Posts tagged ‘language’

April 2, 2011

Rita Wong | In Dialogue

by Aurelea

Here at Capilano, Rita Wong’s 2007 collection forage is our final book in English 103-05 and 06 | Introduction to Contemporary Literature for the Spring term.  Rita has generously participated in an at-a-distance Q/A session with the English 103 students.

The students’ questions were collected on Wednesday, March 30th.  In the process of answering the questions, Rita grouped them questions thematically.  Here are Rita’s responses.

Grouping 1

For responses to the following questions, please see the comments at Litter-a-terre:

  • Why include Chinese characters in a book of English language poetry?
  • How did you come to explore these topics? Language? Capitalism? Environment? Crises?
  • What do you hope to achieve by bringing up questionable environmental and bio-tech practices?
  • Your pieces often read like essays in the form of poetry. Why poetry?  Note: Scroll down to the very bottom of the litter-a-terre site for this response.
  • What is the logic behind the slashes and jumbled words in “nervous organism”?
  • Are “fluorine” and the “the girl who ate rice almost every day” based on personal experience? Answer: Yes—both personal experience and imagination—I’ve never managed to go underground to explore sewers, but maybe someday.

Addendum: For me, poetry creatively engages with our daily lives, with the moments that might otherwise be overlooked, what is both hidden yet within plain view, if we take the time to dwell with the quiet, the embedded, the already present (which could include our cultural inheritances, our socio-economic structures, environmental factors like pollution and resilience, and much more).

Grouping 2 | Writing, Research, Influence

  • What was the inspiration or idea behind the “annotations” that accompany many of the poems?
  • To what extent have your past experiences influenced your poetry?  Who has influenced your development as a poet?  Were there any artists/poets/writers, in particular, influencing you while working on forage?
  • Do you engage in research before writing your poems?  Or do the poems themselves suggest the need for further research on specific topics?
  • What kind of personal and/or educational experience do you have with the topics and materials about which you are writing?  Or do you primarily rely on research?
  • Did you set out specifically to write a book with an explicit political/environmental agenda or did the focus of the book evolve more organically than that?

I’m interested in looking at my everyday life and unpacking some of the things that get overlooked or taken for granted, such as the pollution that is increasingly common in our lives. Today, the experience and concept of pollution is shifting so that it is not merely something out there (smog, huge amounts of plastic trash floating in the ocean) but also something that is inside each and every one of us, human and nonhuman, spread by our shared experience of air, water and food. This is humorously but also effectively shown in books like Slow Death by Rubber Duck, which show how common objects like rubber ducks, sofas, canned food and more, carry with them unintended, cumulative side-effects because of the chemicals they introduce into our daily lives. The term “body burden” refers to the hundreds of chemicals that are now found in the average citizen, chemicals that did not exist in our bodies before World War II. These chemicals have also been found everywhere from Inuit children to polar bears, salmon, and sperm whales. This brings home the point that there is no escape from pollution—that we share a responsibility to keep the planet clean for ourselves and all other living creatures. The pollution manifests itself in everything from allergies to cancers, and various illnesses which have affected my family and friends. [I would also add that we are made of the water, air, and earth in and around us; when they are polluted, so are we. The water, air, and earth continue to sustain our lives, and there is more we can do to help them help us by reducing or eliminating pollution.] While there are many factors to consider, the environmental one needs much more serious attention. The book arose organically from my examination of daily life.

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March 9, 2009

God of Small Things

by tasha

Tasha Rennie

Arundhati Roy’s first novel, The God of Small Thing, surprised the world with its unconventional style, controversial subjects and unforgettable emotion. It earned Roy a Booker Prize as well as obscenity charges in India. Her novel tells the story of two-egg twins, Rahel and Estha, growing up in India, and the events that passed that changed their entire lives. After a separation of 24 years, the twins are reunited in the house they grew up in where they attempt to understand and come to terms with the devastating events that shaped their lives. Moving between present day and 1969, the novel brings to life Kerala, India and the twin’s family through the eyes of seven-year-olds. With a divorced mother and half-Hindu heritage, the twins are constantly challenged by the conventions and restrictions of Indian society. However, small events and simple acts can bring about massive change, and the twins are soon faced with tragedy. The loss of life, the loss of love and the loss of innocence, plague their lives from that moment on.

The most notable thing about Roy’s first work is the style; however, beneath the surface Roy paints an extraordinary picture of the human condition through characterization and social commentary. Repetitive, descriptive and as whimsical as a nursery rhyme, Roy’s inventive language contrasts the playfulness of a child’s mind with the sadness of the events that pass to create a bittersweet depiction of the collapse of the family. Roy has the ability to delve in and out of minute detail flawlessly which enables her to highlight events that may appear to be insignificant at first and create an unpredictable and unconventional plotline. Roy’s rhyme and repetition also bring to life the numerous characters that play major roles in the story. With the imagination of a child, she plays with the English language as much as Rahel and Estha do throughout the novel. Roy’s characterization is complex, and it’s difficult to even identify one, sole, protagonist. However, the twin’s family and friends are brought to life through insight into their past, present, hopes and dreams. Both the most painful, and the most wonderful, aspects of human nature are illuminated as these characters struggle against each other and against the outside world. Within the family lies conflict between those who wish to break free of society’s constraints and those who feel the need to maintain the social order. The struggles permeates into the community, and unveils a powerful message about society and, “Man’s subliminal urge to destroy what he could neither subdue nor deify”(292). Roy succeeds in creating an unconventional novel that examines modern society, in terms of class system, cultural identity, family structure and the deeply-rooted, historical values that continue to govern people today.

March 9, 2009

Its the Small Things that make a Big Difference

by martazem

The God of Small Things

Marta Z.


            Within the borders of the first chapter of her first novel, Arundhati Roy weaves an intricate outline of events which simultaneously affect an individual, a family, and an entire nation. But make sure to turn the page, as the remaining twenty chapters will not disappoint.

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March 9, 2009

Small Things Were Never Small

by hannalijoyce

Hannali Joyce Popoca Fehr

9 Mar 2009

A Unique Language Reveals the Secrets Behind Roy’s Small Things


The lives of two-egg twins, Estha who is loved and Rahel who is loved a little less, are shaped by small things that happen during their childhood in Kerala, India. Such things are unfortunate and dramatic. They surround the twins’ family and fall apart in the first pages of the novel: the accidental death of the twins’ half-English cousin, Sophie Mol (who was loved from the beginning), and the less accidental death of Velutha (a paravan of the untouchable cast loved by the twins and their mother Ammu). Tragedy revolves around those events prompting the separation of the soul-connected twins, and the passing of their divorced mother at the age of 31. Arundhati Roy’s story shows that “things can change in a day”. That in a Syrian-Christian family where grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, mothers, sons and daughters are from a privileged cast, rules of love exist and they dictate “who should be loved, how, and how much”. What the reader will find monst attractive in Roy’s novel are not the lamentable and cruel events taht occur when the family breaks the rules and “crosses into forbidden territory”, but the way the plot unfolds travelling back and forth in time, the language that is used, and the way this language minimizes the discomfort that the themes of the novel deliver.                                                       

Roy’s language is a unique expressive creation: she produces her own terms by splitting, joining and capitalizing words in order to convey more powerful and deeper meanings to her expressions. Some of these capitalized phrases become mantras which direct the reader’s attention to the “small things” present in the story. By the time the love laws, Papachi’s moth, the boat that Estha sat on and Rahel found, lemondrinks and orangedrinks become more than just things in Roy’s novel, the reader finds himself immersed in the world of Estha and Rahel.                       

The God of Small Things is an engaging and captivating novel whose charm lies in the way that raw incidents are told, and the way Roy persuades you to keep reading 20 more chapters although she has revealed you the plot in the first one. The author’s ability to present dramatic events in a poetic fashion full of details and metaphors makes The God of Small Things an addictive reading. You would not want to put down the book until you have met the reasons behind Estha’s two thoughts: “Anything can Happen to Anyone” and “It’s Best to be Prepared”.

February 18, 2009

How Late It Was How late Review

by justineb89

            In the novel How Late It Was, How Late, James Kelman takes readers through the life of Sammy, a shoplifting ex-con from Glasgow Scotland. Sammy awakes in jail cell, blind, after being brutally beaten by what he refers to as “sodjers”. Kelman, then goes on to describe the trials and tribulations of Sammy, which include with failing relationship his girlfriend, Helen, his inability to find or uphold employment, his difficulties with the law and his new disability, blindness.

            Kelman may have been one of the most controversial winners of the Booker Prize for How Late It Was, How Late. As the readers first impression is the vulgar language, as on the very first page the ‘f’ word is used five times and the profanity continues throughout the novel. The lack of punctuation, chapters and use of proper English in the novel may discourage readers, as it can be difficult to become accustom to when starting the novel.

            However, the unconventionality of the novel allows readers to understand the character of Sammy in more depth. As the switch Kelman makes throughout the novel between third and first person gives the reader insight into Sammy emotions, which is almost addicting while reading. As Sammy is blind, there is heavy emphasis on sound in the novel, this engages the reader in a new ways as instead of building an image through sight, one is forced to use there sense of hearing. This is an interesting way to compose a novel as throughout the 20th and 21st century visual multimedia has become a major component of our everyday lives, most of become reliant on this type of communication and entertainment.

            Through the 274 pages of Kelmans How Late It Was, How Late, readers will be able to understand and appreciate the strife that many Scottish lower middle class individuals face. As Sammy’s character is infatuating and keeps readers on the edge of there seats.  

February 18, 2009

Lost in a language I recognize.

by brooksbrendan

Brendan Brooks

James Kelman is not fore the lover of fine whine of foreign operas. This is not to say that there is no weight or depth to Kelmans work. Kelman is not writing to pander to the masses he is writing as the masses. Kelman is telling the story of the everyday with a twist both in protagonist and language. Sammy is our everyman, or perhaps a little lower.

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February 18, 2009

How Late it Was, How Late

by jenniemacphee

Jennie MacPhee-Woodburn

James Kelman’s Booker Prize winning novel How Late it Was, How Late tells the story of shoplifting ex-con Sammy, who awakens in an alley after a two day drinking binge.  After starting a fight with a pair of policemen, he finds himself in jail, abandoned by his girlfriend and completely blind.  The story takes off, following Sammy’s life as he attempts to deal with the authorities, gain Disability status and essentially struggle to survive in rough Scottish society.

How Late it Was, How Late is written in an informal style that is quite uncommon in several types of writing pieces.  There are no chapters, nor any consistent sentence or grammatical structure.  Many readers may find it quite difficult to understand and follow in the beginning due to the disorganization and cluttered thoughts.  However, Kelman wrote in this style in order for Sammy to really get into the reader’s head.  The words are Sammy’s exact thoughts on paper, making it easy to understand his thinking because it is very honest and blatant.

Trust is a main theme reoccurring throughout the novel.  Due to Sammy’s unexpected case of blindness, he is naturally left to question and be suspicious of everyone he meets in order to protect himself.  When Sammy meets a neighbour who is referred to as Boab, Sammy says “It wasnay that he didnay trust him, he did trust him…ye just don’t take chances, ye don’t take chances.  That’s all there is to it” (149).  Kelman does an excellent job of, from the perspective of Sammy, emphasizing descriptive sounds and feelings in replacement of the typically large amounts of emphasis on sight in literature.  For example, “The stone wall was wet.  Obviously it was wet it was raining.  Just it felt funny, damp and gritty.  It had a good smell, fresh…” (247).  This is another example of how Kelman writes in such a way to highlight the protagonist’s struggle and circumstance.

A new lifelong challenge, and reoccuring theme that is presented to Sammy is learning to become independent.  One of the greatest struggles he comes to terms with early on in the book is to break his habit of always asking for assistance with everything he does.  When Boab says to him, “I’ll do it for ye son don’t worry about it”, Sammy replies, “Aye but I want to do it myself I mean…”(146).  The reader can see here that he needs a lot of help in the beginning but understands he needs to learn to become an independent man.

The language in How Late it Was, How Late is very coarse and vulgar.  Because the novel is written as direct thoughts from Sammy’s head, the use of language is a clear reflection of the feelings he has in response to the struggles in life he is faced with.  As well the language gives the reader an insight into Scottish society.

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