Here I am back from my walk at the beach with its freezing wind, and along the road with its biting heat, to sit glued to twitter and the TV as I wait to find out if Eleanor Catton has won the Man Booker Prize (one of the biggest in the world!) with her fabulous novel, The Luminaries. As I said in my Herald review, it is a book that I love enormously (you can get to read it when you are older if you love fiction and if you love big books).
And many cups of tea later watching the TV … Eleanor Catton won! This young woman (she’s 28 so the youngest to win this prize) has achieved something extraordinary, so huge congratulations from Poetry Box. She made a wonderful speech about writing — she talked about the way, as writers, the things we write need to make money but they also need to have other values. They need to be worth something else. I think Eleanor firstly writes out of love and daring, and that combination helped her write one of the best books the world has seen in ages (there are others, of course!). I also admire the way (like Lorde) she is unafraid to speak out about what she believes in. And her writing is breathtaking.
But back to poetry ….
Some starting points for poems with foreign words in (not English).
1. If you speak another language find a way to put some of those words in your poem.
2. You might use the words to write about someone in your family who speaks another language (mum or dad or grandfather or grandmother).
3. You might use the words to write about a place you have been to where the language is spoken (on holiday or to visit family or you lived there).
4. If you don’t speak another language go hunting in the words you do know. Food is good. We eat heaps of things now that are named in another language (pasta, pizza, sushi, kebabs, tacos, enchiladas, laksa, donburi).
5. You might know the names of other places in another language.
6. You might know how to say hello and goodbye in other languages.
7. You might know Maori words — especially trees and birds and place names. We use so many all the time now when we talk which is wonderful (kai, whanau, kia ora, tahi, rua, haka, powhiri, mihi). I need to get a macron button for my computer as the Maori words look weird without them.
If you use words from other languages in your poems the words will give your poem zing with the different sounds. They might add layers of meaning. Sometimes you can’t get the exact same word in English. But it will definitely add sound pizzazz. And it might show us more about a place or a person or thing you know and the readers don’t.