Saturday, January 31, 2004

reading bilingual poetry 

I am not 100% bilingual but as I often translate poetry from Spanish to English I approach a bilingual poem as a translator. I want to look up all the words or ask people what they mean. That's why I have some reference books and links to slang dictionaries - some of the poems I am reading have plenty of "Caló" or street slang (sometimes obscene or at least a bit rude). There are americanismos that I'm just not going to find in the Diccionario de la lengua española of the Spanish Royal Academy.

So one issue that immediately comes up: The poets are not writing to be de-coded, I think, but I'm trying anyway because that's what I like to do. If a poet is fully bilingual (and this concept is probably a lot weirder: what does "fully bilingual" actually mean?) then they can move back and forth freely between languages. A fully bilingual listener/reader will "get" the full effect of the poem. A person who only or mostly knows Spanish will experience the poem differently; what is that like? A person who doesn't know Spanish or knows very little "gets" some thing different. I am seeing these experiences as a sort of spectrum.

I have found when I read poems in Spanish or bilingual poetry at a public reading for an audience of non-Spanish speakers, they thank me for the experience, seeming to have enjoyed it in part as a kind of exoticism or enjoyment of the unknown. At times this seems positive to me; they are open to a poetic experience without needing to understand; they'll talk of the "music" of the Spanish or "letting it wash over" their consciousness in an experience akin to someone who knows nothing about music theory listening to jazz. "There is some meaning here, and though I don't understand it, I feel respect for what it might be."

At other times I think of this phenomenon in a more negative light. The English-only listener gets to feel "liberal and multicultural" or "open-minded" but does not really gain much understanding of another culture or language. They like to project an idea of exoticism on the non-understood language. This is similar to the problem of "intellectual tourism" brought up by... (one of the essays in Comparative Literature in a Multicultural Age - who was it? Look this up and write down the quote.)

What is going on for the non-English speaking Spanish listener/reader I don't know, but should ask.

Some people commented in a class of mine last semester how it was difficult or impossible to enjoy such poetry if neither English nor Spanish was the reader's first language. I'm probably not going to focus on that as it complicates things, but I'll keep it in mind.

Renato Rosaldo, who first introduced me to the poetry of José Montoya, talked a little bit with me about the idea of writing bilingual poetry with the idea firmly in mind that these three audiences (or what I think of as a continuous spectrum of listener language ability) might be listening at once. That idea fascinated me and led me to devise this course of study.

I think it is important that the bilingual poems are not written for the dominant culture's ear. ie it is not the duty of the bilingual poet to "be the bridge" or the diplomat between cultures who explains everything and makes it easy and palatable.

Some links that might be useful 

Some articles on Spanglish, future of Spanish, Chicano Studies

I think I might need this Book of Caló by H. Polkinhorn

And Open Signs: Language and Society on the US-Mexico Border looks useful too (look in library).

Proposed syllabus 

Theory and Criticism of Bilingual Poetry
Independent Study CWL 899
San Francisco State University
Advisor: Prof. Alejandro Murguia
January - May 2004

I will read a lot of poetry that uses both Spanish and English, and will attempt to describe commonalities, classify techniques used, and talk about various philosophies of writing bilingual poetry and responses of listeners/readers. I have not found very much theory that discusses these issues, but will try to build on writing about chicano/a writing and translation theory.

I will create:
- An annotated bibliography of bilingual poets and their poetry that I've read.
- I will also keep a public weblog of working notes and ideas. Anyone can read it and comment on it.
- Several short articles on specific poets and their work. These will be published in the Wikipedia, an international online encyclopedia.
- I'd like to write these articles in English and translate them into Spanish. They will be published in both languages. I'll write at least 6 of them.
- I'll write a long paper 15-20 pp that will express some general ideas and principles.

The anarchic and collaborative nature of Wikipedia means that the articles I submit can be edited or rewritten by anyone who cares to do so. Since the articles as I write them will be ephemeral, I will turn in written copies, and will archive my original articles on the weblog.

Reading list

Theories of Translation ed. Rainer Schulte and John Biguenet (essays)
Translation Course by Bruce Osimo (online textbook, linguistic focus)
Borderlands/La Frontera
This Bridge Called My Back (maybe)

Un Trip Through the Mind Jail y Otras Poemas by Raul Salinas
Fiesta in Aztlan: Anthology of Chicano Poetry
Contemporary Chicano Poetry: An Anthology
Flor y Canto I and II
Literatura Chicana 1965-1995: An Anthology in Spanish, English, and Calo
Three Times a Woman: Chicana Poetry (esp. Maria Herera-Sobek)
Various chapbooks by Liliana Valenzuela
In Formacion by Jose Montoya

New World Border by Guillermo Gomez-Pena
Codex Espangliensis
Possible music (Cypress Hill? Others? Need suggestions)
Interviews (? Brenda Simmons, Francisco Alarcon, Liliana, guy from conference, other)

Jan 30 - Start annotated bibliography.
Feb. 6 -
Feb 13 -
Feb 20 - 1 short article due
Feb 27 - 1 short article due
Mar 5 -
Mar 12 - 1 short article due
Mar 19
Mar 26 - 1 short article due
Apr 2
Apr 9 - Early draft of final paper due
Apr 16
Apr 23 - Final annotated bibliography due
Apr 30 - 1 short article due
May 7
May 14 - draft of final paper
May 17 - final paper due

Sink or swim! 

I have no idea where this will go and it seems like it's possibly an overly ambitious project. But it is exciting to me so I'm going to give it a good try.

I would welcome any comments or suggestions!

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