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”

Panax Ginseng: The Shallow Underworld of This History

Panax Ginseng is a monthly column by Henry W. Leung exploring the transgressions of linguistic and geographic borders in Asian American literature, especially those which result in hybrid genres, forms, vernaculars, and visions. The column title suggests the congenital borrowings of the English language, deriving from the Greek panax, meaning “all-heal,” and the Cantonese jansam, meaning “man-root.” The troubling image of one’s roots as a panacea will inform the column’s readings of new texts.


Literasians Panel (Photo credit Elezanbee Vue)


For APIA Heritage Month, the SOMArts Gallery in San Francisco ran an exhibit from May 3-25 curated by Jennifer Banta: “The Future Is NOW: Asian America On Its Own Terms.” I parsed the exhibit’s title as a reconception of time (“future,” “now”) through geopolitical space (“Asian America”) and voice (“its own terms”). There were two art installments in the exhibit which I regarded as conceptual centerpieces. The first was “Are we there yet?” by Truong Tran: a small, woven boat suspended over a blue panel with “Are we there yet?” repeated across it in a splash of font sizes. The woven boat here is a ruralized image of the refugee immigrant (i.e. “boat people”) juxtaposed to the refrain of the suburban child in a car’s backseat—two generations of passengers condensed into one locus of space and voice. Across from this piece was another, “Red Lips” by Su-Chen Hung: a pool of water gurgling from a covered and endless source, rippling outward from beneath red tasseled “lips.” In this post, I’d like to show the engagement with “now” to be a convergence of past, present, and future all at once by looking at a literary panel held in the gallery space, and by considering the work of two poets recently featured on the LR blog, Garrett Hongo and Andre Yang.

The panel was titled Literasians and took place on May 24th. Kartika Review editor-at-large Christine Lee Zilka moderated a discussion between Sandra Park, Aimee Phan, Lysley Tenorio, and Andre Yang. Though the art fixtures were not commented upon directly, they were very present as the event’s backdrop. The panel’s description, “writers converging on the APIA literary continuum,” was in line with the thematic use of spatialized time, with “continuum” referring at once to a linear series and a dimensional whole. The panelists spoke on one end of the gallery while the water bubbled from “Red Lips” on the other end. Lined up behind the writers was “Most Wanted” by Taraneh Hemami, a series of face portraits elevated and blurred. And even farther back was a timeline chronicling APIA art exhibits shown at this site since 2002. All this contributed to making the space one of historical synchronicity.

Continue reading “Panax Ginseng: The Shallow Underworld of This History”