Jennifer Tamayo

Multilingualism in the workshop

Creative writing across languages

The Tower of Babel
The Tower of Babel

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. To that end, I try to take an expanded and expansive approach to language: I want the students to think about the different languages and different kinds of language that they use every day, and to think about how any of these might take on a new life in writing.

Let me try to spin this out as a quick draft syllabus: in my upcoming 300-level poetry workshop, “Languages of Poetry,” we’ll begin by reading Frank O’Hara’s “Personism” manifesto, which is about how a poem should be between two people, without any paper mediation. Then, we’ll try this exercise devised by Kara Walker, in which we’ll write a story together through text messages.

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