Mihaela Moscaliuc opens are brilliant scholarly essay with this:
A cartoon by Matthew Diffee, published in the August 5, 2002 issue of The New Yorker shows a man answering the phone. "I'm sorry—you have the wrong language," the caption reads. You may have guessed: the man is white, casually elegant, presumably an intellectual, or at least a reader, if we are to go by the usual stereotypes: thick glasses and a thick tome he has bookmarked with his finger. Someone has interrupted his reading. Someone has assaulted his ears with foreign sounds. This someone needs to be put in his/her place: my way or the highway. This someone either owns the wrong tongue or has reached, by accident, a tongue (English) for which he/she is “wrong”—i.e., unsuitable. Either way, the non-English speaker needs to be reminded of the unassailable right of the English language to be the “right” language. The man’s genteel, if perfunctory, “I’m sorry” and his mismatching facial expression (perhaps offended, perhaps repulsed) capture the tenor of some of the prevalent concerns about the future of the American national language. Today, the anxiety stamped on the man’s face would be exacerbated by on-going debates on bilingualism/multilingualism and on the potential of immigration reforms to forestall, decelerate, or accelerate transformations within dominant national discourses.
And closes it thus:
We know that American English has always been, and continues to be, a language-in-the-making, regardless of our chronic fears of contamination, but we do not know, of course, the extent to which the non-English languages of the nation will (be able/allowed to) participate in such processes of transformation. We do know, however, that the recombinant dictions of Nuyorican, “borderlands,” and Chicano poets (as those mentioned here, as well as others, such as Victor Hernández Cruz, Giannina Braschi, and Guillermo Gómez-Peña) have the poetention of exacting change. Moreover, these poets are not alone, of course, in recalcitrating against the ethnocentrism of English. Others, such as Kimiko Hahn (in “The Izu Dancer”), Barbara Jane Reyes (in Poeta in San Francisco), and R. Zamora Linmark (in The Evolution of a Sigh and in other works), make visible in their poems the dialogues and clashes between languages and cultures and unsettle, in the process, various hierarchies of values upheld by the dominant culture. Their use of Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Tagalog, Filipino English (Taglish), or Hawaii creole, and direct engagements with issues of translatability interrupt and disturb — productively, I would argue - normative readings practices. Perhaps in time these poets will alter reading expectations as well, making us less likely to respond with “Sorry—you have the wrong language.”
Patrick S. Lawrence's essay looks deeply into one African American poetic landscape of contigency, alienation, and American re-animation: Little critical work has been done on Nathaniel Mackey’s Splay Anthem (2006), a collection of installments of his two serial poems Song of the Andoumboulou and “Mu”. However, because other sections of the two poems have appeared over the past several years in venues such as Callaloo, African American Review, Chicago Review, and The Nation, there is a body of critical writing on the ongoing concerns of the portions of the poems appearing outside the collection that can shed light on how they are worked out in Splay Anthem, which won Mackey the 2006 National Book Award for poetry. As Mackey has continued to explore certain themes throughout the life of the poems, we gain added value from returning to this prize-winning collection and re-assessing the poems’ significance in a changing world. Though Song and “Mu” were begun in the later part of the twentieth century, they take on new meaning in the context of the events that have occurred contemporaneously with their continued publication. Thus, a more complete focus on the poems and their Modernist/Postmodernist techniques can shed light on the developing relationship between experimentation and politics, a relationship that has been fraught since the 1960s at least. Splay Anthem’s indirect political project acknowledges that the work of striving for equality and community is ever-incomplete, but provides a tentative foundation for this effort.
Splay Anthem is a weave of several themes and recurrent experimental forms. Jarring enjambment causes lines to read both with those that came before and those that follow with ambiguity, while often refusing to signify concretely. This is in keeping with the effect of the variations-on-a-theme style of polysemy used throughout the poems, in which words are exploited for their double (or multiple) meanings, often with plural meanings suspended simultaneously, refusing to resolve in clear reference. Mackey’s use of the word rung, for example, signifies simultaneously both the past tense of to ring and the lateral cross-pieces of a ladder. Additionally, words often appear in alienated forms, used repeatedly with slight changes to spelling but retaining just an echo of their other forms. The themes that emerge amid this weave are complex and epic, following an incomplete but continuously striving humanity as it searches for a communal, global identity. This process is difficult and often painful. It is evinced by Mackey in his preface, where he explains what he means when he uses the word Andoumboulou:
The song of the Andoumboulou is one of striving, strain, abrasion, an all but asthmatic song of aspiration. Lost ground, lost twinness, lost union and other losses variably inflect that aspiration, a wish, among others, to be we, … that of some larger collectivity an anthem would celebrate. (2006, xi)
To read the entire essay and the rest of the collection get A Sense of Regard: essays on poetry and race