Is multilingual poetry any different from other representations of multilingualism in contemporary culture? In my previously two commentaries, I've looked at some of the things that multilingual poetry does differently than other kinds of poetry. But what does it do differently from other cultural forms that are also multilingual?
One recent example of a multilingual cultural text is Coca-Cola's 2014 Super Bowl commercial "It's Beautiful," which was also shown during the Sochi Olympic Games. This ad touched a nerve because it features eight tween girls singing "America the Beautiful" — but they do so in, Spanish, Tagalog, Mandarin, Hebrew, Keres, Senegalese French, and Arabic as well as English (quelle horreur!).
In previous commentaries I’ve written about displacement in Vancouver caused by gentrification in the context of the original displacement of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples, the original inhabitants of this land known as Vancouver. Now I want to consider people bought to this land by displacement.
In August 2010, a few short months after Vancouver’s $6 billion Olympic spectacle (the City’s second mega event after Expo 86), 492 Tamil children, women, and men arrived on the coast of British Columbia. Fleeing ethnic persecution and civil war, the migrants boarded the cargo ship MV Sun Sea and began their dangerous 3–month journey.
A new hub has emerged in the world of online poetics research from Jacket’s own founder, John Tranter. Tranter’s new multidisciplinary Journal of Poetics Research, based in Sydney, Australia, explores “the theory and practice of literary discourse in culture, media and the arts broadly conceived, including poetry, prose, journalism, drama, cinema, radio and television, as well as … literary, historical, social, institutional and psychological modes of narrative, theory and contention.”
Tranter founded Jacket magazine in 1997 and ran the journal for forty issues until 2010, when Tranter retired from thirteen years of intense daily involvement with the journal and the Jacket archives moved to servers at the University of Pennsylvania upon Jacket2’s launch.
The following talk was commissioned in March 2014 for the life celebration of poet, actress, and sculptor Melitta Urbancic, who fled from Austria to Iceland during the second World War. Her poetry collection From the Edge of the World was translated into Icelandic by Sölvi Björn Sigurðsson and launched at the celebration. I was asked to speak about the experience of being a foreign-born artist living and working in Iceland.
Góðan daginn og til hamingju með daginn.
It is a pleasure to think through the situation of the foreign-born Iceland-dwelling artist through the lenses of cultural sharing, societal impact, and especially polylingual implications.
I titled my talk Bý: a talk about the útlendingaljóðskald’s ecolinguistic activism through apiculture and Icelandic-language acquisition. As a poet, I’m a language pervert, and this long-winded multisyllabic title grants me the potential to introduce the terms ‘ecolinguistics’ and ‘apiculture’ into the room. Both terms are, for me, at the intersection where my experience crosses with Melitta Urbancic’s experience as a foreign-born artist living and working in Iceland.