Blog 8: Ars Poetica Romani

We’ve made it to the poetry unit! Ars poetica in essence, is poetry about poetry. Sometimes it’s poetry about the art of poetry, like Archibald MacLeish’s “Ars Poetica.” Ars poetica can also be a poem inspired by another poem, which is exactly the kind of ars poetica we’re writing this week. The assignment for the first poem is to read through Roads of the Roma: a PEN Anthology of Gypsy Writers, edited by Ian Hancock, Siobhan Dowd, and Rajko Djuric, and find a poem that inspires you to write your ars poetica poem. You can also look up Romani poetry and find poems via alternative sources. For your blog entry then, give the title, author, and translator (if applicable) of the poem you’ve chosen and analyze the poem in 300 words or more. Be sure to explain what inspires you about it. So you’ll be writing your blog response and your ars poetica poem on the same poem

About analyzing poetry: A poem is not a code that must be cracked– there are no hidden meanings, and there’s no need to treat words as symbols that stand for something other than what they mean. So, if you don’t understand a word in a poem, look it up! The FSU Library website will give you access to the Oxford English Dictionary, and that’s my favorite dictionary in the whole world because it gives a thorough etymology and history of a word as well as its definitions. Search for the OED as you would search for a database on the library website.

Anyway, poetry is about crystallizing language to convey an emotional, intellectual, physical, and/or spiritual experience. T.S. Eliot writes, “Poetry cannot report the event; it must be the event, lived through in a form that can speak about itself while remaining wholly itself.”  So read the poem you’ve chosen quite a few times. So if I picked “Tears of Blood” by Papusza, the mother of Romani poetry, I would take notes to answer these questions: What is happening in the present action of the poem? How does the poem make me feel? What’s the tone? What’s the language like? What are the important images and sensory details? Which are my favorite lines and why? What are the symbols used? Tip: The poems we’ll be reading from the anthology all deal with Romani culture and identity in some way, so that will be important in your analysis too. 

Some important poetic terms: imagery, sensory detail, simile, metaphor, sound, assonance, consonance, rhythm, meter, rhyme, slant rhyme, irony, personification, allegory, synecdoche, metonymy and symbolism. Look up any terms that you’re not familiar with, or bring them up in class. We’ll talk about most of them, but you might still have specific questions. How does the poet use these elements? These are the most common poetic devices. How does the poet use them? What is the effect?

And then the easy part of the response: What do you like about the poem? Why? If you want, you can use this entry to brainstorm about what your ars poetica poem might be like.

“I too am a dark Gypsy,
of your blood–a true one.
God help you
in the black forest…”

     Papusza, excerpted from “Tears of Blood,” translated from Polish by Yala Korwin

Image

Papusza, the mother of Romani poetry. Image source: http://www.polskieradio.pl

 

Shout-out to Lolo Diklo: Romani Against Racism

The wonderful organization, Lolo Diklo: Romani Against Racism, gave our class blog a shout-out on their Facebook page. If you’re not familiar with them, introduce yourself. Lolo Diklo has a wealth of information on current events; articles on culture and important Romani figures; music, film, and book reviews; and a general activist hub. Thank you for linking to us, and thank you for all your good work, my phen! It’s such a beautiful thing to have a community of Romani writers and activists.

Kushti baxt

200406_134533309948801_5344250_n

Patrin: Romani Customs and Beliefs

Patrin: Romani Customs and Beliefs

This is an interesting follow-up article with regards to our discussion about marimé and Romanipen, or Romaniya. This Patrin entry covers superstitions, religion and beliefs (including the difference between fortune telling and advising), food, clothing, integration and assimilation. Also, if you read a good book or article, remember to check out the author’s sources. They will be helpful to you for more information, and for source-ideas for your paper. 

Patrin is a great resource in general: it has an enormous collection of links to help you navigate through sources, cultural information, and articles about history, social issues, and representation. Many of the contributors are Romani authors. It’s beautiful symbolically too, because a patrin is a trail marker that nomadic Romani families would leave for other nomads to communicate where they’ve been, where they’re going next, as well as warnings and other helpful tips. The patrin would usually be a cloth bundle with symbolic objects inside, like feathers, ribbon, stones, or flora, that indicate these messages. It’s almost like a material code. This kind of patrin isn’t in use much these days, but the Patrin Web Journal is like an immaterial trail marker, indicating where the Romani people as a whole have been,and helping researchers navigate what may lie ahead.  

Blog 7: The Gypsy Image in stories, the media, and on the Internet

The UN’s powerful campaign to spread awareness of sexism using Google’s auto complete search function has taken the Internet by storm. What makes the UN’s ads so powerful is that they use real Google searches for the image to highlight popular opinions about women across the web.

autocomplete-sexism4         autocomplete-sexism3

I decided to try a similar experiment using the word “Gypsies” instead of “women” to take a look the mark of antigypsyism on the Internet. This is what I found:

gypsies-should-with-caption (2)

Horrifying, but not entirely surprising. Part of the reason that we’re writing these long research papers about the function of Romani characters in film (other than to satisfy FSU’s Rhetoric and Composition Requirements) is to examine how the representation of ‘Gypsies’ in film relates to popular opinions about Gypsies in the media, on the web, and elsewhere. Frankly, it matters how people, whether they are men, women, Gypsies, Asians, or whoever, are represented. When the same stereotypes are perpetuated in film after film, press conference after press conference, it informs popular opinion. The rising Jobbik party is terrifying confirmation of this.

Luckily, there are people who aren’t swayed by popular opinion and who use their voices to fight for equality and justice, like these French high school students who protested the deportation of their Romani classmates.  And there are y’all, using your blogs to talk about what you’re learning, thinking, and figuring out for yourselves about identity and human rights. The problem isn’t too big to face– what you say matters too.

This week you are assigned to read Chapter Six of We Are The Romani People on the “Gypsy” Image. For this week’s blog, answer the discussion questions at the end of the chapter in 300 words or more (300 words total for all three questions, not 300 words each). Use quotes and examples from the text and cite using parenthetical in-text citation (MLA, of course) to illustrate your points. You can use other sources in addition if you wish. The direct quotes you use won’t count as part of your 300 words— I want to see that you can use your own analysis and ideas to discuss this issue.

Questions:

1. Where does the Gypsy image come from?

2. Why is it so persistent, even though information on the population is readily available?

3. Do Romanies themselves help sustain an inaccurate ‘gypsy image’?

Over the weekend the class read Dr. Ian Hancock’s article “Duty and Beauty, Possession and Truth: The Claim of Lexical Impoverishment as Control,” on Romano Kopachi, an excellent website on “Romani culture from a Romani viewpoint” by Ronald Lee, Romani activist, author, lecturer, and journalist. Dr. Hancock, a linguist at The University of Texas, Austin, reveals a startling amount of falsified claims about the Romani language by writers and even other academics, including criminology and anthropology textbooks.

A number of authors have claimed that because of our character as a people, we lack certain virtues, and that this is reflected in our Romani language which cannot even express them. Those which have been discussed by different writers include ‘duty’, ‘possession’, ‘truth’, ‘beautiful’, ‘read’, ‘write’, ‘time’, ‘danger’, ‘warmth’, ‘quiet’, ‘God’, ‘soul’ and ‘immortality’. How negatively must the non-Gypsy world regard our people, to think that we cannot express such basic human concepts and skills, or that we don’t even know the difference between good and evil! Eleanor Smith (1943: 59) wrote that ‘in the gypsy language the words ‘divine’ and ‘devilish’ are the same’. On a Geraldo Rivera Show which dealt with Gypsy confidence crimes broadcast on CBS Television in April 1990, one invited ‘Gypsy expert’, former Associate Professor John Dowling of Marquette University in Wisconsin, asserted in all seriousness that “Gypsies don’t know the difference between right and wrong, like the rest of us” – a man who has never met a Romani and whose qualifications originate with statements such as Eleanor Smith’s.”

— Hancock, bold emphasis added

Can you imagine falling in love without any concept of ‘duty,’ ‘possession,’ ‘truth,’ ‘beautiful,’ ‘time,’ ‘danger,’ ‘warmth,’ ‘quiet,’ ‘God,’ ‘soul,’ and ‘immortality’? Love is one of the most humanizing emotions or states-of-being. When we love, we are relatable– we are understood. Of course, those words and concepts do exist in the Romani language, but people outside the culture continue to deny this. Read the rest of Hancock’s article for more about that.

Maybe Harry Potter doesn’t seem like the obvious choice here, but stay with me. The film that this clip is excerpted from, part two of The Deathly Hallows, deals mainly with the terror of genocide (the eradication of muggle-born witches and wizards) at the hands of a militant, Fascist uprising (the Death Eaters and Voldemort). And at the most crucial moment of Harry’s quest to defeat Voldemort, his mentor, Dumblebore appears to remind him that “words are… our most inexhaustible source of magic.” And its true. Nations rise and fall on words, religions and cultures are built and lost through words, every civilization takes shape through language, stories, and beliefs. And now, coming back to the topic du jour, what people write about other cultures matters, and it matters quite a lot.  Just as it is harmful and dehumanizing to present Romani characters in film and TV as functional criminals or spell-casters time after time, it is dehumanizing (and incorrect) to suggest that the Romani people have no concept of truth, beauty, possession, and time. When these stereotypes and misconceptions are perpetuated by the media, in pop culture, and by authors, it implies that Gypsies are somehow inherently deficient, and Romani persecutors have used that as an excuse to justify antigypsism for centuries.

The films you’ve chosen to analyze probably deal with “impoverishment” in the Romani culture/community in some way. It could be “lexical impoverishment,” as discussed in the article, or it might be moral, intellectual, or emotional impoverishment. It could even be economic impoverishment. Write down all of the implied Romani “impoverishments” in the film you’ve chosen and think about what it implies about the Romani community and/or the non-Romani community in the film. Does it make Romani people seem more or less sympathetic? More or less human? More or less stereotypical? How or why?

For this week’s blog post, write a 300 word analysis of the impoverishments that you’ve noticed and relate it to your argument. If you are  working on refining your thesis statement, this post could help you revise it.

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all      Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." --Keats If "truth and beauty" are the cultural pillars of Western civilization, the false accusation that Romanies don't have these concepts is particularly dehumanizing.

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” –Keats, from Ode on a Grecian Urn”
If “truth and beauty” are the cultural pillars of Western civilization, the false accusation that Romanies don’t have these concepts is particularly dehumanizing.

Blog 6: The Implications and Variations of “Impoverishment”

Blog 5: Halloween Costume Shopping with an *EXTRA CREDIT OPPORTUNITY*

Tis the season!

Image

“Gypsies are known for their exotic, mysterious nature, and our gypsy costumes are designed to bring out the gypsy in you. What kind of gypsy you want to be this Halloween is up to you.” http://www.costumesupercenter.com/gypsy+costumes.html

The Gypsy Halloween costume, usually (but not always) trading on the “Sexy Gypsy” stereotype, is larger than life. Even the ‘more positive’ exotic and mysterious stereotype is just as harmful as the “born criminal” stereotype– it further dehumanizes a group that are already seen as not important and unworthy of rights by a ruling majority. Essentially, Romani are too often seen as not ‘real’ people. In class, we’ve discussed how none of us learned in high school that Romanies were victims in the Holocaust, slaves in America and in Europe, and that there are still anti-Romani laws in America, Europe, and elsewhere. Ian Hancock discusses Americas relationship with Romani people historically and currently in “Gypsy Mafia, Romani Saints: The Racial Profiling of Roman Americans.” And we certainly didn’t learn about the current global Romani human rights crisis. So what kind of message is a costume like this sending about a little-understood ethnic group?

Image

The Romani writer of http://gypsyappropriations.blogspot.com/ explains her perspective on the appropriation of the word “Gypsy” and the phenomenon of non-Romanies redefining the word to suit their wishes:

“The Romani people (aka, ‘Gypsies’) seem to be endlessly fascinating to outsiders. It’s unfortunate that this fascination does not extend to philanthropy, awareness, education and actual respect, something we seem to be denied as a people, time and time again. It’s much more fun to perpetuate the stereotypes than to talk about the dreary truth.”

….

“I have been told by some who refuse to let go of their perception of gypsies that western culture has formed a ‘new meaning’ to the word and that the Romani people need to recognize that. What these people do not realize is that it is just as offensive, if not more so, when it is used in this manner, because their usage of it like this (to signify a lifestyle) essentially discounts all the suffering attached to the word. That is what I mean when I say that these folks do not have the right to say whether or not that word is offensive – they claim they have only ‘positive feelings’ about the word and towards my people, yet they needn’t be calling me a ‘filthy gypsy’ in order for the word to be offensive. It’s offensive because they use it to refer to a lifestyle, instead of a race of people.
Some have said that these sorts of generalizations and ‘positive stereotypes’ are harmless. I can assure you this is not the case. When someone searches for that word on the internet, they should be coming up with sites which show them the truth. Instead, they get blogs like gypsygirlsguide.comHalloween costumes, people on eBay and etsy using that word to sell “spells” and “charms” and other such nonsense, bellydance troups who aren’t even Romani (but have zero issue with using that word and even our own language in their names), Disney characters, fairytales, and other such rubbish.
Unfortunately, these people have ‘decided’ they want to use the word to signify something else, but it is never truly separated from the Romani people. Just because the word has come to mean something else in their minds (and, for the record, that meaning was assigned by people who are outsiders to the culture and have no business taking that word and making it mean whatever they wish as it isn’t their word to take… have THEY suffered for it? NO.) that doesn’t make it right.”
     Image          Image        Image        Image        Image

Blog author goldenzephyr explains the historical context of Romani persecution and how that informs the action of non-Romanies dressing like a “Gypsy” for Halloween:

Because, it always comes down to this – I am the bad guy. Being too serious/angry/bitchy/stupid because Gypsy is just a word, right?

No. Wrong. SO WRONG. It’s not just anything. Now, I know we all mention the Holocaust and how “Gypsies” were murdered by the hundreds of thousands (most likely millions – no one knows for sure, because no one kept any records of our deaths; we were shot en-mass in the woods, gassed as soon as we were herded off the trains, or buried alive. All because we were “Gypsies”. So, when you wear a “Gypsy” costume it’s mocking our history. I know it was decades ago now… but, it’s something we can’t forget. Our grandparents and other relatives who LIVED THROUGH the Holocaust, are STILL ALIVE.

Okay, so even if we discount that, you should take a look at how Roma (or Gypsies) are treated in Europe. Marginalized, oppressed, victimized… in the Czech Republic there are neo-Nazi marches (often ending in violence) aimed at our very existence. “Gypsies” are hated. Not just disliked; hated.

Why?

Because of stereotypes. We have been stereotyped for generations. Even AFTER the war and the holocaust it was STILL ILLEGAL to be a “Gypsy”. There are hundreds of laws written to BAN our way of life… it is dangerous to be a Gypsy in Europe. You can DIE for being a Gypsy (either as a direct result of anti-Gypsy violence (such as arson) or as a result of a lack of adequate housing, food, sanitation, health care etc).

So, when you dress up as such a horrible sexualized stereotyped costume of our lives, it’s upsetting. It’s equivalent to dressing up in black face, or going as a “Pocahottie” … Going as a “Gypsy” is just as offensive and racist.

Halloween is not fun or exciting for me. I don’t  want to be faced with a gazillion reminders of how people view my race -“

Of course, Gypsies aren’t the only ethnic group who find themselves mocked in costume. I’m delighted to see that  Bitch Magazine’s article “Don’t Mess Up When You Dress Up: Cultural Appropriation in Costumes” by Kjerstin Jonson discusses a college campus’ effort to spread racial awareness about the appropriation of ethnic and  cultural appropriation, such as the appropriation of dia de los muertos on Halloween.

Native appropriation is another facet of this issue, especially on college campuses, and perhaps more especially on campuses like FSU’s because the FSU mascot is Chief Osceola of the Seminole tribe. Native appropriation is literally our school spirit. The issue is complicated because some Seminoles have given permission to use/appropriate Chief Osceola, and then others haven’t. Check out “Interest Convergence, FSU, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida” on the blog Native Appropriations for more about this.

On that same blog, writer Adrienne K. very eloquently and passionately explains why native appropriation isn’t helpful and preemptively addresses a lot of the responses she gets from people who defend their decision to dress up like a Pocahottie or an Indian Brave in her Open Letter, excerpted below:

“But you don’t understand what it feels like to be me. I am a Native person. You are (most likely) a white person. You walk through life everyday never having the fear of someone mis-representing your people and your culture. You don’t have to worry about the vast majority of your people living in poverty, struggling with alcoholism, domestic violence, hunger, and unemployment caused by 500+ years of colonialism and federal policies aimed at erasing your existence. You don’t walk through life everyday feeling invisible, because the only images the public sees of you are fictionalized stereotypes that don’t represent who you are at all. You don’t know what it’s like to care about something so deeply and know at your core that it’s so wrong, and have others in positions of power dismiss you like you’re some sort of over-sensitive freak.

You are in a position of power. You might not know it, but you are. Simply because of the color of your skin, you have been afforded opportunities and privilege, because our country was built on a foundation of white supremacy. That’s probably a concept that’s too much for you to handle right now, when all you wanted to do was dress up as a PocaHottie for Halloween, but it’s true.

I am not in a position of power. Native people are not in positions of power. By dressing up as a fake Indian, you are asserting your power over us, and continuing to oppress us. That should worry you.

But don’t tell me that you’re oppressed too, or don’t you dare come back and tell me your “great grandmother was a Cherokee Princess” and that somehow makes it ok. Do you live in a system that is actively taking your children away without just cause? Do you have to look at the TV on weekends and see sports teams with mascots named after racial slurs of your people? I doubt it. “

Image

It would be great if there were a Romani poster in this campaign too– let me know if you find one!

So what do we do? (other than the assignment that is forthcoming) It’s obviously wonderful that you, dear and culturally sensitive reader, are not wearing a problematic costume right now. But you may feel like there’s something else you should be doing. This is where writing and communication comes in. Amanda Hess of the Washington City Paper has written this helpful article, “How to Inform Your Friend Their Halloween Costume is Racist” that’s full of tips to help you respectfully and clearly navigate that discussion. You can also review products on sites like Amazon and explain why the costume in question is problematic. It’s likely that at least some of the people who are reading trough the reviews and considering whether or not to buy that Gypsy Wench costume will not have considered that it’s offensive… or if they might have heard that it is offensive but still not understand why. You could persuade them. You can write to the companies that make these products and tell them why you wish they wouldn’t. The customer is always right: your feedback matters. You can also comment to express your strong support of writers like goldenzephyr, Adrienne K., and others– positive support is just as important as criticism when it comes to these matters. Be patient and use research to back yourself up– it’s there when you need it!

So, the assignment: Select an image of a Halloween costume that you think is racially insensitive/cultural appropriation and analyse it in 300 + words. Consider these questions to help your analysis: What does the costume look like? What kinds of stereotypes is it fulfilling? Who is it for? (men? women? children?) How is it marketed/described? What is it called? Are there reviews of it online? How is it received? Has anyone else written about it? Then make an argument about why this specific costume and the way it’s marketed is problematic. So for example, a fortune telling Gypsy costume has one connotation and historical context while a “mystic seductress” Gypsy costume has another. I encourage you to bring in sources if they help you make your point. You don’t have to pick a “Gypsy” costume, but you can. Be sure to include the image and the source in your post so we get the idea.

Extra credit: If you write and post a review of an offensive costume and/or email a company explaining the problem, send me the link to your review (or cc me if it’s an email) for extra-credit. You can use some or all of your original blog post– I don’t mind. If you want to respond to someone who has written an article defending cultural appropriation that you don’t agree with, that’s ok too. Just be respectful and clear about your point.