Next we will move to a more formal investigation of language as a source of identity in contemporary poetry. We will define and discuss the literary term "voice." Voice refers to a writer's unique use of language that allows a reader to sense a person in his or her own writing. Elements of style that determine a writer's style include syntax, diction, and tone. While poetry does not necessarily need to adhere to the rules of grammar, the intentional arrangement of words and phrases is the poets syntax. The types of images and the level of diction also function as elements of style. Is the vocabulary basic or advanced? Does it include technical jargon? These are important considerations. Many of the poems use a vocabulary that establishes this as art by and for people of the working class; this does not by any means lessen the artistic merit of the pieces, but makes it a more democratic communication. (See Dieter Herms's essay in
European Perspectives on Hispanic Literature of the United States
for a discussion of Nuyorican poetry as an element of a democratic and socialist culture, based on ideas first proposed by V.I. Lenin). We need especially to focus on the use of English, Spanish, and the switching between the two codes.
We will read and discuss several poems in
Latino Caribbean Literature
, edited by Harold Augenbraum and Margarite Fernandez Olmos, that specifically deal with the topic of language. "Child of the Americas," by Aurora Levins Morales, "Dedication," by Gustavo Perez Firmat, and "You Call Me by Old Names," by Rhina Espaillat will be the first selections. Students will conduct double journal entries to systematically build the meaning of the text as they proceed.
In performing a double journal entry, students vertically divide a page in their notebook (or on a separate sheet) by drawing a line down the center. On the left side of the divide, they will copy down a piece of text that they feel is worth commenting on; it may be an image, a phrase, or an entire line. The students then write personal commentary on the right hand side of the divide. Responses can be declarative or interrogative, but they should be probing and analytical. The teacher can select the length of intervals at which the students will pull quotations - either verse by verse or every several lines. There should not be a large gap between quotes and reflections.