POETRY--IT'S NOT MERELY WORDS!
A recent post on POETS ON ADOPTION is Penny Callan Partridge's contribution, which excerpts from her book THE PEOPLE THEY BROUGHT ME: poems in the adoption community. I'm delighted Ms. Partridge contacted me, even as she was just about to enter surgery! Her contribution is really powerful -- my favorite of the four excerpts is her encounter and engagement with Korean-American poet and adoptee Mi Ok Bruining, an encounter that first began when she was facing Ms. Bruining's abhorrence of adoptees using multicultural experiences as a metaphor for their loss experiences: "To Mi Ok, I might have had losses through adoption; but they had not been increased exponentially by the additional losses of country, culture, and language, or by the additional burdens of racial difference and racism. I had not grown up as the only person of my race in my family and my town. I had not been asked by photographers to open my eyes 'wider,' as one of Mi Ok’s poems recounts."
The two poets would come to fashion an epistolary relationship spanning years, until one day Ms. Partridge came across an obituary of Czeslaw Milosz. The obituary inspired another poem that would mention Ms. Bruining, to wit:
In “The Adopted Woman Reads an Obituary,” I was again connecting thoughts about a multicultural person—in this case Czeslaw Milosz, the subject of the obituary—with adoptee experience. The following stanza is one of nine:
I can’t even read the Times
without musing adopted.
Like the death of Czeslaw Milosz
who did translation
but thought you could write true poems
only in your other tongue.
So where does that leave the
adopted who come from Korea
but grow up in English?
Can your mother tongue be
your adoptive mother’s tongue?
Isn’t Mi Ok Bruining
a powerful poet in English?
But look how she incorporates
Korean. The adopted can
surely appreciate this
mixing of two mother tongues
more than anyone.
Mi Ok responded to my obituary poem by sending me a fable she had written about an Irish-American adopted by Asians. This twist to the usual transracial adoption story still leaves me relatively speechless. Is that because it forces me (Irish-American, no less) to imagine myself growing up with Asian parents? Is it because I read this fable partly as the European-American mother of an African-American son? Am I vicariously overwhelmed by the task Mi Ok has taken on: overturning what people are used to, widening their mental horizons, helping them see things in completely new ways, helping them see hard things? Yes to all that and more.
I have apologized to Mi Ok for my silence, but I am sure Mi Ok knows silence can have many causes. Applause, for example, can be merely polite while a silent audience can mean a spell cast that no one wants to break. Silence can mean a nerve has been touched. It can mean awe. On the other hand, if my ongoing conversation with Mi Ok has taught me anything—yes, and if poetry has taught me anything—it’s that words we don’t have today may still come to us over time. So we can keep responding to each other.
Powerful stuff. And I agree in terms of her response to Czeslaw Milosz's opinion. There's more than one way to write poetry -- and sometimes, one writes powerfully specifically because the mother tongue is lost...or fragmented, diluted, slipping away.... I came across this issue somewhat recently whilst reading FRAGMENTS OF A FORGOTTEN GENESIS by Moroccan poet Abedellatif Laabi, translated from the French by Nancy Hadfield and Gordon Hadfield. I could only engage the English translation as I'm not fluent in French -- but I would certainly consider the Hadfield's translations to be poetry in the sense that what comes through (that is, transcending words) is the intensity from which Laabi created his poetry; Laabi's is an intense poetics root source reflecting colonialism and how he once was arrested, imprisoned and tortured by the Moroccan government.
Anyway, I've always thought the intersection of adoption and poetry to be a potent mix, ever more powerful due to its complexities. Read more HERE. And, as always, I welcome more poets sharing their adoption experiences and how it may or may not affect their poems and/or poetics.