Local writers and their diversity of language
As the Annual Local Authors Conference at the New London Public Library nears, I walk around Bank Street, remembering other associations of local writers and the ways they celebrated their craft, to which they were religiously committed − even when not in absolute agreement when faced with some big change.
I think about the Nuyorrican poet Tato Laviera as I go past the old Mallowe jewelry store location on State Street, above which there was an apartment where the Mosaic Magazine for the Hygienic Art Show was assembled; a Starr Street home where meetings for the poetry magazine "A Letter Among Friends" took place; and the Wine and Cheese Cellar on Golden Street and the Bulkeley House on Bank, where many of the public readings hosted by A Letter took place.
One of the changes I refer to was the decision to publish poetry in Spanish by the board of A Letter Among Friends, which shook things up to the point that some started referring to the magazine as "A Letter Among Enemies." I did introduce my fellow poets to the work of Tato Laviera, who proposed texts in which Spanish and English would be mixed in novel ways to get to the core of the life experiences of the many individuals in our midst who are more proficient in languages/cultures other than English. Laviera had been publishing poems such as “my graduation speech”:
i think in spanish
i write in english…
“taro” in english
tonto in both languages
We understood that in order to write those lines one needs to know both languages well, and to want to learn about the other, not be separated. So we hosted multilingual poetry readings, where a man came to read in Persian; a teacher at the Williams School and his student, in Swahili; someone from Benny Dover read poetry from Puerto Rico. I look at the new (and old) businesses in downtown today, and I think that we were quite right conceptualizing the readings that would give voice to the local population, which shows a diversity that has survived the learning of the English language.
Celidet Thompson, one of the new business owners, narrates her learning English after arriving here from her native Panamá. She attended classes at New London Adult Education, which she loved, became a certified nurse's assistant and got her first job at Fairview Fellowship Nursing Home. But, to her surprise, the old people could not understand what she was saying and they did not stop at the well-meaning criticism. This provided the real-world practice that taught her to speak well. And she is proud to be one of the many people working to build up downtown.
It is the need to listen and communicate what is important that is at the heart of a writer‘s work. What wouldn‘t we learn about our neighbor‘s fears, hopes, and ideas to do things better if we really listened? Something in the form of generosity and trust and acceptance has to be done in our quest for a better world, allowing our “better angels” to guide us, for a change.
Join us on March 23 at the Public Library of New London. You may just find here the voice you need to hear; the sounds of your own "language."
Resurrección Espinosa-Frink lives in New London.
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