Hello, hello! I'm here for a very belated Niffler review - this one is on behalf of Sam/Dojh167.
This was... really cool. I don't know much about poetry, but I've been reading some recently on the archives, because I want to branch out and stretch myself. Once again, I am bamboozled by a poem! But in a good way. Let me try and sort through my feelings.
I'm a first generation immigrant. Recently, I went to a wedding back in the "motherland" and I returned with a sort of bitter taste in my mouth. I felt this disconnect from my extended family members. They were strangers to me, but for some reason, it felt like I should know them because we share the same blood. I couldn't enjoy the food because it made me nauseous. And oh god, the noise pollution. Couldn't stand a second.
That was all said to set u the context of my feelings whilst reading this poem. To me, it spoke of the disconnect that I feel between myself and the place from where I am. I'm part of this culture - but also not. Those missing letters from the stanzas signified those missing parts. They represented a relationship between me and a place that's not-quite-right, but from afar, still makes sense.
That last line "and them i am silent" means so much to me. So often, when my family goes back, I can't really speak in public places because my accent - be it in English or my native tongue - will give me away foreign, and that's so often a liability. So for weeks on end, I feel like I just have to stay silent, so I don't give away that I don't quite belong back "home".
Thank you for making me feel all the feelings. This was great
There's just SO MUCH here, I'm not entirely sure where to start.
I'm really glad that I read across the great expanse in addition to this because I feel like they both are ultimately portraying a similar message that largely encompasses the idea of feeling separated from one's culture due to a limitation of language. However, aside from presentation (though largely implied by the structure of this poem), I feel like they might be taking slightly different paths. In across the great expanse, it felt as if the theme mostly dealt with the separation of family and culture, while using distance metaphorically for a language barrier (as well as concretely, of course). In this, because the structure contains purposely deconstructed words, it feels like there is a separation of self and culture due to the same language barrier.
Of course, I had the pleasure of reading your responses to the Perfect Blog interview before others, and I really enjoyed your explanation. I love that the meaning behind the letters gradually falling off as we get further into the poem is connected to understanding the "shape" of a word without being able to remember the entire sound of a word, per se, was really a thoughtful and clever technique. Also, the entire loss-of-memory connection entirely makes sense (and I'm a little bit ashamed that it didn't occur to me when I first read this) -- that, as we get further down the poem (or further down the line), memory of language can become begin to fall apart even more. And, in a way, I can see it representing an even more significant separation for the same reason.
And I want to point out a couple lines that spoke to me. First, "wh n a tongue loses its mind a d its memory and its heart" was not only a beautiful line, but I really love the underlying meaning behind it. There are the obvious correlations to the language barrier once again and how one can forget, but there's also the 'heart' part, which I think made this line particularly poignant to me. The idea that the mind, memory, and heart are all connected speaks volumes for things even past the concept of the poem (and even further past the entire point of the poem to things like dementia). As the heart can be said to be the center of physical and spiritual existence and the epicenter of wisdom, compassion, and love, it feels like a cycle is established here in saying, "forgetting means heartbreak [or even more dramatically, the cessation of existence] and heartbreak [can] mean forgetting [and, once again, to the extreme, we could say that the cessation of life means that forgetting, in the sense that it's even more difficult to remember a love one who has passed as the years go by; the small details like the way they smell, the exact shade of their eye color]. Of course, I went way out on a limb with that, but you should be proud that your poem has sent me into a cyclone of existential quandaries.
The next lines I wanted to point out were both of the third lines in the following two stanzas. I thought that these really connected to the idea of separation of self, especially the idea of 'who are you when you cannot understand' (for very obvious reasons). Then there was the questioning but I think what kicked that off was the question "You hear me?" because it feels as if the questions are falling on deaf ears when the person who is being asked cannot understand the language enough to either know what is being asked or how to respond. BUT then the "I don't know" was written without anything missing. Concretely, I can see this being something equivalent to one of the only things I know how to say in Spanish is "I don't speak Spanish" and the "and then i am silent" portion further emasizing the idea that this is all the narrator knows how to say fully, because that's all they've ever said when asked a question like this -- "I don't know".
So, yes, this poem was absolutely genius with JUST SO MUCH to look at that I'm not sure I even scratched the surface. Either way, you've done such an amazing job with it -- it was brilliant, really. Raw emotion spilled from it each and every time I read it [which was quite a few times].
Oooh. I love this.
I love this on a lot of levels.
One of my closest friends as a pre-teen/teenager came here from Hong Kong with her family when she was a toddler, and I had a lot of other friends whose parents had come from China before they were born. There's so much about this poem that makes me think of my close friend in particular - I watched her trying to balance her identity and how family in particular fit into it throughout our adolescence.
And while I'm not Chinese, there's also a level on which I can really relate to it myself. I don't know if I've mentioned this to you before - I may have? - but I moved from New York to New Mexico two years ago, and a big part of why I did was that my mom was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease in the fall of 2015, and I wanted to make sure I was spending time with/supporting my parents as they grappled with that and as the disease progressed.
I thought I knew what path supporting my family would take. It turns out that there was a lot I didn't know, including a lot about family - so the sentiment of not really understanding who you are when you don't understand family really, really speaks to me in particular.
I love this so much. I'm so glad it won SotM. <3
Eva! You've suddenly got twice as many stories on your page than I remembered :P
Okay so I just learned about an hour ago that it was poetry month (thank you for that blog) and thus here I am checking out your poetry. I've never seen anything quite like this before stylistically, and I really think that is part of the beauty of poetry. For all the rules about poetry, there's a lot of freedom as well, and I love the way you removed letters from the words to really emphasize the sense of loss of part of the self and of feeling incomplete because of the separation from one's history/culture. It's a perfect analogue too in that language is such an essential means of communication and when your understanding of a language begins to get holes in it from disuse, it's harder to connect with people, and that feeling of lost isolation really comes through in those last two stanzas in particular.
I also notced the way it starts out with complete words, and gradually more letters fall away as the poem goes on, which gives the impression of trying to hold on to a culture and a language that are slipping away from the narrator's experience despite their best efforts to hold on to them from far away. Those style choices are so effective at conveying this tone, and the piece is so cleverly written - in under 150 words you speak volumes. That's especially compelling considering the theme of silence and of not saying anything (or not being able to say anything, in the case of a lost language). The line "who are you when you cannot understand family" is especially powerful, and really speaks to the displacement felt by the narrator.
I can tell that this is such a personal piece, and really applaud you for the courage it took to share it. Thank you for sharing something so personal with us. And once again I'm so impressed by the quality and the diversity of your writing. You're able to write so many different styles flawlessly. This really was an amazing piece. Great work, Eva <3
Hi :) Honestly, with the speed I'm working through your author page you're really going to have to write more - though I promise I'll shut up about that for a while :P
I really wanna say quickly that it blows my mind how easily you turn your hand to so many different forms of writing: all sorts of different types of poetry, prose - it would be quicker, I suspect, to ask you what you can't write, rather than what you can write :P But seriously, you're just so so talented and it's so impressive, because it's hard to do all of those different things and styles and do them all well, but you do, and so easily and (it seems to me) instinctively.
With this poem, I loved how you used the words, missing out letters as you went through the middle stanzas, using space just as much as words - it's just so so clever. Like, you literally made pauses and spaces and punctuation mean something more than directions; in this, they take on new depths of meanings, and add to it beyond simply, yk, directions of when to breathe :P
I love how the loss of the letters matches with the line about a tongue losing it's mind and heart - and it's such a great image of that: losing a language and all of the cultural connections with it: the connections to your family, to where you come from, to the literature perhaps your parents and grandparents read, to the country they were born in or lived in, and everything that means to you and the way you think about yourself. Language is so important. (I did a module at uni which was about translation - specifically legal translation - but we looked at Derida and how words in one language don't mean the same as in another language, even if they technically are the same. So 'dog' in english is not the same as 'chien' in French; and so the words evoke different meanings, feelings, thoughts, memories, etc. They're literally different things. (Also, interestingly studies have showed that people have slightly different personalities depending on which language they speak - so you're literally a different person in your mother tongue, to your second language) So this is such a cool poem for me because the way that language is being lost, through the letters being blanket out speaks to me of a very literal loss of, well, everything from language to self and in between.
I've gone on a massive tangent, ahaha (I'm so sorry!), but this is just so fascinating and so sad, because - and I honestly have no idea if this was the meaning you intended when you wrote it - but the idea of someone losing themselves in some way is so unbelievably sad, but I imagine it happens so so frequently, and I love the interplay that has with culture and identity. How can you be you if you can't speak your language? How can you know yourself if you can't speak your language?
Honestly, this is such a beautiful, clever, thought-provoking poem and I'm sorry for sort-of word-vomiting my rambles all over this review. I hope some of it makes sense, at least, and if not - them tl;dr: I loved it, completely. It's amazing and so sad and true, and there's such a beautiful cleverness to the way you wrote it, and it's probably the most unique thing I've read in, well, months.
Hi Eva <3 I decided I’d end the tortuous wait for you and finally let you know what I thought of this poem (spoiler alert: I loved it. It might be one of my favorite poems I’ve ever read, honestly—and as you know, I read a lot of poetry!).
This poem made me emotional because it really echoed my experience as an immigrant in America (which I’m sure is similar to your experience and the experience of many other immigrants). I’ve always felt that I have a tenuous connection to India, where it is irrevocably a part of me and still fading constantly. I loved the omission of letters as a depiction of that process, where only pieces of my history remain and I’m left to try to make sense of it all. From the first stanza, I felt that you really echoed this sentiment, describing how the memory, the ancestry, the connection is “there just there right there” yet at the same time it’s just “translucent wisps”.
Because I moved to America when I was really young, I’ve always felt like every day, I lose my connection to India. I watch Bollywood films to remind myself of this beautiful part of myself that seems to fade away every day. The phrasing “translucent wisps” really feels like such an accurate depiction of that feeling. That’s also why the line “when a tongue loses its mind and its memory and its heart” struck me so much, because I feel like that’s what’s happening to me. Nowadays, I have to watch Bollywood films with English subtitles because the words have become unfamiliar. My tongue has lost that memory; I’m shy when I speak Hindi because the words don’t sound right. I never thought I’d sound like a white person trying to speak Hindi, but that’s exactly what it feels like; I’ve never experienced a sense of displacement that strong before.
I think one thing about Indian and Chinese cultures is the foundation and emphasis on family as the central unit in a person’s life. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt this way, but I feel so distanced from my family in India, like they’re actually complete strangers to me; the line “who are you when you cannot understand your family” made me so emotional. My family now feels more like a set of strangers to me, people that I have vague recollections of, but no real connection to, and it’s a little heartbreaking. The simplicity of that statement really emphasized how heartbreaking this feeling is.
When i I read the last two stanzas, I considered my own silence about my experience as an Indian immigrant. My Hindi voice has been shut away for so long, so the speaker questioning why they don’t say anything really struck me. But in another sense, the line “why do you not speak it” also made me think about why I don’t tell other people about what it’s like to be an immigrant. Why I speak softly because even now, I’m hesitant about my spoken English (I hate saying words that start with “w” and “v”; my tongue wasn’t shaped to say those letters).
I also thought of those stanzas from a historical perspective too, which is why I imagine this must’ve been really personal for you too. I thought of how Chinese immigrants coming to America were also initially silent—not only in being quiet, but also hiding their identities and their histories. And then I thought about Chinese immigrants working on the railroads, of all the deaths (this is where it being Asian Pacific-American Heritage month really influenced my reading). The omission of some letters now feels like an aftereffect of the dynamite, blasting away pieces of their histories, their identities.
My favorite stanza is easily the last one though. It is simple and raw; I’m awestruck by your vulnerability in this piece, because I know it’s not easy to leave so much bare—especially with our tradition of silence. Reading this from a personal and historical perspective, I have so much to think about and feel. This did exactly what any good poem should do; it took a feeling that’s always felt so intangible and invisible and made it tangible and comprehensible. Thank you so much for writing such a wonderful piece. <3
P.S. I don’t know if I mentioned this to you before, but you should really read Maxine Hong Kingston’s “The Woman Warrior.” This piece reminded me a bit of it, and I think it’ll really touch you.
P.P.S. I hope my review was worth the wait? :P