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My Voice Is Bleach / I'm Only Fluent In Apologies
March 6, 2014 2:25 PM   Subscribe

Hieu Nguyen, at the 2013 National Poetry Slam, on losing your language and your culture.
posted by Foci for Analysis (19 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
nevermind about major/minor languages, as a German who grew up in Greece, this resonated strongly with me
posted by helion at 2:49 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of a poem I read a few weeks ago:

"I am African
The 26 letters of the alphabet have chosen to enslave my tongue
Yet I still speak better English than you
Even though these letters were not handed to me in a silver platter
I had to sign treaties and give away cheap exports
I had to sell my mothers land
Her tongue and dignity
So don’t you dare ask me why my English is so good
I have given too much up to not command it properly"
posted by Conspire at 2:50 PM on March 6 [13 favorites]


Yeah, I just stumbled upon this and realized dude was describing the same tricky relationships I have with Swedish/Farsi, my parents and identity.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:54 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


"6. Sometimes when I watch home movies I don't even understand myself. My childhood is a foreign film."

Ow. They just took that knife and twisted it.
posted by azarbayejani at 3:29 PM on March 6 [6 favorites]


Looks Hoa to me- so this would be the second go-round of shedding cultural identity as immigrants for his family.
posted by TSOL at 4:04 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


I liked much of what he had to say. One question about poetry slams in general: Is it an inherent part of the form that the poetry has to be declaimed? Or yelled? I can't say I've seen a ton of slam performers, but all the ones I've seen seem to need to bring their presentation to a boil when, in at least some of the cases, the language would be as, if not more, effective not shouted.

It seems to me that there's an expectation on the part of the audience for a certain type of performance style and that the success of the performance is judged against it. But, as I said, I've seen maybe a few dozen, and these may not have been entirely representative of the form.
posted by the sobsister at 4:06 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Foci for Analysis: "Yeah, I just stumbled upon this and realized dude was describing the same tricky relationships I have with Swedish/Farsi, my parents and identity."

Ditto for me and Farsi- I'm still fluent but for some reason I recall that it used to be *so important* to be fluent, that it connected me to my heritage, that it was part of my personality. Now even the oldest people in my family are all fluent in English and when we speak Farsi we actually speak a pidgin we call Farsglish which is mostly English inflected and conjugated like it's Farsi. 35 years might be a record for complete cultural assimilation. Some of the kids being born in my family now are going to talk about being 'a quarter english, a quarter german, and half persian' and all three are going to be completely irrelevant to their lives.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 4:18 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


Is it an inherent part of the form that the poetry has to be declaimed? Or yelled?

Yelled no, but yeah having a flair for dramatic and impassioned speech is kind of a thing.
posted by Hoopo at 5:03 PM on March 6


My Farsi is so terrible that I'm embarrassed to speak it outside of my family. Visiting relatives in Iran has always been problematic because of this and the fact that we don't have English or any other language to use as a crutch. I hope that the next generation has it easier.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:11 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Hoopo,

Thanks. But is there such a thing as low-key or understated slam poetry? Or does the "slam" imply "impassioned" or "in your face"? When I watch these, it's as if, in musical terms, every guitarist's solo has to be fast, with a million notes, ending in a screaming sustained note at the end of the fretboard.
posted by the sobsister at 5:14 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


God, that struck really close to home. I've forgotten two languages I was once fluent in.
posted by sawdustbear at 6:25 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


when I watch home movies I don't even understand myself. My childhood is a foreign film."

Wow. Just wow. This guy is incredible. I hope he knows it.
posted by warm_planet at 7:18 PM on March 6


At the end, the announcer says "Give it up for Huey, everybody!" Maybe that's what Mr. Nguyen had told him to call him, but given his piece, for me it added one more twist on the knife.
posted by Lexica at 8:32 PM on March 6 [4 favorites]


I have lost my mother's tongue, with a limited vocabulary of around 250 words just to talk with her within the home. Not an abstract thought can I convey, nor read without the stuttering hesitancy of child four decades younger than me. What have I lost?

I have fragments of my birth city's language, that of poets and seers and painters and artists. Yet another culture I have lost as a global nomad.

/goes for a walk
posted by infini at 1:33 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


But is there such a thing as low-key or understated slam poetry?

Yes!
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:26 AM on March 7


Ditto for me and Farsi- I'm still fluent but for some reason I recall that it used to be *so important* to be fluent, that it connected me to my heritage, that it was part of my personality. Now even the oldest people in my family are all fluent in English and when we speak Farsi we actually speak a pidgin we call Farsglish which is mostly English inflected and conjugated like it's Farsi. Some of the kids being born in my family now are going to talk about being 'a quarter english, a quarter german, and half persian' and all three are going to be completely irrelevant to their lives.

I took Farsi in college specifically because I was afraid of losing it, and yeah, when I hear the Farsglish creeping in anyway, it's kind of depressing. It's still really important to me, but I look at my younger cousins and my cousins' kids, and wonder how much longer we'll keep the language.

The thing is, I can't bear to lose it. My name and my mother tongue, complete with bizarre mixed Herati and Kabuli accent, are all the connection I have left to Afghanistan, a country I never knew. But yeah, I wonder if it's going to matter at all to my younger cousins, who are going to be a quarter this, a quarter that, and half Afghan, with English as the only relevant language in their lives. I mean, fuck yeah America and the melting pot, it's just that you lose things by melting in that pot.
posted by yasaman at 10:00 AM on March 7


So weird that all of us Farsi-speakers congregated so hard in this thread.
posted by azarbayejani at 11:07 AM on March 7 [3 favorites]


Someone should do an FPP on Persian, the language of poets, courtiers, cultured aesthetes and pan Asian empires of Babar and kin...
posted by infini at 1:05 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


I've had the privilege to meet Hieu and even see him perform this very poem. He's a wonderful person! It's fun to see people you know show up all the sudden on the internet.
posted by rhythmicahly at 5:16 PM on March 7


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