Tag Archives: endangered language

Kuros Charney’s “The Humanist” Questions the Value of the Humanities

18 Mar

IMG_0513

My friend and I attended Kuros Charney‘s play “The Humanist” the other night, and it resonated ever so profoundly. Here’s the synopsis:

A comedy about the corporatization of higher education. When his old flame becomes his new boss, a classics professor at a public university must fight to keep his job in the face of state budget cuts and profit motives, while defending the humanities as the foundation of democracy.
The play was put on at Urban Stages and starred J. Anthony Crane, Kate Jennings Grant, Lipica Shah, and Dylan Chalfy. They all have great acting chops, as evidenced not only by their performance in this reading of the play, but in their former credits. In particular, Shah gave a standout performance, appearing so natural in her role of the student that at times I forgot she was acting.
Kuros, a writer I know from living in the same neighborhood in New York City, explores weighty issues of the purpose of education; culture as both an ethnic (read: immigrant) and socio-economic (read: aspirational) descriptor; and relationships between administrators, professors, and students. “The Humanist” shows both the plight of idealistic, intelligent students and their wearying professors in an economic environment in which success needs to be quantifiable. For as much depth as is in the two-hour play, it was also full of humorous and tender moments.
As a graduate of a liberal arts college who studied the humanities — English major FTW! — who also happened to study the classics (I studied Classical Greek at Pomona College), and then went on to get my MFA in creative writing (nonfiction), I believe strongly in the importance of education for education’s sake and art for art’s sake, and yet that’s because I view both education and art as transformational, empowering, and purposeful. I believe that in the long run, education and the arts are just as important to democracy as anything else. Capitalist business models have their place. It’s important to be able to put food on the table. But I believe we can do that while still valuing the studying of Classical Greek.
But maybe I’m a bit biased. 😉
Advertisements

Friday Links: The UK & Beat Generation Connection

15 Nov

Hope you’ve enjoyed the week we spent exploring the connection between the UK and the Beat Generation! Do you like these sorts of thematic weeks?

I thought I’d kick off your weekend with a few related links:

Barry Miles wrote about Jack Kerouac’s Celtic roots in Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats, and you can read that section in the New York Times

I wrote about how Lawrence Ferlinghetti introduced Kerouac to a Breton (a Celtic language brought over to France) phrase here

Carolyn Cassady was living in Bracknell, England, at the time of her death in September

Bracknell is home to the Bracknell Jazz Festival, which has been running since the ’70s

Pat Fenton wrote an article for the Irish Echo entitled “Down memory lane into Paddy Reilly’s,” which explores the band the Black 47 taking inspiration from Jack Kerouac and Celtic music (I think you can read the article in the print edition, sorry!)

Reporters interview beatniks in Newquay, England, sometime around 1960, in this video on Papermag

London Living suggests the best beatnik hangouts

Proud Chelsea brought Paris’s “The Beat Hotel” to London via a 2010 exhibition a few years ago

When England got The Sea Is My Brother before we did, I wondered if the Brits love Kerouac more than the Yankees?

What did you think of Daniel Radcliffe’s American accent as Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings?

 

 

Nikolopoulos Revives Homer’s Poetic Language

26 Aug

logo

The National Herald featured me! In the article, I talk about “dead” languages, that great Greek roadtripper Homer, and Scripps College.

Photos from the 2013 New York City Poetry Festival

31 Jul

Po2

Po1

po3

po4

po5

I feel incredibly honored to have been invited to read at the 2013 New York City Poetry Festival. I had such a blast hearing so many great poets read at last year’s festival, and it never occurred to me that just a year later I would be joining them on stage. I have poet RA Araya to thank for continually supporting my writing. He invited me to read Homer in the ancient Homeric Greek and from the literary biography I’m coauthoring with Paul Maher Jr. entitled Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” so I read two road trip pieces.

For my Homer selection, I chose the opening passage from The Odyssey. Growing up in the Peloponnesus, my father had to memorize part of the epic poem in school. To this day, he still can recite the lines! I studied Classical Greek at Pomona College (while a student at Scripps), which is different than Homeric Greek. We never really read aloud in class because it’s a “dead” language, one that is no longer spoken but read by scholars. There are debates about how ancient Greek dialects were spoken, as the pronunciation is, according to some scholars, different than modern Greek. I am therefore definitely not adept at reading in the ancient tongue, but if someone asks me to read something specific, I do my best. Fortunately, there are many great English translations of The Odyssey out there too!

It was a no brainer to choose one of the passages about poetry from Burning Furiously Beautiful. In telling the story of the making of the novel On the Road, it was important that the literary biography also explored Kerouac’s poetry and his friendship with other poets. Although he is mainly remembered as a novelist, Kerouac wrote poetry throughout his life, including the period when he was on the road. There’s a really strong section in the book about how Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg influenced each other’s writing, and I wanted to read that, but in the end I found a passage in Burning Furiously Beautiful that seemed to better encapsulate the mood of the Poetry Festival. In the passage, Kerouac has been walking along the highway, hitchhiking, and finds himself composing a poem about everything he sees around him. It reminded me of how out on Governors Island we were all a bunch of writers lofting in the grass and translating the world around us into poetic language.

I read directly after RA, who opened up the event with his famously short-but-sweet poem, and then came Hillary Keel, Sarah Sarai, Carmen Bardeguez-Brown, Kate Levin, Carlos Manuel Rivera, Sparrow, Bonafide Rojas, and Keith Roach. They were amazing! Seriously. Hilary read in German and a couple of the other poets read in Spanish, and I suspect our reading—under the name Miguel Algarin’s Brooklyn Poetry—was the most linguistically diverse at the Festival. I had traveled over the Governors Island with Kate, and I think this was her best reading yet. In addition to poetry about Manhattan and our value as people, she read from her punk novel, which I would’ve thought was a poem if she hadn’t said otherwise. I always enjoy hearing Sarah read, and in particular enjoyed her poem about meeting an angel at a bus stop. The poet who had me in stitches, though, was Sparrow. I’d heard him sing at RA’s birthday party last year, and I loved hearing his one-liner poems this time around.

Special thanks too to our stage manager Liz von Klemperer, who did an excellent job. There were a lot of volunteers who kept the entire event running smoothly. The New York City Poetry Festival is put on by The Poetry Society of New York and is organized by Stephanie Berger and Nicholas Adamski. For the full lineup of the two-day event, check out NYCPF 2013.

I also want to thank my family and friends who trekked out to the island—some coming from as far as Jersey and Brooklyn—to support my reading. The photos here were taken by Leslie Marks, except the last one which is a self portrait. For more photos of me and all the other amazing poets, check out asterix611’s flickr.

Happy 161st Birthday, Antoni Gaudi!

25 Jun

Antoni Gaudi, Catalan architect of insanely intricate, bone-like structures, was born on this day in 1852.  When I was backpacking through Europe, I stopped by his La Sagrada Familia.  You can read about it in my Church Hopping column on Burnside Writers Collective.

Gaudi was beaten and imprisoned when he showed up at a demonstration against banning Catalan.  The language is now considered an endangered language.

Clip: Trading Text for Visuals: Poets As Visual Artists

25 Apr

blake-300x211

I had a really fun time putting together an article for Burnside about poets who are also visual artists. From the time I was a little child, I have been drawn to both the literary and visual arts worlds. Even in undergrad these two loves of mine co-mingled, as I majored in English and minored in studio art. My undergrad thesis looked at the relationship between writers and artists in New York in the ’40s and ’50s. It didn’t end there. While obtaining my MFA in creative writing, I took a poetry class on the collaborations of the poets and artists of the New York School. My article touches on some of the poets I’ve studied over the years, with of course a focus on the people commonly associated with the Beat Generation, but I pushed myself to find other examples as well.

Our cannons are so steeped in “dead white males” that it was important to me in stretching my knowledge to seek out poet-artists who did not play into that categorization. I was delighted to discover that Elizabeth Bishop painted.  Two years ago it was the hundred-year anniversary of the former Poet Laureate of the United States’ birth, so there were many readings and events to honor her work. Somehow, though, I missed the fact that she was a painter. Maybe it’s because she herself did not take it all that seriously, as I point out in my article. I happen to think they’re delightful, though.

A contemporary poet-painter I am quite interested in researching more about is Babi Badalov. As my article touches on, he mixes languages in his works, a result of having moved a lot between cultures to avoid persecution for his controversial visual poetry. As a writer, language is something I hold dear. My vocabulary is a key to who I am: the words I’ve picked up come from my mother’s midwestern phrasing and my father’s Greek tongue as well as the vernacular of northern New Jersey and the jargon of the institutes of higher learning I attended. I’ve found the preservation of endangered languages so critical because language is about identity. The idea that a poet has no language and has many languages intrigues me. When does Badalov express himself in his native Azerbaijani language and when in Russian? Is his use of English a political act?

In my exploration of the Beats as visual artists, I could have easily waxed on and on. In fact, I did not go into any detail about Jack Kerouac’s artwork, even though he has been the subject of much of my studies. If this is something you’re interested in, leave a note in the comment section below, and I’ll write something up on this. What I did try to do for the Burnside article, though, was show that the Beats were following a rich tradition that came long before them. I point to William Blake and the Chinese and Japanese calligraphers as forerunners and influencers on the work of Allen Ginsberg and Phillip Whalen, for example.

My article was limited to just a few examples, a small taste of the artwork of poets. I’d love to hear who you think should be added to the list. Maybe I’ll make a part II!

What a Garifuna-Breton Party Has to Do with Jack Kerouac

15 Mar

James-Lovell

photo via ELA

After a short hiatus for renovations and new partnership, Bowery Poetry is back—dropping “Club” from its title—and they’re hosting a Garifuna-Breton party! I’ve posted before about endangered languages—both of which these are—but why I specifically want to mention this party is because Jack Kerouac claimed to have descended from a Breton nobleman.

Bretons are people from Brittany, a Celtic nation located in France. During Kerouac’s day and age there were more than one million Breton speakers. The Brythonic language (Welsh, also endangered, is another example of a Brythonic language) was originally well regarded and spoken among the upper classes, but as people began assimilating it became known as the language of the commoners. Today,  most Bretons today speak French, and only about 200,000 people—particularly in the western area—speak Breton. In the 1960s, the language was being forced out of schools—just like many Native American and Sami languages were. Today, schools are returning to bilingualism, particularly through the efforts of Diwan schools, which were founded in 1977 as an immersion program. Even so, UNESCO classifies Breton as a “severely endangered” language. For more on the history of the language visit Breton Language and visit the US Branch of the International Committee for the Defense of the Breton Language.

Kerouac’s family was French Canadian, and growing up in Lowell, Massachusetts, his first language was the working-class French-Canadian dialect joual. It’s interesting to note that both Breton and joual are associated with commoners; perhaps this is a key to understanding Kerouac and his literature. As far as my current research shows, he was not familiar with the Breton language. However, I recently saw Christopher Felver’s documentary Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder, which told the story of how one day Kerouac was sitting on the beach in Big Sur with poet and City Lights founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti repeated the phrase “the fish in the sea speak Breton.” Kerouac perked up, hearing the connection to his roots, and asked Ferlinghetti about it and wrote it down in the little notebook he always carried with him. The phrase found its way into his novel Big Sur.

Satori in Paris, which came three years after Big Sur, recounts Kerouac’s travels to France and Brittany in search of his roots. For a fascinating look at Kerouac’s trip and ancestral lineage, check out Dave Moore’s article “The Breton Traveller” on Beatdom.

Here’s the press release for the Garifuna-Breton party:

BOWERY POETRY

IS BACK WITH

A GRAND GARIFUNA-BRETON PARTY!

Poetry! Music! Dance!

Sunday*, March 18 from 6pm-11pm

Admission $10

Bowery Poetry, 308 Bowery (at 1st Street)

Endangered Language groups unite in a call to action to focus attention on the fact that more than half the world’s languages will disappear this century  

Two cultures who met through the Endangered Language Alliance, will celebrate their differences (Breton being Celtic and Garifuna being Arawak), and their similarities (both on the Endangered Language spectrum), but mainly will just celebrate with live music, dance and poetry. This event is being produced by the Bowery Arts + Science Endangered Language Program, and will be one of the first events at the newly renovated Bowery Poetry space at 308 Bowery.

Breton

The strong Breton cultural movement, known as Fest-Noz,  has preserved the expression of a living and constantly renewed practice of inherited dance repertoires with several hundred variations, and thousands of tunes. About a thousand Festou-Noz take place every year with participants varying from a hundred to several thousand people, thousands of musicians and singers and tens of thousands of regular dancers.

Garifuna

Descendants of Arawak, Carib, and African warriors, the resilient Garifuna people of Central America and the Caribbean are known for their rich traditional folklore, including music, dance, food and language. James Lovell is a New York based Belizean Garifuna drummer, recording artist, performer, teacher, and Garifuna cultural activist who grew up with stories told by his elders about the bravery of the Garifuna people and their military leader, Chief Joseph Chatoyer, against efforts by the British colonialists to deny them their identity and the right to speak the Garifuna language.  

 

 

*I double-checked this, and according to the Endangered Language Alliance the event is on MONDAY the 18th.

The Light Holds Harvey Shapiro

8 Jan

9780819560964_p0_v1_s260x420

I have just learned that Harvey Shapiro passed away yesterday.

Shapiro, whose first language was the endangered language of Yiddish, is the person who suggested Martin Luther King, Jr., compose a letter while he was in jail. The result was “Letters From Birmingham Jail,” which Shapiro wasn’t able to get published at The Times Magazine, where he was editor, but which was published by The Christian Century, among others.

Shapiro was a poet in his own right, crafting poems both witty and profound and oftentimes reflecting on life in New York City. Born in 1924 and obtaining his master’s degree in American literature from Columbia University in 1948, he was a contemporary of the Beats. He served in World War II and edited the volume Poets of World War II.

I had the good fortunate of hearing him speak at McNally Jackson Books two years ago. One of the big takeaways I had was that one must persevere in writing. Here was someone who even in his eighties was still engaged in the literary community and encouraging writers.

Happy 169th Birthday, Saint Bernadette!

7 Jan

Saint Marie-Bernarde Soubirous was born on this day in 1844 in Lourdes, France.  She saw a vision of Mother Mary, who spoke to her in Gascon, which is now an endangered language.  The visions inspired the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lowell that Jack Kerouac writes about.  You can read about this famous landmark, where Bob Dylan, Jackie O., and Allen Ginsberg also visited in my Church Hopping column on Burnside Writers Collective.


My Year in Review: 2012

4 Jan

What a full year 2012 was! Here’s a quick little recap:::

aj_originalcov

In January I announced that the rumors were true. But it took the full year for it to finally look like this.

logored

In February I joined Pinterest to discover how it may help me as a writer and have been happily pinning ever since.

creatingspace

In March my personal essay was included in the book Creating Space.

p1015624

In April I was one of the editors representing the Burnside Writers Collective at the Festival of Faith & Writing. It was so special to get to catch up with the other editors and writers, whom I just adore. I also had the opportunity to teach a writing workshop while I was there.

reading

on_the_road

Image via On the Road with Bob Holman / Rattapallax

In April I also worked to create awareness about what we lose when we lose a language. My interview with poet Bob Holman appeared in BOMBlog.

In May I received my MFA in creative nonfiction from The New School. I had a fantastic thesis advisor and a beloved peer group, who challenged me to dig deeper in my memoir about growing up Greek American. After I read a snippet at our thesis reading, an instructor I’d never even had came up to tell me how much he liked my work!

2305th_flyer

Image via The Human Tower / Rattapallax

In June I witnessed the world record being broken for the tallest castell on a rooftop.

paris-review-issue-201-cover

In July I heard Amber Tamblyn read for The Paris Review at the Strand. Afterwards we somehow ended up on the elevator together, and I didn’t say anything to her. I never know in those situations if it’s polite to say something like “nice reading” or if the person just wants her privacy. I know she’s involved in the Beat literature community, though, so I should’ve probably talked to her about that.

570_Road

Image via The Millions

In August an article I wrote about a funny incident I had related to Jack Kerouac sparked a fiery debate and went viral, getting mentioned everywhere from The New Yorker to The Paris Review.

amramstef1

Photo via RA Araya

In September I had one of the most surreal moments of my life–reading with David Amram. I got to hear him perform again, this time as an enthralled audience member, in December.

miguel

Photo via RA Araya

That month I also read for poet Miguel Algarin‘s birthday bash.

p1016108

I also road tripped through northern and central California, visiting Cannery Row, City Lights Bookshop, The Beat Museum, and attending my college friend’s wedding.

p1015207

In October Hurricane Sandy hit New York, and I spent a lot of time in bed.

p10157001

In November I failed miserably at NaNoWriMo, but I had a lot of fun creating this ever-evolving Pinterest board for the book I never wrote.

I also gave a reading that got upstaged by a wedding proposal.

p1016239-e1355694672538

In December there was a flurry of Jack Kerouac-related activities to promote the film adaptation of On the Road, and I got to see author Ann Charters and film director Walter Salles in person at IFC. I also got to take a writing class with screenwriter Jose Rivera at 3rd Ward.

I also went out to Lowell and got to meet Jack Kerouac’s friend and pallbearer Billy Koumantzelis.

 

What were the highlights of 2012 for you?