Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellow in the Humanities
2009—2010 Forum on Connections
Remote Intimacies: Multilingualism in Contemporary Poetry
My research for the Forum is drawn from my dissertation, which explores contemporary multilingual poetry written in North America. I consider poems that use multiple languages to represent and discuss the history of the Americas, and argue that poems such as the Peruvian-American poet Cecilia Vicuña's Instan and the Tobagan-Canadian poet M. NourbeSe Philip's Zong! use multilingualism historiographically. Vicuña’s and Philip’s works examine and critique proprietary discourses that prevented Native people in the Americas and Africans brought to the Americas as slaves from being recognized as fully human subjects. I argue that these proprietary discourses continue to resonate in the present, and that in Vicuña’s and Philip’s poems they have significant formal implications. Rather than representing a single unique voice, multilingual poems represent the partial, fractured utterances of different voices that speak to each other across languages and across time, calling attention to conflicts, but also proposing intimacy.