Friday, November 20, 2015

Poetry Friday: Julie Paschkis's Flutter and Hum (Aleteo y Zumbido)

What can I say about Julie Paschkis's new book Flutter and Hum / Aleteo y Zumbido: Animal Poems / Poemas de Animales?

Well, how about this: I want to take every student I ever taught at the University of Washington and at Vermont College of Fine Arts and tell them, belatedly, "Here. Sit down. Read this. This is what Evelyn Glennie meant in her TedTalk, 'How to Truly Listen," about hearing with your whole body. This is what Leonard Bernstein meant about language being musical. Poetry, prose, it doesn't matter - in order to make the language right, you have to listen to the sound it makes. You have to try to make it sing some kind of song, try to hear it as if each word is new to you. Start with individual words, say them aloud, then stack them up, make them chime, play with rhyme, investigate rhythm.  Read what Julie Paschkis does in this book. Then try your hand at it."

Of course, I've left something out here - something important - about the process of listening carefully to language. Julie learned it while writing the book: It's easier to hear the music of a language that is new to us and fresh - that is, a language which still surprises us - than to hear the music of our own first language. After all, as adults we've gotten so used to English that we've almost forgotten how to really hear it. Kids do a bit better - they're still surprised...and often, delighted, when they "hear it new."

What Julie did was begin to learn Spanish. Over the course of her studies, she fell in love with the language.  I experienced this myself when I lived in Mexico as a new bride; my husband, who grew up in Mexico, was feeling the same way about English. It's a giddy time, starting out with a new language, kind of like looking up into the sky at night and seeing a super moon, brighter than normal. Language - the sound the words make - is usually familiar, but it suddenly surprises you.

Julie Paschkis and Friend

I think Julie wrote the poems in Flutter and Hum / Aleteo y Zumbido as a kind of love letter to Spanish. She started with individual words - many free-standing words float into, above, under and around the pages.  Then she did the stacking and chiming and rhyming I mentioned before - she formed the poems. She wrote them first in Spanish, then translated them into the kind of English that also sings and surprises. The result is very exciting, because the poems please both heart and mind. And ear! Here's an example (if you know any Spanish, definitely read the poems aloud -- and if you don't know Spanish, just give it a shot - it's basically phonetic, and a double L is pronounced as a Y):

     La Polilla

     La polilla
     la bombilla,
     buscando la luna.

     La lucierniga
     aletea ---
     su propia estrella.

     La luna
     no ve
     ni la polilla,
     ni la bombilla,
     ni la lucierniaga.



     The moth
     the lightbulb,
     looking for the moon.

     The firefly
     flutters by ---
     its own star.

     The moon
     doesn't notice
     the moth,
     the lightbulb,
     or the firefly. 

(Be sure to click on this to make it larger!)
I guess what I want to suggest on this Poetry Friday is simple: "Here. Sit down. Read this poem and its translation. Then try your hand at it."

 The Poetry Friday round-up today is being hosted by Tricia over at the fabulous Miss Rumphius Effect (she's posted a beautiful poem by Robert Frost - "My November Guest.") Head over there to see what other poems have been posted by the Poetry Friday crowd. And don't miss Julie's new post over at Books Around the Table today!