Following up on my last post about Janet Neigh’s wonderful article on multilingual poetry and feminist pedagogy, I wanted to spend a bit more time reflecting on multilingual writing in the classroom, and more specifically in the creative writing workshop. I know this might sound daunting — what if the teacher doesn’t speak the same languages as the students? How will she know if their writing is any good?
Luckily for me (and also for my students), when I teach creative writing I’m not interested in diagnosing what’s good and what’s bad. Instead, I want to see what the students can make language do.
“Lamenta,” the longest series in Myung Mi Kim’s fourth collection, Commons (2002), is structured after the metonic cycle, a calendrical unit of nineteen years. A lunisolar measure, the metonic cycle encapsulates the notions of simultaneity, equivalence, and difference. It is the “period of whole days over which the visible lunar and solar periods almost resynchronize” (Dictionary of Weights and Measures). This re-synchronization suggests a confluence between two different measures of time, which can be identified without subsuming one order of measure into the other. Importantly, there is a remainder when these two cycles nearly meet: “the difference between the 236 synodic months and 19 mean tropical years is barely two hours.” A portion always exceeds.
On March 15, 2007, Penn students and Charles Bernstein interviewed Myung Mi Kim as part of Bernstein's "Close Listening" series. Michael Nardone has now transcribed the entire discussion, for publication, later, in Jacket2. Meantime, here is an excerpt:
STUDENT: You mentioned yesterday how each reading is different and how you would have other people come up and read your work. If you could just elaborate on that and how would someone who doesn’t speak another language experience repercussions while reading?
KIM: Let me start with the second part of your question first, because I think it dovetails nicely with what I’ve just been saying about what are the demands on sense and sense-making that are politically and socially and culturally driven. So, when you ask that question about, well, what about a person who doesn’t speak, you know, another language, and what kind of condition would be produced for that reader, my question always, whether out loud or implicitly, is can you produce an approximation of the condition of language again unhooked from the demands of communication and communicability and transparency, and can you somehow suggest/evoke/amplify/proliferate different ways of being inside and listening to and activating the space that we call language, which doesn’t belong to any one language group, doesn’t belong to any one particular idea of how basic things that benchmarks of language like rhythm, syntax, intonation, inflection, taking all those things as resources for meaning, as resources for experience. So, in other words, even if there were no identifiable thing called the second language, there’s something produced about an experience of language, and I think everyone has access to that.