ENGL202 Blog 5 – Creative: Language’s Liberation and Enslavement
TASK: 1/ Write a poem or a short prose passage that illustrates the ways in which language can be both a prison and a release from prison.
Words can be gorgeously cruel. Cold and clean and quiet as they confirm your illness after months of blood tests and bone density scans. Words can be awfully kind. ‘I do,’ she whispers with tears shiny as the diamond on her pale, manicured hand.
Words can wind around you–a trickster crawling up your sibilant spine–a bilingual zephyr to seal your promises and read your palms. The words of her or him or them or you…oh, words play hopscotch with your hope and are the cement and soul in your thoughts. These letters–these hieroglyphs–these keys to the kingdom.
These syllables–this syllabus–these syntactic prison sentences.
I remember my father’s ancient language; it was fast and harsh and loud. Truly musical, it sent me to sleep at night. A sad discussion with a village on the other side of the other world was my white noise machine.
Hausa is what they called it.
When I was small, I saw the language in my mind: it had a shape and a voice and a smell. The light of the garage was on, and the cup of tea was steaming, and my father’s impenetrable realm was teeming with melodic gibberish. It sounded as if he was casting spells, he rounded the worktable like chanting around a cauldron. Never had I ever felt so helpless and so fascinated. It was a secret power I had no access to.
It was the cotton candy grass on the other side the fence.
Write a prose soliloquy in which you are Hamlet commenting on the world around you in 2020.
It’s bushfires and viruses and cunning toilet paper runs. It’s climate change and Trumpism and healthcare systems trumped by capitalism. It’s advertising fear and scrounging for hope. It’s the globe and the floorboards on this stage are wired with so much worry it feels as though we’re about to fall through, a feeling I’m afraid we’ve all heartily acclimated to.
In this month’s craze, we’ve all been struck down with terror of the plague!
We move through global emergencies like we churn through diet fads, reminding ourselves not to eat too much because we need to panic buy the rest tomorrow when, across the sea, others are starving. That’s dramatic irony for ya, eh?
The media sends the hordes into frenzied hysteria; I pity them honestly (I pity myself, too). But would we prefer a climate of oblivion or hyper information? Is there even a difference between the blur of too much and none at all? Perhaps the sea of news articles and broadcasts is some sort of blissful ignorance within itself. Perhaps we like to distract ourselves from our lives with the lives of everyone else – or more precisely, the lives of strangers in jeopardy and the lives lost inevitably.
HAMLET sneezes into his elbow and begins to wash his hands
Well, you learn to switch yourself off…fall asleep walking through these masked and crowded streets, trying to fade from the facts and the fear. To best describe it: you’re in a large pool with the rest of the world’s population and everybody’s drowning–helpless, flailing and floundering, delirious with panic from this perpetual doggy-paddle. But if you stop swimming, stop floating, you sink beneath the surface and find a weightless, purring calm. It’s pleasant; it is eerily familiar, like the womb before the knife to the belly of Banquo’s mother.
Sadly, we must all come back up for air one time or another and, by the time we resurface, the next apocalypse has tagged you and Kim Kardashian in its Facebook status.
HAMLET continues washing his hands, humming the tune ‘Happy Birthday’
Author’s Note – Further inspired by the sonnet readings in Week 3 & 4, this is my (clumsy, unlearned) attempt at a modernised sonnet. I’ve never written one before! Of course, I know I have not achieved the effortless world-building that Shakespeare produces through his work, but I do hope Ophelia’s 2020 does strike a chord with some.
OPHELIA: (humming ‘Happy Birthday’)
Our king! Here comes the poisoned president. He is made of tall walls wreathed in white tar. He mocks the woe of the poor immigrant. Tower to throne to rainforest carpark.
Oh, Ham*, will they win the next election? We wait with baited* breath a few months more. But the kingdom might have fallen by then, When the Beer Plague coughs and clears the Coles store.
After hellfire, let’s be God’s good people, Then pave our charred earth with fresh bitumen. Let’s shout our neighbours a pint of Dettol, Then steal toilet paper from our old friends.
But this land fused with fossil fuels and faith will one day find the soul it once did forsake.
*please note: the incorrect use of ‘baited’ is deliberately implemented for wordplay
*please note: A ‘ham’ is a an excessively theatrical actor. This is a nod to the ludicrous theatrics of the Trump Administration, the metatheatrical elements of Shakespearean tragedy and could be interpreted as Ophelia’s contemporised pet-name for Hamlet.