It’s no surprise when we listen to current events that contain the poor’s seemingly futile attempt to climb the social ladder. It’s also not surprising to hear accompanying news about the wealthy adding another cent to their wallet. Here’s where I insert the old saying: “The rich get richer, while the poor get poorer.” However, looking underneath the designer clothes and putting material possessions aside, the renowned ‘elite’ class should be the same as any other person, right?
If the rich continually get wealthier at the cost of depriving others and are aware of it, why continue the hoarding? If the poor become so impoverished that they resort to stealing and selling themselves in order to survive, are they any different from animals? These questions dwell deeper than the social binary of poverty and wealth and cross into questioning the self: Is the human species inherently ‘good’ or ‘evil’? This questioning of human nature could be further reflected on the dystopic novel, Utopia, by Ahmed Khaled Towfik.
Towfik sets his novel in a future Egypt after the collapse of the middle class that stratifies social classes into complete opposites of the spectrum: either be very impoverished or very wealthy. Resources are abundant within the confines of a barrier populated by high-class individuals (‘Utopians’), while the unfortunate lower class (‘Others’) meagerly attempt to survive outside the walls. The novel is first introduced by a narrator (nicknamed Alaa) that immediately demonstrates to be very depraved and sadistic towards others. Alaa exudes arrogance and self-absorbent that is also seen within the Utopian community. Hard drugs are used recreationally by the young and old, rape frequently occurs that it has become ingrained within their culture, and values or morals heavily revolve around the material wealth. As said by Alaa himself, what else would you be able to do after living in this so-called ‘artificial paradise’? (pg.9) After having everything within their grasp, it is up to Father time in deciding when Utopian’s ‘humane’ attributes disappear.
The role of narrator switches with an Other, Gaber. As a former college graduate before the economic collapse, Gaber lives the same lifestyle as his brethren. However, Gaber seems to be the only one with an understanding of the circumstances that resulted in the dystopic society they currently abide in. A different perspective outside Utopian society serves to give a much more ‘grittier’ tone. Others are demonstrated to live in very indigent conditions stricken with disease and famish. As a result of a depraved lifestyle, violence and rape runs amok accompanied by a high rate of drug usage.
Alaa and Gaber come from differing upbringings yet the environments they lived in have inhumane traits witnessed throughout. However, Gaber seems to have the worst end of the stick compared to Alaa’s ‘generous’ lifestyle. In spite of his position, Gaber charted the remaining ‘humane’ remnants of altruism left and supported Alaa within his own accord. Demonstrating through poverty, one can appreciate sentient life.
In Buzzing Hemispheres Urayoan Noel gives us a sort of freed, free verse, a gaping universe of open verse, one that conforms to no form, abides by no conventions, flows in and out of cracks, suffers no fools and is apparently a fan of David Bowie.
I think we often forget that poetry is not prose and therefore cannot and should not fulfill the functions that a narrative might attempt to. Poetry doesn’t tell us a story, it tells us a feeling, it doesn’t speak in sentences, it speaks all in breath, sometimes holds that breath, without the help of punctuation, only to let it all out again in a rambling waterfall of syntax. Poetry is a novel deconstructed into only its most basic feelings; it is an autobiography on acid sitting in a dark room mumbling into a tape recorder.
If poetry attempts to paint a picture then Noel’s is holding a brush in both hands. It is pictorial, descriptive, sensory and alive. It is words as 8-bit characters stamped on a page. It is an old mac running DOS, typing coded language horizontally,
:img :img :img :img and so on and so on and on.
¿Qué diablos es esto?
I don’t know but I like the way it feels.
I have never been a poem reader, I don’t even remember the last time that I read one before the one I am currently reading for class. Buzzing Hemisphere by Urayoán Noel is the most difficult and confusing set of poems that I have ever read. My main problem is the structure of the poems; I think that this is because I am so used to the “normal” style of reading. By this I mean reading things left to right and from top to bottom. This is an issue for me because poems are always different that can be reading down or having breaks between the text. This novel has the most of these unique structures that I have ever read. Another challenge to this novel specifically is that there is also the translation of Spanish in the text. Spanish makes it complicated for me because I loss the flow of the poem. There are continuous examples of this throughout the entire novel in a variety of styles. One example that I will share of the structure is in the poem title Sentences on page 51 of the novel.
“1. A thousand ports. 2. And many more corpses. 3. Those are the dream coordinates. 4. The morning of the touch-me-nots. 5. The night of the dry forest. 6. The echo’s dawn. 7. The ecology of dreaming. 8. Of waking. 9. From one trance to another. 10. Anchored to the morning.”
This part is confusing for me to read because of the numbers, it as if it is a list but it is one continuous sentence. Another example that has troubled me is titled Fake Flowers on page 75.
Wassup, I heard the the circle line
raza mayor say mayorista
qué pasa, “this year al por menor
my peeps? things detal
insipid are gonna astilla
líquido de go our way don’t wanna be ya!!
brain valve we’re due” vaya qué villas
aneurisma dime tú, dude y castillas!
This one was the most complicated because I tried reading left to right and the Spanish is intertwined in the same lines as the English lines. However, I am glad that I read this novel because it actually made me more comfortable in reading these types of poems and poems in general.
Poetry is one of those writing genres that everybody expects an emotional response out of. Whether it be despair, anger, beauty, loss, pain, we all expect poetry to do something for us. When I started reading Urayoán Noel’s book of poetry, Buzzing Hemisphere, I expected the same thing. I expected to read about love and heartache and everlasting feelings of longing and hopelessness, you know, all those poetry things. What I didn’t expect out of Noel’s book was to feel immense nostalgia for my childhood.
This nostalgia came from reading one poem in particular, titled “Signs of the Hemisphere”. In this poem, Noel begins and ends each page with in-all-caps descriptions of the signs he sees during his bus ride through the state of New York. One example reads:
TAGS AVAILABLE REDUCE SPEED SERVICE AREA VINCE LOMBARDI $AVE MONEY GEICO GET LOST RIO FORT LEE GEORGE WASHINGTON HACKENSACK PATERSON HAMPTON INN CHALLENGER ROAD LOEWS THEATER SAMSUNG AVAILABLE LAND NO TURNS KEEP RIGHT LEONIA TEANECK EXPRESS NORTHRAMP YOUR SPEED WELCOME TO HACKENSACK RAINBOW CLEANERS QUEEN ANNE THEATRE LITTLE FERRY LUKOIL NO TRUCKS MORE FUN IS MORE FUN MT. AIRY SWIFT AT&T COVERS 97% PERCENT OF AMERICANS WOW!
As I was reading this passage and others like it, I found myself a bit confused and at a loss. I couldn’t figure out what exactly Noel was trying to convey with all of these un-related words and strange names and phrases. It wasn’t until I stopped looking for the meaning behind it that I actually found one for myself.
Once I started reading these passages just to read them, and without trying all that hard to actually understand them, I started getting images in my head of all these words and phrases posted up on billboards or outside of motels. I started seeing them flying by over my head with just enough time to read what they were saying. I started picturing myself in the backseat of my mom’s car, poking my sister, kicking the back of my mom’s seat because that’s as far as my legs could reach, and watching each new colorful sign fly past my head. I remember asking my mom “What does that one say?” I remember road trips to places I now can’t remember, and I remember truck stops with greasy men I was told not to talk to. I remember playing the road sign game with my sister, where we made a competition out of how many wacky and unexpected signs we could spot out.
As I read this poem by Noel, I remembered the signs of my childhood.
If you didn’t understand the meaning of the book by page 180, Fiston Mwanza Mujila gives the reader a formal hint at his message on the very next page.
Flipping through the book for the first time when I bought it, something caught my eye that I had never seen in any form of literature before, and it’s one of the boldest authorial calls to ever grace the pages of history. And it worked. Nearly one full page of text that consists of a single word: Mournful.
The Diva, who was playing the role of a woman, against a background of prerecorded sounds, unreeled a song, long and mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful…(x80), and at the same time celestial (Mujila 181).
Following by describing the tram as “a convulsion of incompleteness” and a place with “time’s wasting, the thirst for archeology, solitude,” ushers in an understanding of the fictional tram that might not have been grasped before.
What could be Mujila’s reason for filling an entire page with the word “mournful” when describing a song sung in the tram? Well, it’s meant to be read aloud, or at least word-by-word in one’s head. Repeating the word for the eighty times it appears cannot fail to inspire a monotonous dread in your mind, a sense of waiting for it to be over, waiting to break free from an oppressive sadness. That is exactly Mujila’s purpose, to imbue the sense of helplessness and abandonment in your mind when you try to comprehend the situation of a place that has been truly left to rot in its own perversion. The people of the tram starve for meaning in life, or at least they would if their lives weren’t stricken with an impoverished plague of carelessness and prostitutes.
In reading his repetition of the word “mournful,” we are supposed to understand the minds of the colonized. The poor, underexposed and underpriveleged lives withering away at the hand of injustice. And from that, we may yet understand more about the people not given the same privileges as us.
Have you ever read a book, piece of poetry, or article that you just didn’t understand? Or maybe you were reading something and kind of blocked out paragraphs or areas that were written in a language that you just don’t understand. In Uroyoàn Noel’s book, Buzzing Hemisphere, I tend to do this more often than not.
Buzzing Hemisphere has English and Spanish written side by side, or sharing a page, sometimes translating to the same meaning, sometimes not. While I’m reading, I usually skip over the parts that I don’t understand, simply because it’s just “noise” or static. I do this for no other reason than I am horrible at translating Spanish to English. Yes, I understand it and I can read it, but I’m extremely slow and time consuming. The hardest poem for me to read from Noel’s book was: Materia Gris | Gray Matter starting on page 29.
So how can you become a more efficient reader in a language different than your native language? This website gives 7 tips as to how to read in another language. Their tips and tricks seem helpful, but it really just takes time, patience, and practice.
In an organized banana republic, torture is an art form. It is a craft that must be refined and perfected; something you can take pride in. After the for-profit tourists ravage the city in Tram 83 of its natural resources, the banana republic is no longer organized. Torture became lazy and ignorant of finer torture techniques. Like art and language; torture became nothing but a lost art of the Congolese.
“Torture is above all an art, an artistic discipline just like literature, cinema, or contemporary dance” (Mujila, 145)
While it may be a trade to take pride in, torture remains, at its core, barbaric. One could even make the leap that engaging in torture can turn you in a barbarian. The for-profit tourists have established a system ran by torture and made the torture itself unrefined and crude. They have created a system to turn the people of the City-State into animals.
There is only one word for the way that the for-profit tourists stripped the land of its resources without giving back to those who had claim to the land; torture. Torture is an art form. It is something that strips the tortured of their dignity. In a way, the for-profit tourists have perfected the art of torture themselves by taking the dignity out of an act that takes the dignity out of a person. You can’t even be stripped of your dignity with dignity.
“All the detainees in the City-State ghettos bitterly missed the torturers of yesteryear” (Mujila, 145)
In the poetry book “Buzzing Hemisphere” by Urayoan Noel, the buzzing that happens in everyday life is often seen and heard as noise. Noise is often a negative term that describes a sound that is annoying or distracting to someone. For the author, Noel, the buzzing noise that is in his way can be a number of different things. Whether it be another language, a person, or the deterritorialization that he is trying to attempt, noise is everywhere. In the majority of his poems, noise is present and it can come in different forms.
In his poem “Rumoreos,” both Spanish and English are side by side with no punctuation in between the two. The only difference is that the words that are in English are bold, while the Spanish is in regular font. This is form of noise. Being bi-cultural and bilingual can be tough. Often times we want to go back to the roots of our parents and embrace their cultural and language, but the other culture and its customs can get in the way. In this poem, the English being bold represents his parents’ culture being overshadowed by the other, and that can be very noisy. So noisy that we just can’t ignore it. It’s tough trying to juggle both worlds at once, and depending where we live and who we are surrounded with, determines which culture we tend to lean more towards.
Noel is being overtaken by the noise of the American culture by the boldness of the English language. The two languages may be next to each other, but the darker font is immediately more prominent and is seen as more important, almost. Looking at the page, my eyes automatically go to English, and the first time reading it, I just read the English because it was easier and more out there than the Spanish. I’m sure that is how Noel feels sometimes, and that is why he incorporated it into his poem.
Although the noise can be noisy, acknowledging it and trying to push through it is the first step to attempting to empty out the noise in our lives.
When I was first being introduced to poetry as a child, I really enjoyed it. Maybe because I was never a good reader and enjoyed how small the readings are. Or maybe it was because all poems have so much meaning within them. Although the older I got the more difficult it was for me to translate and figure out what was trying to be said. Probably due to the higher devision of poetry I was being assigned to read, it made it more difficult. For example, the book Buzzing Hemispheres
by Urayoan Noel, is full of poems, and although there was some I could understand, there was a handful of poems I just couldn’t quite translate. For example, like this poem below,
the rocky point dissolves
diluted is the line
that once marked
the noise of the morning
between radio and storm
When I finish reading that I don’t even know what to say about it, I feel like it doesn’t rhythm and doesn’t give a good image of whats being said. Many other poems in this book left me confused on what the author was trying to say. Although its not just this author or book, its other kinds of poetry also.
A poem I really enjoyed after reading Buzzing Hemispheres by Urayoan Noel, was
I should have been there with you
exposed and exposing
or at least making
instead of mumbling
With Blue—uncertain stumbling Buzz
Between the light—and me.
the reason I enjoyed this poem, was because I felt like I understood the meaning behind it, and what was trying to be said. It seems like this person is talking about someone that they had one last chance with, or possibly they were dying and they regret that they couldn’t reach out to them, and didn’t tell them how they really felt about them, instead they stayed to themselves in solidarity as the poem states. I felt like it had a sad tone which I also enjoyed because it felt real, and is probably going to be a feeling that everyone is going to understand at one point in their life. Although rhyming poems makes more sense to me I still ponder on the harder poems, and appreciate their deeper poems like this one.
In his book of bilingual / self-translated poetry, Urayoán Noel explores multiple themes and ideas. One such ideas is the discovery of voice. Colonized and marginalized peoples are often silenced and made to be obedient and grateful. We have already seen this idea propagated in Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World, in which a border patrol officer lines up several Mexican men and women (the protagonist, Makina, included) and gives a speech about how they have to fall in line.
Fall in line and “ask permission” for just about everything. This is one concept which Urayoán Noel fights against in his book, and he does so through the creation of voice:
could it be that the mammoth guitar / became a desert
dissolving in the tide / and wrecking in hands
smaller than ours / showing us the way
without academy / without institute
toward the edge of the park / where word becomes voice? (71)
Without academy or institute is particularly significant, as those are incredibly privileged and Euro-centered concepts accessible only to those who are offered the opportunity. However, Urayoán Noel points out that the “mammoth guitar” showed them the way without that path, and showed the way to discovery without it.
There is also a poem, Langu, in which the line “noise memory language land brain body” is repeated. This is significant because it is not simply the creation of voice, but the rejection of colonial influence and standards.
Since elementary, I never was a big fan of poetry. I would groan at the thought of me having to write or read poems. Now into my 4th semester of college…. nothing has changed. I’m still not the biggest fan of poetry, but I have learned to appreciate it a lot more throughout these years. Reading through Buzzing Hemispheres by Urayoan Noel, there were many poems where I was left confused after reading them, but one poem that stuck out to me was towards the end of the novel.
“the crime of rhyme whatever stands for breath just making room rheum in the void making a number of hum-worthy sounds limning the sum of nerve and muscle these skeletons are learning the skill of slow dissolve against mortar they watch blood trickle behind the scenes fiscal transfusions the making of a holding pattern and behind the pattern the jittery jimmying of keys handheld or digital” (97, Noel).
This stuck out to me for a few reasons; one being, the author’s opinion on rhyming where it seems like he’s saying that rhyming is something that a poesit feels the need to do in order to create a nice tone to their poem.
The other reason would be the drastic change from talking about rhyming words to talking about blood and skeletons which I find it hard to competely process in my mind on what the author is trying to say.
More often than not, I am confused by what exactly a poem is trying to say. I am sometimes thrown off trying to figure out the meaning behind a poem which is why I am not the biggest fan of poetry. I still appreciate those who can write or even read poetry and hope that one day I’ll be able to appreciate it more.