“Space holds rhythm and structure. Plus, what are letters, words, punctuations and sentences without the music and form of the page?” remarked Orlando White, one of the nine poets, translators and academics participating in the discussion about how to think about form and aesthetics when practicing poetry as a pluriverse.

The seminar was moderated by Prof. Emily Sun in conversation with Bei Dao, Sharmistha Mohanty, Daouda Ndiaye, Orlando White, Mary Ann Caws, Christopher GoGwilt, Janet McAdams and Anupama Rao.

With a working definition of the “pluriverse” as a reminder “that the ‘universe’ we inhabit is neither whole nor complete but infinite in consisting of dynamic processes of unfolding, revealing, and reaching that carry the promise of bringing us closer to one another,” the participants were prompted to expand on their own understanding of how this pluriverse takes place within the aesthetics and form of poetry and how justice might be conceived of differently.

Following White’s discussion on silence and space, Mary Ann Caws spoke about the importance of rethinking prose poetry as an “object” and the need of withdrawing from it in the moment of translation in order to do justice to what the object is trying to “do.”

Mohanty, who coined the phrase “pluriverse” during conversations with the organizers, approached the question of pluriverse by talking about the relationship between language and land. As an Indian writer who writes in English, she raised the question of “how to have transparency” in her English writing “to hold Indian realities, Indian pasts.” She closed her remarks by paraphrasing the same question as “how to accommodate different versions of oneself?”

The question resonated throughout the room. Bei Dao brought up the issue of translation and the need to translate contemporary authors into Chinese and Chinese contemporary authors into English, describing his own efforts to generate publication and circulation of these texts.

As the workshop was coming to an end, Christopher Gogwilt bade farewell by posing the following question to the the participants “how do you make justice to the sounds of birds? How do you unlearn English?” This last question was left without a resolution given the time constraints, but it was a fitting way to end. The polemical, unanswered question forces us to reflect on the role that language has in shaping our world and pursuing justice, “unlearning” suggests that there is something larger at risk if we lose sight of the pluriverse of language and poetry.

 

By Josue Chavez, undergraduate senior at ICLS, interested in the intersection of technology, art, urbanism and literature, specifically in the context of the Global South.  The “Aesthetics, Form, and Practice of Pluriverse” workshop took place on September 23, 2017, as part of the Sawyer Seminar Series on Global Language Justice.