Thursday, September 20, 2007

Some Well-Placed Words

Posted - Monday, September 03, 2007

Why Reginald Shepherd's Post Made Me Laugh & Cry at the Same Time

While reading Reginald Shepherd's post entitled: " Working Class Hero" I came across this passage.

" intellectuals and artists from poor backgrounds, people who as kids knew lots of words we couldn’t pronounce correctly, because we’d only read them in books."

It describes a socialization process that (although different) closely mirrors my own. The love affair that I had (and still have) with the English language drew me to the etiology of words and ultimately to the doorstep of poetics. Words became my sole weapon against an Italian culture that I tried so compulsively to distance myself from. There have been numerous sociological studies relating to the second generation immigrant, the denial of their mother culture & the process of assimilation within the host culture. Acquisition of language is perhaps one of the first, if not most important step in the process of acculturation. After all language & culture are so closely linked - that the mastery of a language along with the all important knowledge of its semantics & idiomatic expressions often renders an immigrant - homogeneous and in essence almost indiscernible from the host culture. This is the worst case scenario for a 2nd generation immigrant. The third generation: once it has received a modicum of social acceptability, often seeks out the original culture's nurturing teat.

As a second generation immigrant I self-consciously tried to gain the approval & approbation of this host culture. I saw my neighborhood friends & acquaintances (who I perceived had a flawed knowledge of the host language) as the enemies. Their stilted efforts at mimicking this language grated on my perception of what constituted an acceptable auditory pattern of this purloined language - that was English. I spent many hours listening to recordings of my voice trying to rectify stilted language. In my blind efforts & haste to be accepted I thought that I had received the ultimate compliment when during my undergraduate years at McGill University in Montreal - I was asked to play Macbeth in a staging of the play by a Shakespearean class (I had taken as an elective) and was told that I sounded like a young Ronald Colman (Prisoner of Zenda). Little did I know!

Despite my love & devotion to its nuances and the grammar of its expression - my love of poetics has gone by and large unrequited. It has not welcomed me open-armed within the ranks of its favored proponents. I still await the caress of an accepted manuscript - for example. I have not as yet been granted audience to read the borrowed words which best imitate my thought processes via poetic rhetoric. Despite my bending to a purloined culture I have nothing tangible to show for it. I still maintain a silent vigil.

Posted by Nick at 7:52 AM


Sheryl said...

Hang in there. Mine didn't get published until I had all but given up hope. Someone had to prod me to send it out that last time! I too can relate to this post as well as the other one.

1:18 PM, September 03, 2007

Nick said...

Thanks, Sheryl, for commiserating.

3:16 PM, September 03, 2007

Reginald Shepherd said...

Dear Nick,

Thanks for linking to my post. I completely understand and identify with what you write in your piece. Literature, literacy at all, was my shield against my surroundings in the Bronx ghetto, the black and Puerto Rican kids who threw rocks at me and stole my lunch money and just generally smacked me around because I didn't talk and walk like them, because I (supposedly) thought I was white; the Italian kids who threw vegetable crates on my head while calling out "Chocolate milk, chocolate milk"; even the snotty kids at the private schools I went to on scholarship. It was like learning a second language that no one else spoke, and that contained the secret words that would enable me to escape one day. Meanwhile, no one understand me but my mother (now dead), and even with her, the more her ambitions for me came true, the further apart we became, since her hope for me was that I would get to a different world than the one in which she grew up and the one in which she'd ended up.

And if you need encouragement, as I might have mentioned in my post, I sent out three hundred individual submission packets of four to six poems each before I had a single poem accepted anywhere. And it took me five years of non-stop submission (and revision) before my first book was accepted. I've now published five books of poetry and a poetry anthology, and I still get rejected more than I get accepted. So hang in there. Perseverance works, even if it works too damned slowly much of the time.

all best,

5:55 PM, September 19, 2007


poetwarrior said...

I totally relate to this. Though I’m not Italian, or even a second-generation immigrant, I do understand being a part of the “outcast culture,” the unaccepted. I grew up poor ...

Nick said...

You should read Reginald Shepherd's post: "Working Class Hero". Thanks for dropping by. Best of luck with your poetry.

Brian Campbell said...

I relate to this too, even though I'm white bread with olives.

Persist! Persist! A lesson I learned late, but I'm going to try to take advantage of it as long as I last.

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