#walkmyworld: Mirrors and Reflections

Hello for the first time in awhile, #walkmyworld folks! We in English 789 have been blazing a bit of a parallel trail, working around our larger research projects, Spring Break for the students, and digging into digital poems. Because few of us have worked with digital texts in deep ways before, I thought it might be a nice way to stick a bit more closely to text at first before composing on our own. We started with several poems broadly about reflections of self, inspired by Ian O’Byrne‘s suggestions for Mirror week:

Two Fusiliers, by Robert Graves
Narcissus, by Alice Oswald
The Shape of Saying, by Mary O’Malley
I Go Back to May 1937, by Sharon Olds

We broke up into groups and started by annotating these poems in Googledocs, marking them up, making sense of them, and thinking about how we might use visual or audio components to help us “see” these powerful words and images in new ways. Shawna Coppola and I worked together on O’Malley’s Shape of Saying, which is about language, identity, and the marginalization of the Irish language under British rule . We spend a lot of time thinking about the sounds of the poem (for instance, listening to Irish speakers), trying to think about how we might represent the sound of a language visually, how language reflect selves and cultures. One person in the linked video talks about “the thought process in Irish” and how it’s distinct.

Here’s a small slice of our first draft, which we started roughing out in powerpoint. We were thinking about the roundedness of Irish, the darkness of being forced to speak differently, the lightening promise of English, the seacoast.

As I kept thinking about the poem, I started to focus on the political connections between Shape of Saying’s speaker and the current English-only mandates in this country. One the one hand, people continually reference the “melting pot” of American culture. On the other, in an increasing number of states, immigrants’ home cultures and languages are marginalized and banned (and this is not a new story — the Germans, Irish, and Italians were demonized during their initial great migrations, much as South American and Asian people are now). English is itself a hybrid language, and from my colleagues who study TESOL teaching, I have begun to learn about the ways in which literacy and communication in multiple languages can be vital to learning English. I found this interesting post from an ESL teacher who emphasizes these points in a more linguistic way.

My found poem, discussed herein.
My found poem and digital composition

So, in this digital draft, I highlighted the political aspects of the Shape of Saying and the ways in which this struggle for (and with) language plays out in classrooms. In creating a found poem, I thought about the broader, more universal meanings in the poem and highlighted them. (For instance, “Received English” is not a currently typical term of art.) I used Creative Commons photographs to get my readers thinking about diverse classrooms, as well as a Wikimedia commons image of one of the increasingly, sadly, common “Welcome to America, now speak English” signs. I wrote in a chalkboard font to connect strongly to classroom language, and made the dividing line to separate the images from the words in red, to signify pain and separation, as “the sound of hearts tearing” does in the original. A tearing heart bleeds, whether white, black, Irish, Mexican, or any other specific identity.

I thought about making a movie version so that I could use some of the Irish music and Irish language that helped me get here, but I decided that might be a distraction from my broader cultural take on the poem. Teachers in America need to account for multiple kinds of diversity, after all, and I wanted to privilege a broad view in this particular draft. I worry that this draft is a bit too easy, a bit too in-your-face political and expected. At the same time, sometimes, the more subtle take never quite drives the point home.

As Peter Kittle discusses, the choices multiply quickly in a multimodal document. Sound or no sound? Well, what are the consequences? Can the still image be as powerful as the video digital poem? Does the in-your-face political take away from O’Malley’s more subtle poetic language, or does it strengthen a connection to the modern day that’s a bit buried in the “old gold” imagery of the French and Latin wars?

Even after composing just this still image, I’m seeing digital composition as a fractal. Each decision multiplies and leads into undiscovered corners.

Image credits —
– Art Opening 5916, by US Dept. of Education: https://www.flickr.com/photos/departmentofed/16758870326/
– IMG 73, by US Dept. of Education: https://www.flickr.com/photos/departmentofed/9599313607
– Welcome to America, indeed, on Wikimedia Commons: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/77/Welcome_to_America,_indeed_4891695155.jpg

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