The Universal Language of Poetry (And The Socially Awkward)

I was so fortunate to be asked to read for The Americas Poetry Festival of New York,  a series of multilingual poetry readings and talks across several days and venues. Also, I was included in their anthology. This is a happening. This is so me.

My reading was at the Consulate of Argentina in Manhattan. Ooh, how fancy does that sound? I know,right!

In a bit of a drizzle, I made my rainy way to the Starbucks a block away from the consulate where an entire fleet of cyclists were at rest. I shared a table with a man and his helmet. Fact: he was not part of the fleet. He was a lone cyclist. I don’t understand outdoor sports done in the rain. This is why I don’t ride a bike anymore. Yep, that’s the reason.

Anyways, when the call time rolled around, I headed to the Consulate and arrived at the same time as a gentleman who came to listen. Interestingly, he greeted me in Spanish, and I replied in English, and then we were greeted by a man I’ll call the Silver Fox of Argentina who spoke to us both in English, ushering is into a room with couches where others waited.

Then several groups of people came in all speaking Spanish and went directly upstairs. The Silver Fox of Argentina seemed to know them. I wasn’t sure, though, because, you know, language.

Speaking of–let’s talk about my mad language skillz . I’ve got none. I’m like really super good at English, but other languages? My brain cannot compute. Nine years of Spanish education and the most I can say is Me llamo Cristina y no me gusts la basura. Loosely translated, that means They call me Christina Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die. Or maybe it means something about the trash can. Either way, not very helpful for further conversation.

My senior year of high school was spent sharing a classroom with 8th graders taking Italian 1 because none of us seniors wanted to enroll in AP Spanish literature. In my one year of Italian, I learned quanianihai? Loosely translated: how many years do you have?

So here I am at the Consulate of Argentina, and the Silver Fox of Argentina tells us all in English that we can go upstairs now. We all go upstairs and the people in the little lounge at the top of the steps clearly know each other, but I can’t understand what they’re saying because they’re speaking in Spanish. Then in the auditorium through the double doors next to the lounge area are people hugging and greeting each other. In Spanish. Slowly, I’m realizing that I’m pretty much the only person here who is not speaking Spanish, and I have no idea what’s going on so I wind up texting a few people whose answers to me were to either yell Defect! or simply Que? Which loosely translates to K?

Now I could have asked someone who looked like they were in charge about what was going on. I could have gone up to anyone near the microphone set up or anyone adjusting the posters for the event to introduce myself and ask for the organizer. If you think all this sounds logical, FOR SHAME! You don’t know me at all. I mean, I can barely do that in a room of people speaking English. You think I’m gonna start introducing myself to people who are speaking a completely different language. Ha ha! I scoff at your confidence in my social abilities.

Instead, I did what any normal adult would do. I walked around like I was casing the joint until I saw everyone start to settle in.

Everyone sits down, so I sit down. Then several people go to the front of the room to start. And they start speaking in Spanish. It then dawns on me that I’m in the Consulate of Argentina and not only are the social conversations in Spanish, but the entire program is going to be en Espanol. Loose translation: in Spanish.

I understood every 8th word, like when they were saying the next reader’s country and name. I understood some of the poetry because that was read more slowly.

Then the poet from Mexico read a poem in English! Okay, now we were bilingual! Then he explained and read his second poem in Spanish. I’m not exactly sure what was going on because he had in his ear buds and carried his phone in his face and kept his eyes closed (ojos!) and bumped into people and things as he walked around and recited, but he didn’t bump into as many things as you may expect.

Another poet read poems in several languages. Okay, now we were multilingual!

My plan was to sit there until I heard my name. It was all I could do. A few poets later the stars aligned and I heard, Now is Christina Rau here?

Yes! I am! I am Christina Rau! I understand the words coming forth from your mouth, ma’am. Yes, that is me! I am here! Yes! My hand shot straight up and I may have jumped with glee. I didn’t have to figure out when I was going next after all.

I made it to the podium, and I could have said Hola or Buenos tardes, but instead I said Good evening because I didn’t want to give anyone the impression that I may be able to hold any kind of conversation in Spanish. I read my few poems without any commentary and then at the end when I could have said Gracias I said thank you and made my way to my chair.

TAPFNY (1)

This lovely person in the crowd Instagrammed some of my reading. I’m still not 100% sure what she wrote, but I recognize my name and poetry, so I’m going to say it’s a-okay.

The director found me and showed me my poem in the anthology, handing  over my own copy. It’s a fabulous book!

Then a few more poets went and there were announcements and reasons to clap. I clapped because that’s what you do when an entire room claps. That’s also how The Handmaid’s Tale begins, but what’s a gal to do? Simply do what everyone else is doing and be okay with it.

All the readers were called to the stage for photos, and that I understood and was able to thank all the organizers who gathered around. Then we said we’d try to do something out  on Long Island. We spoke in English. And there was then wine and snacks, and I left because I don’t speak the language of alcohol anymore either.

On my way out, the gentleman who had walked in with me was also leaving. And in Spanish he wished me a good night (or cursed me out—I wouldn’t know the difference) and I said good night to him in English. Because nine years of Spanish taught me to stick with what I know.

Someone should probably point me in the direction of the Rosetta stone. Or a Spanish-English dictionary. I may not be able to wrap my brain around another language perfectly, but I can sure try.

2 thoughts on “The Universal Language of Poetry (And The Socially Awkward)

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