Multilingualism has long been a key characteristic, even a central tenet of literary experimentation. So maybe it seems a bit weird that after all these commentaries I still haven’t found anything to say about the various streams of modernist literature that drew upon other languages. Why haven't I addressed T.S. Eliot's attempted reconstitution of the “mind of Europe”? What about Ezra Pound's (also attempted) translation of Chinese written characters? Or what about the less well known but no less multilingual Zurich Dada “nonsense” poems that drew upon anthropological works, using fragments and phrases from world Indigenous languages to inform their experiments in non-meaning?
Analyses of avant-garde or experimental poetry typically understand multilingualism as a part of the modernist dream of breaking with the past in order to prefigure an unforeseen but possible future.
In the newest issue of The Wallace Stevens Journal, a special issue (volume 38, number 2, dated Fall 2014) devoted to Helen Vendler’s career-long interest in Stevens’s poetry, an essay by me appears. Here is a link to a PDF copy of the piece.
Those of us who teach know that the various cultural debates around multilingualism worm their ways into our classrooms. At the K-12 level especially, bi- and multilingual education have specific consequences for funding: the fear is that English Language Learners (ELLs) will lower schools’ test scores, resulting in a punitive drop in already meager funding. In higher ed, many universities are getting rid of foreign language requirements (although they’re still promoting study abroad as a great resumé-booster and as the ticket to success in an increasingly globalized economy). At all levels of education, of course, there are many students who are second-language (or third- or fourth-language) speakers, and students speak varieties of English other than the ones that are privileged in traditional education. Many of these students want to improve their use of Standard English, but that doesn't mean they should be made to feel as though there is an "English Only" sign on the classroom door.
Translation from Japanese by Hiromi Ito & Jerome Rothenberg
It was Sugaru of the Little Boy Clan who was the chancellor of the Emperor Yuryoku, as vital to him as his heart and liver. One day when when the Emperor was residing at Iware-no-Miya palace and was having sex there with his wife, Sugaru burst into the chamber and the Emperor, feeling shame, broke off his foreplay. At that moment they heard thunder and the Emperor told Sugaru: Go forth now and send a summons to the God of Thunder. Sugaru replied that he would go. The Emperor then proclaimed: Go forth and send a summons to the God of Thunder.
The great Nicanor Parra turned one-hundred years old last September. Obviously, nobody has wanted to miss the opportunity to celebrate and honor the world-renowned anti-poet. Local and foreign media have been publishing extensive biographies, reviews, and special notes on Parra’s life and work (some examples here, here, here, and here). Also different institutions in Chile have organized activities such as exhibitions and collective readings. The Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center (GAM) installed a photo exhibit labeled as his “first visual biography,” organized an international seminar about anti-poetry, and launched the book “Nicanor Parra or the art of demolition” by the British poet and scholar, Niall Binns. The National Council for Culture and Arts organized a collective reading called “National Parra-phrase” where people were invited to simultaneously read the poem “The Imaginary Man” (watch a video here), and Diego Portales University put together a remarkable exhibition of his visual work, installations, and his famous “Artifacts.”