ESL & Myung Mi Kim

Recently I read an article (here if you’re interested) about a poet named Ocean Vuong, who was born in Vietnam and immigrated to the USA with his family when he was two. In the article, he mentions that his family was illiterate, and that he didn’t learn to read until he was eleven, and says, “For an American who was born here, the mundane might be boring, but for me colloquial English was a destination.”

While I was reading this article, I was brought back to the conversation in class a few weeks ago about Myung Mi Kim’s poem, the one where each line is a sounds derived from Korean with the final line, “you speak English so well transcript”.  It’s really fascinating to me when poets (and all genres of writers, really) choose to go back and forth between their first language and a second language. I think there’s a certain expectation that comes with being a native-English speaker that writers cater to our understanding of the language, not the ways in which they, as ESL learners, understand the language. I’ve recently noticed this trend  among peers in creative writing workshops; a writer will insert non standardized forms of English in their work, or lines/phrases in another language, and others will be frustrated that it doesn’t make sense…to them. Of course this issue is a multi-layered one (here I go again, inserting politics into the workshop) but I do think it’s one worth pointing out, especially for those writers who didn’t grow up speaking English in the USA. I guess my biggest question would be should we take other languages into account when work shopping poetry? Do you think it’s a hindrance or beneficial or neither or something else entirely? I’m wondering what other people think about this.

One Reply to “ESL & Myung Mi Kim”

  1. I think that we should definitely be discussing multilingual poetry, because it ties into a world larger than our workshop, where maybe multilingual poetry is helping someone else. I think that if a poem speaks to just one other person’s experience authentically, then it is a successful poem. I firmly believe that we need politics in workshops, because a poem doesn’t exist free of context or history, it is a part of history and it is speaking back to events that maybe the poet doesn’t even understand.

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