Unraveling tongues

A review of 'She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks'

I first encountered M. NourbeSe Philip’s poetical interruptions three years ago, in a course taught by Tisa Bryant called Unnamable Texts. We spent time with “Discourse on the Logic of Language,” which is a sequence from her 1988 collection She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks. My memory of this poem is bodily. Part of this is due to how we read this piece; not only silently to ourselves, but also following along to a recording of Philip performing the poem. Throughout her delivery, she subtly elongates the word language until it becomes a cry, a tender wound, throbbing.

If she does not ravel and unravel his universe, she will then remain silent, looking at him looking at her. — Trinh T. Minh-ha[1]

Bird, La Bruja

Soleida Ríos, Photo by Kristin Dykstra, 2013
Soleida Ríos, Photo by Kristin Dykstra, 2013

Soleida Ríos (b. 1950 in eastern Cuba) is a remarkable poet from whom comparatively little work is circulating to date in English.  There may be a further delay in terms of book projects in translation, for Ríos lost a translator when Barbara Jamison tragically passed away. 

The death of a translator is a reminder of the small, mortal scale of possibility embedded within these our “global” landscapes.  It’s also a cue to remember, with Esther Allen, that “the translation of a text often depends largely or perhaps wholly on contextual factors that have less to do with the work’s intrinsic value (whatever that might be and however you might measure it) than with encounters between individuals and the shifting cultural and political contexts within which those encounters take place.”[1]

Uncertain geographies: Caroline Sinavaiana & Hazel Smith in (imagined) conversation

Part of the "Hand Upon Hand" sculpture in Centennial Park, Sydney; poem by Adam Aitken

In her marvelous, odd textbook, The Writing Experiment: Strategies for Innovative Creative Writing, Hazel Smith devotes a late chapter to “Mapping worlds, moving cities.”  Composing in a kind of sociological sublime, she writes in the subsection, “The diasporic city,” of the sub-section, “Cities rather than city,” “As the concept of the nation-state breaks down, people migrate and borders shift.  The modern western city has become a mixture of nationalities and ethnicities: this has transformed food, clothing, customs, art and language” (260).  Cutting to the chase, she ends her paragraph on “the diasporic city” with this pithy sentence: “The diasporic city is as much about displacement as about place” (261).  

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