In our literary panorama, many writers work with contact languages (spanglish or portunish, for example); but it is the fortunate awareness of their potential that makes us want to read Urayoan Noel, one of the youngest Puerto Rican masters.
Urayoan Noel and the utopia of hybrid languages /
Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Urayoan Noel (1976) is not precisely a “young poet”, in the sense of a writer who is just beginning to discover the tools of his trade. However, there is something extremely youthfu”, fresh, in his poetry and in his multimedia projects.
Poet, performer, scholar and translator, Noel has lived in New York for the past few years, where he used to work as an English language professor in SUNY Albany and as an assistant professor at NYU. However, it is his work which powerfully draws our attention: in books such as Kool Logic, published bilingually, there is not only a calling not to build a bridge between two languages (English and Spanish), but also to fuse them in a single poetic, in a single rhythm whose result is not better or worse than the sum of its parts: it is simply a hybrid, different to both languages and similar to both in equal measures.
Urayoan’s political use of language is the same as that of the utopian state —and thus, problematic and even unreachable— representing communities where one or more languages are in touch. Noel lives in the Bronx, a policultural mix of geographic and historical references: a melting pot of ways of speaking. To Noel, the poem, literature itself, seems to be nothing other than the crystallized consciousness of language’s wild shapes, which interact shoulder to shoulder in many cities around the world.
An example of this rhythm (that is nurtured by the rich English poetic traditions and Afro-Caribbean rhythms, or street slang) can be read in the poems that comprise Barrio Speedwagon Blues, (which can be read in full here).
There’s melting pots sofriendo
Masitas de muchedumbre
Y tengo la mala costumbre
Del que sonríe sufriendo;
So I stare outside my window
At the rats who pay their dues
Down abandoned avenues;
Varios diarios relicarios
De vecindarios precarios…
Barrio Speedwagon Blues!
I don’t mind the daily walk,
De nuevo nursing the nightmare,
I’m happy just going nowhere,
Fast-track dreams in laughtrack shock,
I wear the street’s scar, just like Prufrock,
In the crater of my shoes,
In the sunset’s purple bruise,
Under street lamps sin que alumbre
Mi cómica pesadumbre…
Barrio Speedwagon Blues!