Reflections: Multilingual poetry performance “Reveries about language”, 20 March 2019, Pinter Studio, London

Funded by the Language Acts and World Making project & supported by Queen Mary University of London Arts and Culture

“Reveries about language” was the first in a series of immersive live recitals conceived as part of my multilingual poetry project ‘Unbound’. Imagined as a multitude of sonic, visual and textual ‘promenades’ inviting the public to immerse themselves in the multi-sensorial experiences of poetry in English, French and Croatian in the space of the multilingual, these recitals aim to show how the spoken word, sound and image can interact in an innovative way to create a series of ‘unbound’ or free expressions. They testify to the fact that poetry is, by nature, an interdisciplinary art form opening up new routes of experimentation and exploration of language in the multilingual, multimedia context.

Watch the short film “Reveries about language” here.

The evening began with a 50 min recital including readings of my poems in English, Croatian and French, interweaved with short animations created by the sound artist Alo Allik including fragments from my photography and my poetic verses and Alo’s live encoded music performed live. A voice in Arabic set the performance off with the words “Look, my child, that over there is the desert” and an image of a detail of the desert dunes. This “master memory” or “haunting” memory was meant to evoke my first memory of standing with my grand-father and my mother at the border of the Sahara desert when I was five years old and hearing my grand-father utter those words. The title poem “Reveries about language” / “Sanjarenje o jeziku” / “Rêveries author de la langue”  evoked different facets of my relationship to language(s). The trilingual poem “The Rose of Algiers” / “La rose d’Alger” / “Alžirska ruža”  was one of the key poems in the performance exploring the time-space of my Algerian heritage. Other central poems performed experimenting with multilinguality were “Paso Doble” and “from Heart Monologues 3. & 6.”.

Jasmina Bolfek-Radovani Mina Ray talking about her multilingual writing process in the discussion.

The performance was followed by the book launch of my new poetry collection Reveries about language containing poems performed on stage with an adaptation of my photography (also featured in the collection) in Alo Allik’s animations. As Helen Cox very nicely stated in her review of my new poetry collection, “[Jasmina’s poems] can be read as both a love letter and written warning that marks the ways language can propel an individual across the barriers of identity, time and space, and raises a question about how far each of us is at the mercy of words”. The evening closed with a very interesting and engaging discussion between Catherine Boyle, the rest of the creative team and myself on the questions of my multilingual poetry and its relation to the image (my photography), the “tension” between different languages read on stage, as well as the individual experiences of each of the creative team members of working with different languages in my poetry. It was really interesting to hear and see how each of their own multilingual background and experiences influenced the reading and interpretation of my poetry, and defined their artistic creation. It was particularly refreshing to hear both the team members and the members of the public say how much they enjoyed hearing a language and/ or working in a language they do not understand. This was and still is one of the main goals of my experimentation with multilingual writing: to invite the reader into an exploration of the territory of the unknown (language), to approach the unfamiliar (language) with curiosity, not fear.

From left to right: Robert Šantek, Emily-Céline Thomson, Catherine Boyle, Jasmina Bolfek-Radovani Mina Ray, Pierre Elliott, Alo Allik.

Several other questions from the members of the public further opened the discussion on issues of language identity and belonging in the context of my multilingual poetry writing, questions of my work on translation and travelling between languages in my poetry, my experience of language loss and creativity gained from that loss when working in the space of the multilingual, as well as more general questions of the positioning of multilingual writing in today’s contemporary international context (especially in relation to Brexit).

Creative Team:
Alo Allik: Sound Artist
Jasmina Bolfek-Radovani Mina Ray: Co-director, Poet; Reader (Croatian, French, English); Voice on pre-recorded poems
Catherine Boyle: Co-director
Pierre Elliott: Reader (French, English)
Emily-Céline Thomson: Reader (French, English)
Jalal Sawalmeh: Voice in Arabic
Robert Šantek: Reader (Croatian, French, English)

Jasmina Bolfek-Radovani (pen name: Mina Ray) is a multilingual poet born in Zagreb. She has lived and worked in London since 1995. Her poetry has been published in the UK, Canada, France and Croatia. Jasmina has a doctorate (PhD) in Francophone literary and cultural studies. She has given a number of conference papers in her subject area, both nationally and internationally, and has published several academic articles and reviews in her field. She is the author of the multilingual poetry project ‘Unbound’ across the UK, Croatia, France and Belgium. Twitter: @minabolfek | Fb: minaray/unbound17/

Alo Allik is an Estonian sound artist who has performed his live coded electronic music and generative computer graphics throughout the world. His aesthetically and geographically restless lifestyle has enabled him to traverse a diverse range of musical worlds including DJing electronic dance music, live electronic jam sessions, electroacoustic composition, free improvisation and audiovisual performances. Alo is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Digital Music, Queen Mary University of London since 2015.

Catherine Boyle is Professor of Latin American Cultural Studies at King’s College London. She has been published widely on Latin American culture, theatre and performance and women’s writing and gender. She is a translator of Latin American theatre and poetry. Catherine Boyle is the Principal Investigator forLanguage Acts and Worldmakingand the project’s strand lead for Translation Acts.

Pierre Elliott is an actor and a native French speaker based in London. He has recently graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and has worked with BBC4 radio since then.

Robert Šantek is a freelance voice-over artist and radio host at Yammat FM radio, Zagreb, Croatia. Parallel to his voice acting in television, animated movies and commercials he has worked as a translator, interpreter and as screen writer for television gameshows. He grew up bilingual (Croatian and German) and is fluent in French and English. In his free time he sings in the Early Music Consort “Otium”.

Emily-Céline Thomson trained at Guildhall school of Music and Drama on a three-year acting course, and also graduated with distinction and a first class degree in French and Drama from Bristol University. She is half French, but has been brought up and lived in London for most of her life after her family moved here.

Collage of Jasmina Bolfek-Radovani Mina Ray, Emily-Céline Thomson, Pierre Elliott and Robert Šantek performing on stage.

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