon lanné, dewenati, nyak'omtsha, a gut yohr, unyaka omusha omuhle, and in my own language (Filipino), manigong bagong taon!