“We”, “you” and “the Roma”

The power of words…


I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a peoplewill get to the Promised Land.

We: such a short word. Such a powerful word, but a word that Romani people don’t often hear used in the media with regard to ourselves.

In the home, “we’re like this”; “let’s do that”; in the papers, “they’re like this”, “they do that.” This is so commonplace that after the first few centuries it starts to feel inevitable. Hearing “we Roma” on the television is so unusual, at first it seems incredible: whoever the speaker is, whatever they’re saying, it makes a change just to hear the fundamental switch from “them” to “us”.

David Blunkett and Nick Clegg aren’t Romani, so I don’t expect them to start talking about “we Gypsies” any time soon. But you can still tell a lot…

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Blog 11: Proverb poetry Workshop

So we have had a packed week! This week, to condense things, we’re making the workshop our blog post, so you will post your Romani proverb poem to your blog. You can cut and paste or you can attach a document to your post. Then you will choose someone who hasn’t already been workshopped and respond with 300 words of workshop feedback.

How you will respond: Poetry Workshop Guidelines. Pay special attention to the use of proverbs, though, of course. How can they use the proverb better? Strengthen or freshen the metaphor? How can it be stronger? More compelling? There’s always room for improvement, so really think about the poetic techniques and devices that the writer uses or could use. What kinds o cultural allusions or symbols could the poet use or strengthen?

1. Comment on your chosen partner’s post: say something like, “I’m workshopping your poem! (LOL catz, totes).” That way everyone knows that the poem is already staked-out. Don’t give your feedback in the comment. You’ll see why.

2. Post your 300 word response on your own blog. Link to their poem-post in your post.

a. I suggest using track changes so you can use marginalia comments s part of your 300 words. You want to preserve the changes, so don’t “accept.” Just save as-is after you make all your comments. If you use a mac, you can try this. Or you can go to one of the many computer labs and use Word there.

b. Insert the track-changes document in your post

c. Or if you prefer to respond with a paragraph of comments without the document, just post as usual.

*Note: to insert the document, I had to start a post, then save it, and then open it again to Edit before I could use the insert Media option in the left-hand sidebar. You might not have to, but maybe you will.

Let me know if you have questions about the assignment, workshop, or poems. If it’s a technical problem, research it yourself first. Just Google your question– there will be tutorials by pros. If that doesn’t work, you can also go to FSU’s Digital Studio in Johnston if you’re in a group or Williams if you’re solo. Make appointments here, but they also take walk-ins.

Please respond to your partner by Friday at the latest. This assignment counts both as your blog post and your workshop, so it’s double-important that you do it.Happy workshopping!

And remember, “Don’t use your boot to crush a snake’s tail; you can crush its head with your barefoot.” –Romani proverb

Hancock’s ‘translation’: “If you don’t do a job properly, no amount of preparation will make it succeed.”

img_2551_enh_1200x8001   Look into my eye. Don’t crush me. Crush this assignment. 

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“Blond Gypsy Angel” essay for Quail Bell Magazine

“Blond Gypsy Angel” essay for Quail Bell Magazine

I am so thankful to the wonderful Quail Bell Magazine for publishing this essay on the recent “Gypsy child-stealing” hysteria. My grandmother is a “blond angel” too, and the rhetoric surrounding her experiences in WWII and Maria’s in Greece rang eerily similar. I’m grateful for a place to tell her story and to take a close look at the politics and complication of Romani identity. In the essay, I link to a lot of excellent Romani writers like Hancock, Marafioti, Pipopotamus, and others, as well as non-Roma writers, who have a lot of intelligent things to say about the politics and complexity of the Maria case and the Romani human rights crisis– if you want to read the essay, I encourage you to read their perspectives too.

And a big thank you to my fantastic students who consistently have thoughtful, intelligent,and perceptive things to say about the human rights crisis, Romani representation, as well as Romani poetry and fiction. Their willingness to think critically about complicated issues reminds me that their generation has enormous potential for world-wide change for the better. I learn from them each class, too.

Based on a True Story


Poet Mariella Mehr

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Today in class we talked about the difference between biographical interpretation and cultural interpretation. It can be tricky: it’s good analysis to interpret Papusza’s references to living in hiding in her poem “Tears of Blood” as references to WWII. The poem’ speaker explicitly describes the Romani experience in Europe at that time. She describes soldiers and Germans, hiding in the forest, the fear of being hunted, and imminent death. It’s the cultural and political context of the poem, and knowing that the speaker is describing WWII is essential to its analysis.

At the same time, we know that Papusza had a very similar experience to the speaker of her poem. She was also in hiding in the forest, also hunted, also cold and terrified. So should we assume that the speaker in the poem is her?

Nope. Unless the author says, “this is autobiographical so please read it that way!” you have to assume that the author has personal autonomy from the poem. As a critical reader, it’s your job to look to the text for analysis and not the author’s biography. Today we talked about the “pelican” as a symbol in  Béla Osztojkán’s poem “As the pelicans.” We talked about the myth of pelicans feeding their young from the blood of their own breast and how they were then seen as Christ-like animals in the Middle Ages. That helped us to understand the layered meanings of self-sacrifice and “cannibalism” in the poem with respect to the cycle of discrimination, poverty, and begging or crime that some impoverished Romani are trapped in. It could also be a reference to the isolation that so many Romani experience and how the Romani community can only count on themselves. We talked about the harsh cry of the pelican and how that relates to the “ugly” or sad cries of the poem, even how the whole poem, with no full-stop punctuation until the very end, may be a cry in form. All of these cultural, social, political, syntactical, and textual elements helped us interpret a very rich work of art. To assume that Osztojkán was the speaker of the poem and that he must be writing from some personal pelican experience wouldn’t be very helpful. It would knock our analysis off-track, sending us on a wild tangent that would probably dead-end. The author’s biography is almost entirely irrelevant.

Almost. That’s not to say that biographical information has no place whatsoever in your exploration of poetry. Usually, writer’s lives are interesting. Papusza’s life is so tragic and she sacrificed so much to be heard that it seems a true shame not to know her story. Mariella Mehr’s gorgeous poem, “A red foundling strolls into this dream” seemed richer knowing that she was taken from her parents by the state (purely because they were Romani) and grew up in orphanages and foster homes, a foundling who nobody really found. But see it as that, another (separate) story.

At the same time, would a deeper awareness of Papusza’s life have saved her work from being misappropriated and used against her community? Maybe. Maybe not. But a deeper understanding of Romani culture and concepts of “home” may have. However, the publisher who misappropriated it had his own nefarious political agenda, so it would be fair to argue that no amount of cultural context could have saved Papusza and her community from its gross misuse. It may have changed the way it was received though. But that’s another issue.

Check out Kathleen Rooney’s essay “Based on a True Story. Or Not.” It’s a fascinating exploration of what is gained or lost when we find out that poem or story that “seems” autobiographical isn’t. Would we still feel the same way about “Tears of Blood” if Papusza had never lived in hiding? Would you feel like she had a “right” to write about such an emotionally intense experience if she hadn’t lived through it? And, since we know that she did live through an experience similar to her speaker’s, do you consider the autobiographical even if not all the details are “based on a true story”?

If you want to go for some extra credit, read the article and respond. Illustrate your points with examples. I’m curious about what y’all will think. If you want to talk about the poem that you presented on/will present on, go for it.

Time to drop the Roma myths

Global Public Square

By Eva Cosse, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Eva Cossé is the Western Europe research assistant at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are her own.

When I was growing up in Greece, my grandparents often told me that if I didn’t eat my food, they would call the Gypsies to take me away. Sadly, the old myths about Roma snatching babies were revived after police took a little blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl named Maria into custody in a Roma settlement in Farsala, central Greece, on October 16.

The headlines in the Greek newspapers said it all: “Roma snatch babies!” “The DNA ‘spoke’: The 4-year-old found in a Romani settlement is not a Gypsy,” “Amber Alert: Dangerous Roma circuit snatch babies!!!” But the media have not been alone in using stigmatizing language against Roma. Politicians have joined in too.

Roma face persistent discrimination across Europe. A European Union Fundamental Rights…

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Blog 10: “Bury Me Standing– I’ve been on my knees my whole life.” Romani Proverbs and Poetry

Gadji author Isabel Fonseca lived and traveled with Roma from Poland to Albania for four years, and wrote Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and their Journey. Powerful title, right? It comes from the Romani proverb: “Bury Me Standing– I’ve been on my knees my whole life,” and her book explores the ways that discrimination and oppression has affected the lives of Romani people as well as the culture.* It’s a fitting title, don’t you think?

This week, read “Chapter 14, Amari Čhib: Our Language” of We Are the Romani People. It’s a fascinating chapter that covers the linguistic roots and evolution of Rromanes, the various dialects, Romani vocabulary, the oral and written history of Romani people, and Romani proverbs .Then, you’ll choose a Romani proverb to write your poem about. The proverb could be the title, the subtitle, or a line of the poem. Just make sure that you credit it as a Romani proverb. And since proverbs are metaphorical, there’s a lot of room for you to create an extended metaphor inspired by the proverb.  Hancock provides an interpretation for you so you have an idea of its meaning, and you might have a different spin too. Maybe you want to take it literally, turn it into a poetic cautionary tale, use the imagery to underscore a poem that deals with similar themes….Be creative– there are a lot of ways for you relate to the proverb you pick.

For the 300 word+ blog post this week, answer question 4 from the discussion questions plus one other question of your choice. Use examples from the reading to explain your answer. And for question 4, after you’ve answered the question, explain how the specific proverb you picked reflects an aspect of Romani culture.  You can answer more questions for extra credit if you like.

Note* While Fonseca’s work expresses real admiration, understanding, and tolerance for the Romani culture and is well-meaning and mostly well-researched, there are still some inaccuracies in her book. Ian Hancock addressed one of these inaccuracies In a previous article that we’ve read, “Duty, Beauty, Possession and Truth:The Claim of Lexical Impoverishment as Control.”

Another claim to a lack of certain basic human responses or skills is found in Isabel Fonseca’s Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and their Journey, where she maintains that there are no words in Romani for ‘read’ and ‘write’. Elsewhere in the same book she states that there are no words for ‘time’, ‘danger’, ‘warmth’ or ‘quiet’ either, because these are foreign concepts for us (1995: 98). Even before the book reached the bookstores, reviewers were accepting and repeating these false assumptions: ‘[the Gypsy’s] is a world … where there are no words for “time” (or for “danger,” “warmth” or “quiet”) … where no day is different from any other’. (Kobak, 1995: 14).

“Gypsy” Gaga “doesn’t want to be alone.” Yikes.

So, we heard Lady Gaga’s song “Gypsy.”

First, someone please tell Lady Gaga she isn’t a Gypsy. When she uses her position of power and privilege to play brown-face and romanticize Gypsies, she makes it harder for the Romani people to rise above the stereotypes that are still used to oppress them. If Gaga wants to endear herself to the actual Romani community, maybe she could 1. use her fame to talk about the Romani human rights crisis, 2. dispel the stereotypes that she is currently perpetuating, and 3. create work that acknowledges the Romani as people with a real, rich culture and not some Western fantasy.

As much as Gaga’s depiction of Gypsies sucks (that’s the academic term, I think), there is something that caught my interest. Instead of dressing up like the “sexy Gypsy” stereotype like Shakira and others, she wears a mustache and talks in a ludicrous accent. I’m not saying that’s necessarily better, I’m just saying it’s different. How do you interpret her gender-bent performance? What’s your analysis of her performance and the song lyrics? What kind of message is she sending? What could she do to counter the negative effects of her performance? If you want to join in the discussion (for extra credit/fun) tell me what you think with examples in 300+ words.


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