Friday Prompt: Working With Hybrid Language

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This month, in preparation for Issue 5: “The Hybridity Issue,” we’ve dedicated our Friday Prompts to exploring how collage, mixing and hybridization can be meaningful (and generative) practices for poets interested in exploring the narratives and critical concerns of the Asian American community..  Thus far, we’ve looked at hybrid form and mixed media; today we’ll be talking about hybridized language.

In contemporary poetry, quirky mixtures of the high and low, archaic and contemporary, and the scientific and colloquial are so common that we’re no longer surprised when a writer quotes a religious text–the Bible, for instance–and then, without skipping a beat, relays the one-liner they heard while waiting for an oil change.  This kind of modulation, frequently used for ironic or comedic effect, can also be deployed for more serious purposes–and, I suspect, is a mode we’ve come to embrace because miscegenated language reflects our cultural moment in a way that elegant, seamlessly constructed prose does not.  Just Google “best place to get tacos” or “Jeremy Lin is awesome” and see what comes up.

For many Asian American poets, however, linguistic hybridity is more than just an intellectual exercise.  Many of us are multilingual, or come from families whose histories are told in multiple tongues (two, at least, and sometimes more–I’m thinking here of Korean-Brazilian writer Larissa Min, who writes in the linguistic spaces between Portuguese, English and Korean).  And even if our tongues aren’t split by language, the idea of linguistic difference–our grandparents’ English versus our own, our professors’ English versus our aunties’–is important for more than theoretical reasons.  It’s freighted with cultural, and thus, emotional weight.  Our split tongues matter–even if, as is the case for me, a fourth-generation Japanese American, our “mother tongue” is little more than a myth, a conspicuous silence that, in its marked absence, tells us something about our history. Continue reading “Friday Prompt: Working With Hybrid Language”

Event Coverage: Breaking English

Larissa Min reading a creative nonfiction manuscript at Halo, in the Capitol HIll neighborhood of Seattle.
Larissa Min, reading from an account of her family's journey from Korea to Brazil and the United States. Photo courtesy of Maya Li.

I mentioned in my last post that I was planning to check out an event on December 4th called Breaking English, hosted by Korean-Brazilian writer Larissa Min.  Larissa moved to Seattle in 2000, where she got her M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Washington.  Since then, she has taught at local community colleges and begun work on a family history project mapping her parents’ journey from Korea to Brazil, and several decades later, to New York City.  Her research, sponsored by the Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, has taken her back to Brazil, down the streets of her hometown, and into the archives of her childhood library.  

I arrived at the event a little late, but found a great seat as Larissa assured the audience that she was running on “Latino time” and would be ready in a few minutes.  I felt immediately gratified to be in the company of what seemed to me a different crowd than the one that usually frequents Seattle literary events (where I am often the only person of color present!)  The unusual venue, a darkened second-floor dance studio in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district (known for its arts community), was a lovely event space: floor-length mirrors, wood pillars, votive candles flickering on the hardwood, white paper bags glowing luminously along the back wall of the studio…   Continue reading “Event Coverage: Breaking English”