Sunday, 8 February 2015

Language

In many poems, language draws attention to itself - either as topic for reflection or as the material out of which the poem is made. Please choose two or more Canadian poems that focus on and/or foreground language and describe their similarities and differences.

You may (but you don't have to) consider the conditions (historical, cultural, philosophical, political, social, etc) under which the poems of your choice were written in this context.

You can also share your own poem that thematizes or plays with language here.


Image from: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1d/A_LAKE_A_LANE_A_LINE_A_LONE_-_bpNichol.jpg



1 comment:

  1. The Man Who Lives In The Gazebo
    The man who lives in the gazebo in the park in this
    ineloquent metropolis—to imagine he has nothing
    but what the rain gives him in his sleep: riches
    of a presence, fingers tapping, silver-ringed,
    what a child hears of voices, pure plash
    of a cadence loosed from sense. This morning
    work-bound strangers, mutely trampling
    the many-eyed, the dew-decked blades of grass
    step around him, living shadows, unrepentant
    in their trespass. While across the bay the city
    clears its throat but never speaks—as language
    is held within us as we sleep, words
    whose meanings fold in on themselves—
    on waking, shut the door.

    -Chris Hutcherson
    The poem’s diction largely focuses on the city urgent need to express itself through language and inability to do so. Hutcherson describes the city as “ineloquent”—unable to speak for itself, “[clearing] its throat but rarely [speaking]”, as if the struggle for words isn’t based on our lack of voice, but our lack of understanding of language. The speaker declares that “language/prefers to find us while we sleep”, suggesting that language acts most powerfully in the unconscious the way the language of commercialization works best in priming our heads into believing we need certain commodities in order to be happy. The language of speech in the poem muted with words like ineloquent, shadows, sleep, and shut—presenting an image of language that is also muted.
    The opening poem of W.H. New’s YVR, on the other hand, lists the names parks around Vancouver, in rhyming couplets. The first four lines goes as follows: “China Creek, Still Creek, Oppenheimer, Lam, / Choklit, Trafalgar, Ebisu, Elm— // Nelson, Kensington, Charleson, Grays, / Robson, Templeton, Thornton, Falaise—” (1-4). I think this poem, in contrast to Chris Hutcherson’s poem, discusses the power of language more discretely. Without having to identify language as the common ground of these places, one can identify the names as names of places, suggesting that language’s power to NAME gives it the power to be heard—not to be muted. The poem need not use any other word in English for the native Vancouverite to realize that it is referring to the language of streets and naming, and how they function in understanding the larger metanarrative of the city itself. These names, as places, are identifiers of the city.

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