Tag Archives: Language

Pico Iyer Asks: “Where is Home?” I Say: “Home is Babel”

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poetsofbabelAug28

Pico Iyer asks: “Where is home?” I say: “Home is Babel.”

In this amazing TED talk (I know, I know, ALL TED Talks are amazing, but this one is special!) Pico Iyer just articulated everything I already knew but am just beginning to coherently express about myself. I am debating whether or not to tell you to watch the video Pico Iyer Where is Home first or later. You decide. But if you are a citizen of the world or a citizen of Babel like me then you will feel finally and completely understood, it will feel scientific even.

It’s all the more powerful that I saw this after writing and performing my latest poem “Babili/Home” , my first macaronic language poem, mainly in English with touches of Hebrew, French, Russian and one phrase in Ukrainian. It’s about home. It’s about who I am. It’s an idea I’ve been trying to iron out since I wrote “Multicultural is the New Multiracial” for the Mixed Race 2.0 project (forthcoming) on ‘blackness’ (the African-American brand) coupled with the elusive feeling of detachment from it after (and honestly even before) living within another culture and disdane with having to be defined all of the time. Or  what I wrote in “The Babel in Us” (Hebrew) in the multilingual, Tel Aviv based poetry journal “Space”. about how everyone is a little macaronic these days, multilingualism is everywhere and needs places to be expressed which is why I created Poets of Babel.

Speaking of multilingual or macaronic poetry, there are a couple of poets who I know would dig this talk. You should check them out too. One, I’ve mentioned often, Antoine Cassar, the author of the first macaronic poem I read and loved, “Merħba,” as well as the lingual adventures of the book Mużajk (Mosaic), or the powerfully open-hearted poem “Passaport” , which brought tears to my eyes with the line:

“no one to brand you stranger, alien, criminal, illegal immigrant, or extra-communautaire, nobody is extra, …”

Another poet I just met over the summer at a ‘Mini International Poetry Festival’ in Tel Aviv,  is Johannes CS Frank, the author of  Remembrances of Copper Cream, a trilingual poetry book, in English, German and Hebrew, which is  simultaneously as cosmopolitan as it is a visceral authentically Jerusalem experience, right down to the copper highlighted sketches,

“a full scale model of the universe”

“Merħba” and Remembrances of Copper Cream both appear in the photo above.

You know what, just watch Pico Iyer’s video, & my poem “Babili/Home” and then reach out to me. If you’re a citizen of Babel, not just multicultural or multilingual but have been haunted by the feeling that you basically belong nowhere specifically but to so many places at the same time, collage people, mosaic people, Embrace.

 

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See For Yourself~Poets of Babel’s 1st Anniversary Videos

Video

It took me a while, perhaps too long, but I have still abided by my old rule of sharing “before the next event,” which will be next Monday, June 24th. Instead of telling you how it was, I’m just going to let you listen for yourself. It’ll be almost like you didn’t miss a thing.

~To enjoy the human voice in variation; to love the spoken word, foreign and poetic…

Moriel Rothman- English, Hebrew & Arabic

Amir Khalifa- Arabic

Alon Metrikin Gold- Hebrew

Sarina Furer- English

Valery Daniel Karasik- Russian

Shoshana Sarah – (English) Closing Poem, Dedicated to Maïté

 

Spoken Word Open Mic with Live Music- Nathan

Spoken Word Open Mic with Live Music- Ellen Potless

 

 

Merħba to Poets of Babel

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Poets of Babel

Poets of Babel (© Shoshana Sarah 2012)

I believe in messages from the universe. At least over a year ago, I decided that I wanted to start a poetry club. Then, I did nothing…until today.

Last Thursday, I met with two of the most awesome people I know, Marc, a former break dancer/polyglot MC turned design engineer and Nadine, a jeweler who is petite in stature but huge in spirit. After talking the night away at La Champa, on the subject of poetry versus hip hop, and discovering for the first time that Nadine writes also, (“I love you even more!” I exclaimed) she said, “We should start a poetry club.”

“I’ve been wanting to start a poetry club for ages,” I replied.

In the shower, the next day, while shampooing my hair, I received it:

Poets of Babel. ‘A place where poets would not be limited in participation based on their mother tongue or the language they chose to write poetry in.’ 99% of the people I know are at least bilingual and I would want anyone who’s a poet there. ‘If you’ve got a friend who understands what you wrote, bring him,’ I thought. Then, while rinsing, the perfect tag line came to compliment the name of the club: “Poets of Babel: If you are a poet, we speak the same language.”

Perfect.

Meanwhile, in the world of Facebook, I’d been tagged in a book review. The poor author’s novel had been torn to shreds by the critic, but one line stood out:

“Every single character talks in exactly the same idiotically macaronic way, and 500 pages into it, you are still trying to remember which humourless pundit is which.”

This is because, as I’m not too proud to admit, I did not know what macaronic meant. And, yes, it does come from the same root as macaroni.

I share with you my new found knowledge:

mac.a.ron.ic

Definition of MACARONIC

1

: characterized by a mixture of vernacular words with Latin words or with non-Latin words having Latin endings

2

: characterized by a mixture of two languages

— macaronic noun

Origin of MACARONIC

New Latin macaronicus, from Italian dialect maccarone macaroni

First Known Use: 1638

(http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/macaronic)

Macaronic is the written form of another term I was familiar with: code-switching. I, and most people I know in Israel, engage in code-switching, the practice of moving back and forth between two languages or between two dialects or registers of the same language.

It was while reading everything I could online about macaronic usage that I discovered my new hero: Antoine Cassar, a Maltese poet and translator.  His multilingual poem Merħba was the Grand Prize winner of the United Planet Writing Contest in 2009.

Merhaba, a poem of hospitality

Merhaba, a poem of hospitality

(The cover photographs of a Tibetan child were taken by
United Planet’s Founder and Executive Director, David Santulli.
United Planet is an international non-profit organisation based
in Boston, USA, which carries out social and educational
development projects in five continents. For more information,
visit http://www.unitedplanet.org.)

Here is how his website describes the poem:

Merħba, a poem of hospitality is a narrative, musical homage to the unfailing and unconditional hospitality and warmth that welcome travellers the world over, despite the tragedies and hardships lived by families and communities on a daily basis. It is at once a celebration and a lamentation of our colourful, shrinking planet and of our common yet conflicting humanity.” (http://antoinecassar.wordpress.com/merhba-a-poem-of-hospitality-2009/)

There is a link to a free download of the poem.

I downloaded it.

I read it.

I loved it.

I fell in love with it.

I couldn’t even understand all of it but loved it despite, or more likely, because.

I love that man, Antoine Cassar, without ever having met him, for he has combined my loves.

~Poetry and Language all wrapped up in Oneness~

Now, I smile, because I have heard the message from the universe and I will not ignore it. Having just returned from Malta two months ago, which was also a stroke of fate, it all made even more sense. I will read Merħba at the opening event of Poets of Babel. I don’t know if Antoine Cassar will ever hear of us, but I am confident that he would approve…

for if you are a poet, we speak the same language. 

Tower of Babel

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Tower of Babel by Shoshana Sarah

My Tower of Babel

So…I am obsessed with the Tower of Babel. I’m not 100% sure why although it’s clear to me that this obsession relates to my love of languages. But it’s not just the love of speaking languages or even hearing them, but just seeing the text of another language sends me into an irrationally ecstatic frenzy. I get giddy. Seriously, I do.

I bought a poster of the Tower of Babel. Once, I took my daughters to the museum for kids day, the day the subject was the Tower of Babel, of course, and then took over one of their projects (hey, she let me!). Then I decided that I wanted to imitate that project in a collage. The product is what you see here.

I started off with two A4 papers that I taped together. I drew out the framework of where I wanted things to be. Then I started cutting…it started out normal enough, pictures of skies for the sky (the cool clouds near the top are pics from Hubble)…but this was my first *pre-meditated* collage. Hence, the obsession reached a new level.

I would laugh like a mad scientist when I’d found a new scrap of language to add like finding an marvelous, not so decomposed ear for my Frankenstein. I would snatch papers from the street (one man’s trash became my treasure), take flyers that were clearly not meant for me from the post office, and hunted down as many languages as I could ‘naturally’ get my hands on like a cold-blooded killer.

Ok, maybe I’m taking this a bit too far.

I started with the old yellowed paper at the bottom which I knew- the moment I saw it discarded on the street- would be the ‘sand’ and the first part of the collage. The sky was the easy part (the moon took a while to find). I wanted the languages I found to really be ‘found’- I knew I could Google whatever I wanted to but I refrained as much as possible (couldn’t resist the Sanskrit, Hindi, Celtic and Georgian though).

The collage includes: English, Russian, Hebrew, French, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Persian (thanks, Yuliya), Arabic, Sanskrit, Hindi, Celtic, Amharic, Ancient Hebrew, Hieroglyphics (my pride & joy), Greek, Georgian, what I am 95% sure is Thai (the post office flyer that clearly wasn’t for me) and Ancient Cuneiform(some of which I sketched on top of the collage).

There are also a variety of flags, symbols- such as the Olympics symbol and the Mayan sun and moon gods, the Hebrew name of god at the top of the tower, as well as strategically placed purposeful English phrases such as: “pillars of creation,” “mysteries of the universe,” and “he loved the people.”

I cut the palm trees outs of images of plants and wood, respectively. The camels on both sides are actually one picture. The right side is the water reflection of the left, which I thought was cool and reminiscent of a mirage. The silver windows are from cigarette packaging and the gold windows are from confiscated gold paper from a certain educational facility (*ahem*).

The icing on the cake is the sun I painted myself- I cut it out of another painting (I am forever indebted to Racheli for teaching me how to mix colors) and the REAL sand, which I shamelessly had my oldest daughter ‘misappropriate’ from the school grounds (she was quite impatient for me to use it which took me the better part of a month).

~*~*~*~

After all that, I started thinking, maybe I should have been patient. I should have researched all of the languages that have ever existed (to man’s knowledge of course) and then arranged them etymologically and chronologically from the bottom up with English at the top as the new lingua franca in one enormous, meticulously planned, ridiculously awesome Magnum Opus!!!

*sigh*

So…I am obsessed with the Tower of Babel…

…I’m also obsessed with words, clocks, maps and compasses (by the way, I’m almost finished with the words collage and I’m collecting maps as we speak).