‘What Are You’ by AP & Korso [Poetry Review]

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There’s something really powerful in having a poem about singling out someone as “other” being recited in unison. It’s as if, even when you try to separate them into different races, at the end of it all it doesn’t prevent them from creating something together–because their differences shouldn’t matter.

It’s intriguing how hesitant I found myself to talk about this poem and the issues it raises because, well, I’m not a minority. I don’t know what it’s like to face the prejudices being talked about here–I only have a vague understanding from a distance, like what it might feel like to step onto the moon. And yet I thought that only made it more important for me to strive to understand better.

One of my favourite parts of this performance is when it starts to become a conversation about language. It’s funny to me that so many people in North America see monolingual as normal when most of the world speaks at least two languages–and usually more. Or that, because they haven’t learned another language, it is somehow up to people from other cultures to make up for this short-coming. Personally, I always feel bad when someone speaks to me in English when I know it’s not their native language–I feel like I’ve failed somehow.

I know that this part of the poem is making the point that just because someone isn’t white doesn’t mean they can’t speak English or that they weren’t born in North America. But the idea that someone should feel as if they need to give up part of their culture just because I don’t know enough about it makes me sad.

You know that’s really funny symbolism, right? The melting pot?

Because, like, chocolate melts. Milk just kind of boils over, colonizing your counter top.

More so, a lot of the poem addresses how the use of language shows how race is still regarded in North America–even if that language isn’t meant to be offensive. Take their example of someone being half-white half-black, and raising the question why they aren’t referred ti as white. After all, that is half of their heritage. And yet people are considerable more likely to refer to them as half-black than anything else. It’s one of those distinctions that no one seems to notice unless it’s pointed at you.

There’s a wonderful poem 3 ways to speak English by Jamila Lyiscott that talks about different dialects and how it’s an expression of culture even within the same language. More than that it talks about how it is important to switch one’s dialect to fit with a speech community. Language can be such a strong marker of one’s culture and background so one’s decision to use one dialect over another is usually deliberate–to get an effect. It’s really an amazing poem if you get the chance to hear it.

It’s odd how prone humans are to categorizing things, even something as complex as people. And yet this is too simplistic. People have rich individual histories and assuming you can make assumptions about that history is ignorant.

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