Welcome and thanks for joining me tonight for Poetics. I thought that for tonight’s theme we could use Foreign Language in our poetry. I’ve always been someone that enjoys the way other language sounds. There’s just something in the way your words, when spoken with a Foreign Tongue, take on an entirely different life. I frequently translate my own writing into various languages, just to see how the tone, the voice, the feel of the poem changes.
I also thought that this evening would give those outside of North America a chance to compose a poem in their native tongue. Let’s face it; English is the language of the Internet. Which is fine, but solely utilizing one of the many languages in this world, to me, seems so limiting. Other languages have much to offer the poet and I love it whenever I come across a poem or song written in a language other than English.
Sound is the main reason I enjoy poetry written in other languages. There’s just something about the way a word or a line sounds when read or listened to in that other language. None of this is to say that the English language can’t be beautiful, which of course it can. Beauty exists in all things and language is no different. Each offers its own advantages over another. Many poems change symbolically when the words are spoken with a foreign tongue. I don’t think that a poem that is wonderful in one language can’t be wonderful in another, as they most certainly can be, yet, there’s no denying that a poem in one language takes on a completely different feel when spoken through the words of another language.
For me, there’s no comparison to hearing a love song in Italian, Latin or French. There’s nothing like a darkly themed poem composed in German or Russian. There are the sprawling sagas that just aren’t the same when translated into English from the Scandinavian. Spanish is beautiful in any context as are many of the Arabic languages.
But, we can take this idea even further. We can discuss made up languages, like Klingon, Na’vi or say, a computer language even, just to name a few other out-there options. There are books and sites that have translations for these and other fictional languages.
We can even stay with English, but spice it up big time by incorporating heavy doses of dialect, jargon and slang. And while this is somewhat off the course of what I had intended, they are technically possibilities to ponder or perhaps use in your poetry.
There are certain ideas and emotions that just don’t translate well into English, and while you can almost always find something close or similar, it’s a shame that one has to suppress authorial intent simply to satisfy or appease the masses.
Personally, I don’t even care what the meaning is sometimes. As is almost always the case, when I first sit down to read a poem written in a language I don’t understand, I read it through as is, completely missing whatever the author’s intent was. But that takes nothing away from my enjoyment. It gives me a chance to focus on the way the words and the language reads, the ballet of the syllables, the harshness and the soft edges, the rolling of consonants etc… It’s music to the mind.
Many would argue though that you inhibit understanding when you write outside the norm. While meaning could be stifled, it doesn’t have to be. There are hundreds of translation apps out there and while none of them are perfect, the gist of meaning can easily be gathered. And to that, there’s nothing saying that the poet can’t include his or her own translation beneath the original.
Then, we have the situation where we don’t have to compose the entire piece in another language either. This, again, is not the intent of the discussion, but just to offer more possibilities I’ll mention it. In fact, I’ve seen many poets incorporate a line to a stanza written in a contrasting language within their work and most times it’s very effective.
It’s effective because it’s contrasting. It’s a jolt to the reader’s sense of awareness, perhaps even their comfort level. But it’s effective also because of symbolism. Many poets use the art of symbolism, and for those that don’t, I feel it should be done, but again, that’s just my take. A couple examples of how using another language as a symbol in itself can be incredibly powerful:
You’re writing a poem about a relationship that has gone estranged. You’ve been out of touch for many years, yet recently have grown close once again. Here, the poet could make an allusion to the chains being broken, or some type of wall breaking down, allowing the two to unite once more. While strong in it’s own right, wouldn’t it but that much more effective and powerful if you chose to compose that allusion in German.
You’re composing a poem about an abusive relationship and choose to write a repeating stanza that speaks about persecution, cruelty and inhumanity. While I’m sure that this stanza and this poem would be incredibly moving on it’s own, I would have to think that composing the stanza in Hebrew would be powerful on an entirely deepened scale.
These are just a couple examples, but I’m sure you can see the point. So, here’s the lowdown. Compose a poem in a language other than English. Yes, technically English could be, and is for many is, a foreign language, but for the sake of the exercise, either choose a different language or, even better, write in your natural language, something that you never really get to do because of the Internet’s affinity to English. You don’t have to include a translation, but, as I’m assuming many won’t copy and paste entire poems into translation programs, if you want the meaning of the poem heard, then perhaps include a translation somewhere down the page.
Here’s a brief example. It’s short 3-line poem I just wrote now. The English poem comes first and is followed by some translations. This alone should give a nice feel to how the words can change depending on the translation.
Love approached me by the stream
In her eyes all the rocks shone like gold
Awakened I became fully, whole.
L’amore mi ha avvicinato dal torrente
Nei suoi occhi tutte le rocce brillavano come l’oro
Risvegliato sono diventato pieneamente, tutto.
El amor se me acerco por la corriente
En sus ojos todas las rocas brillaban como el oro
Despierto me converti en su totalidad, todo.
Liebe naherte sich mir durch den Strom.
In ihren Augen all die Felsen glanzte wie Gold
Geweckt wurde ich ganz, ganz.
L’amour m’a approche par le courant.
A ses yeux, toutes les roches brillait comme de l’or
Reveille je suis devenu pleinement, ensemble.
Karleken kontaktade mig vid backen
I hennes ogon alla stenar lyste som guild
Vlackt Jag blev helt, hela.
Gra I dteagmhail liorn ag an sruth
I suille Scairt ar fad na carraigeacha cosuil le hor
Awakened Bhi me go hiomlan, go hiomlan
muSHa’ yitta’ jIH SUM blQ
Daq Daj minDu’ Hoch nagh rur SuD baS
Hu’ jIH mojta’ teblu ‘ta’, Hoch
This exercise can be done composing an entire poem or incorporating fragments of another language into your poem. And not to leave anyone out, to those who don’t want to write in another language, then perhaps you could use the situation of foreigners speaking around you as a theme. How does it make you feel? Do you wonder what is being said etc… I’m hoping more choose the first option, but any and all are welcome and I look forward to spending another Poetics behind the bar. Cheers.
Heres How It Works:
• Write your poem and post it to your blog
• Add a link to your poem via the ‘Mr Linky’ below
• This opens a new screen where you’ll enter your information, and where you also choose links to read. Once you have pasted your poem’s blog URL and entered your name, click Submit. Don’t worry if you don’t see your name right away
• Read and comment on other peoples work to let them know it’s being read
• Share via your favourite social media platforms
• Above all- have fun!