Heteroglossia

by Andrew Dufresne
Wild Poetry Forum
Second Place, July 2020
Judged by


I do not speak French, Spanish,
Portuguese, German.
Born in winter, I have been
shivering ever since.
When I was young, I gave
my mind to apples and oranges
And neglected the pomegranate
and the pear.
I know that “one” and “three”
and “five” are answers
Where “two” and “six”
are not,
dawg.

(L’écho de la nuit passe dans l’écho du jour.
Recolecto las bobinas separadas de una
serpiente de cascabel y las sacudaro.)

It’s not that hard to
figure out: language
is ordered
Within nationalities, hewing
to theoretical centers
But pulled constantly
to the fringes, my man.
The parts of speech
are lungs and air.
Look it up. We isn’t
dumb ain’t I?
Smart don’t sell,
that I can tell you.

(Passe dans l’écho du jour di L’écho de la nuit.
Recolecto müde wanden separadas von una serpiente
von cascabel müde dort sacudaro auf.)

They built a tower to the sky
did they and down it came.
In scale it was the biggest,
therefore its fall was mighty.
Oops. Take a lesson. Those
pants are much too small
For you. Here, paint yourself
brown and don’t
Stand tall. My, how you talk.
How’s anyone gonna
unnerstan
U?

(The echo of the night passes in the echo of the day.
I collect the coils of the rattlesnake
And shake them.)


This heteroglossic poem is full of surprises, from erratic punctuation and irregular line length, to tonal extremes (“heteroglossia” to “dawg”), unexpected turns of reference (birth and youth, then fruit and arithmetic), and cryptic logic. (Why were odd numbers “answers,” but even, not?)

And then, in St. 2, the literal heteroglossia sets in, the obscurity of its meanings initially eluding even Dr. Google’s translation. Take the first two lines: “Night’s echo passes into day’s” is French. The more difficult line that follows is Spanish, I think. (Or is it Portuguese?) And this contradicts the poet’s initial disclaimer: (S)he says (s)he is not polyglot.

In st. 3, we arrive at a mini-disquisition on the nature of language: its order and disorder (again, with startling shifts of tone).

Next, we return to the heteroglossic chorus of st. 2, but now the French and Spanish lines both loop around themselves and are peppered with the German “von.”

After that, enter the Tower of Babel. Predictably, this stanza (5) starts with the old trope about hubris, but then, the poet startles us again by shifting to too-tight pants, painting one’s self, and shrinking, before turning back to language (“My, how you talk”) and dissolving back into argot, with surprising line breaks (“How’s anyone gonna/unnerstan/U?”

And, at last, the heteroglossic chorus is Englished, and I understand the meaning of the second line, which, it turns out, mimics the “coiling” effect of the whole poem.

The net effect is a wild ride that uses self-reference and shifts of tone and register to make a point about the disorderly order of language. Some readers may find this poem’s heteroglossia –its dislocations and mixed registers-- unsettling, startling, even pretentious-- but having been to Coney Island, I am an acolyte of roller coasters. --Ron Singer


  • August 2020 Winners

    • First Place (tie)

      Sixth Street Psychic Walk-ins Welcome
      by Mike LaForge
      The Waters

      First Place (tie)

      Houses Houses Houses
      by Mary MacGowan
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      Second Place (tie)

      raven
      by Doug Pugh
      The Write Idea

      Second Place (tie)

      Who knew you would become a comet
      by Bob Bradshaw
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  • July 2020 Winners

    • First Place

      An Octopus’s Garden in the Time of Social Distancing
      by Laurie Byro
      Babilu

      Second Place

      Heteroglossia
      by Andrew Dufresne
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Third Place

      Beethoven Unhappy
      by Bob Bradshaw
      The Writer's Block