5 benefits of writing poetry in a non-native language

Poetry goes beyond understanding.

It’s beauty travelling a natural channel with an inducted experience – the poem – a composition where writers and readers’ responses are the sole determiners of its limits.

Next time you write some verses try to park your first language in a dark corner and enjoy its grumpy looks – mine does it all the time. But trust me, leave it there, let it be angry for a while.

#1 Fewer prejudices, more presence

Drop the writing clothes you have been wearing since EVER. They stink woodworm desks, and hostile teachers look. Far are the days you were asked to write within the lines of a Power Rangers notebook. Dare to get off the road you’ve always known.

For the past 9 years, I have been using English more than my first language. This chunk of life, from my 25 years old onwards, has been stored in English. I have two people capable of producing two different writings on the same subject living inside me.

When I write about lemons in Italian, my mind flies to the Sicilian countryside smell, to my auntie’s meatballs roasted on huge lemon leaves and to the way my grandfather used to wash the grease off his hands. I switch to English and see plastic films wrapping single, expensive lemons sold in Irish Tescos.

English brings presence, Italian fishes memories.

#2 Ditch the existential trash

When trying to ‘peel what doesn’t serve me’, I have observed two dynamics.

Semiotic perspective

Say, you read ‘apple’ and visualise a red spheric sweet fruit. But what if the apple fruit can be spelt as ‘table’ in a language which isn’t yours? You may still pick the ‘table’ (word) and make it, say, a ‘window’ (meaning), but your creativity won’t be limited by what you already know (i.e.: that table doesn’t mean a window, but an apple).

Making poetry in English teaches me how to exploit and enjoy this ignorance concerning the to first, second, third, fourth or even fifth meaning of a word.

Vocabulary perspective

Writing poetry in English from a non-native perspective can overcome the limitation of tossing/picking words depending on the automatic meaning we associate since our birth. I.e. if I say ‘cock’ I may be thinking about cooking an omelette or stay locked in a bedroom with my partner. This opening of possibilities trains our creativity to the unknown.

#3 Have fun for fuck sake

As already mentioned, when working on my poems I may play with words I have no idea what do they mean in the beginning. If an inner voice says ‘pick them’, it’s because somehow they feel right.

This is when I turn upside down thesaurus and dictionaries to check each and every part of the speech for each of these chosen words.

How can I push further this composition? I don’t have rules, and it’s just a pure joy of trials after trials to see what works and what doesn’t.

I.e.: going back to the ‘cock’, can I let a cock and a tail break a line in two (a noun can become a verb)?

tails

cock

disguising

identity

I love switching functions, mocking the obvious, scratching space or pulling together words. The aim is trying to invent a convincing absurdity. It’s ok to pretend in poetry, as long as it looks so good that the reader will have no choice but make sense out of nonsense.

Who thinks that poetry is boring doesn’t know how to have fun with it.

#4 Unleash your buried demons without guilt

This applies more at the early stage of writing when self-doubt is already enough of a pain in the ass. If you write kinky poems in French while family and most hatred friends read Japanese, chances are you’ll feel more at ease.

I am a firm believer of compassion, and I try to practice gratefulness, but when it’s myself and the blank page, I know I can move mountains. It’s like I am holding a magic stick, it can sprout stardust or fires, and it is powerful.

#5 Give superpowers to your senses

Poems have to be read aloud. Expedients like enjambments or end-stopped lines drive our hearing the way a music composer swings a song.

Last week I wanted to give a sense of blues to a stanza. I pulled some blues music patterns and I played them with a  guitar – I ended up picking the A minor. When focusing on the words, I kept in mind ‘Ain’t no sunshine’ of Bill Whiters. To make it richer, I borrowed some blues slangs. After trials and changes, it worked out pretty well.

~

Sight is a great tool to tell ourselves the story we want to write and the specific pictures we want to show to the readers. I have been drawing the outline of my poems for some time now and it has been an incredible help. It’s a map with sensorial details I pull from the very first draft- a way to make sure what’s in my head becomes alive with no omissions.

~

The most important sense is the hearing through the heart. We need to find ways to feel, rather than making a list of feelings and call it poetry. It’s not an academic paper. 

To create such magic we need to connect with an intimate dimension of ourselves. It’s not that we just got a massage and we go like ‘I’m so at ease with myself today. I can sit and write‘.

It’s about being honest with what comes up through us.

It’s embracing the impudence to dash what we want to say onto the page freeing ourselves and love it dearly.

Even toilette paper can be a great subject: nothing is unworthy of being sung. What for some is an illusion, for us poets it’s a consolation. Like dwelling on picking a cock instead of an egg.

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