Mockingbirds

EDIT EDIT: I did my first spoken word reading in Korea last night at a bar in KSU called Cafe Radio. It was so great to be back in front of a microphone reading my words again. When I was there, I was surprised by how much I had missed the concept of reading poetry in general. Of course, I miss Barley Rhymes and Hops on Birch, because they are populated and run by the best people in the world.

As it turns out, though, I also miss just sharing my work. I miss having a reason to put poetry together. I miss the bravery it takes to stand up in front of people (beer in hand, of course) and lay everything bare, to be open, to say here I am–well, part of me–take me or leave me.

WordZ Only gave me the opportunity to do that again. I’m looking forward to attending many more events in the future, and writing a lot more because of it.

Tell me what you think of my reading in the comments!

EDIT: Nick was actually featured reading this poem in Episode 3 of Barley Rhymes’s web series! Yay! Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTd4lmi88_U#t=449

I don’t really fit here.

Korea is beautiful. The ocean, the mountains, the forests… I see amazing, beautiful things everyday. But I don’t fit. I think maybe there are places where you feel immediately at home, as if you always should have been there, and there are other places that you merely exist in, no matter how much they have to offer. For me, Busan is the latter. There is nothing wrong with this place, but it’s just so very far from the person I am.

I wrote a poem on this theme, my first in quite a while, and I wanted to share it here with you all. (My brother also read it at the best spoken word poetry EVER, Barley Rhymes! You should definitely check out their web series. Nick doesn’t appear, but tons of other great poets do!)

Enjoy.

Mockingbirds

There are birds here,
black and white,
that look like mockingbirds.


A thin, dark-haired woman,
smiles, wrinkling the corners of her narrow eyes.
Every morning she tells me
about something beautiful.
Today, she says
that when a Korean hears the song
of the black and white birds,
she will know
good luck is coming.


I step out of her car
and the bird we’ve been watching
picks insects
from between blades of grass–
silently.


In the hills behind my school building,
there are dozens of tiny farms.
One day, I stand on a road and watch.
A man squats over a row of cabbage
while the birds
fly in arcs from field to forest
above his head,
landing first on green house,
then rooftop,
then nesting in the nearby trees,
singing.


The sun sinks and their black bodies are silhouetted
against the grey and pale pink sky’s
dimming light.


Sixteen birds on a wire
turn their backs to my bus as it passes.
If they are singing, it is a sound
I don’t hear.


Are you mocking me,
bird in the grass
with your beak too full of bugs
to speak?


Or do you know
I’ve already had my share of luck,
enough to bring me here
to a country road
where you shower a man with your song,
to a setting so pastoral,
it seems pulled from a painting
in a history book,
removed from time
and set here
on this hill
just far enough from the highway
for the song birds to stay.


One evening, I walk through woods.
My path winds its way
around houses with crumbling concrete walls
that were once washed in brilliant white,
and then between fences
built to keep farms
and farmers in,
and then between clumps of bamboo shoots
and trees with fall reddened leaves.


Among the farm plots
sit small shacks, of plastic sheeting
placed against itself at right angles.
From one shelter,
across the ravine,
I hear saxophone notes.
They follow one another slowly,
then a few burst forth
all at once,
unable to endure the wait,
to sit back in a man’s breath
while the others
ring out clear,
in the cool air,
building a melody that settles
on foreign ears,
ears that are deaf to all language but this.


The notes rise and fall
and drag from her a sweet sadness.
She thinks of her home
and she smiles and cries all at once.
The notes penetrate her chest
and massage her heart
until its beats slow,
fill her lungs until her breath
comes deep
and low.
Her eyes close.


She stands there,
her non-conforming blonde hair,
her clothes that aren’t right,
her voice only capable of forming words
that don’t belong here,
and she listens.


The notes sweep up the hillside and break
against the edges of the ravine,
like water over the spillway of a dam.
The melody surrounds her
until she is no longer separate
from this country, from this world,
until she is no longer a woman
among the trees and
the breeze and
the sound.
She is sound.
She is breeze.


She opens her eyes
and a bird that’s not a mockingbird
flies silently by.


My luck has all been spent,
she thinks,
chest tightening,
eyes closing.


Alone in the forest,
slow saxophone tones
carry her home.
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Learning the Language–Korean Class 101 Videos

There’s a lot–make that A LOT!–that I have to do to get ready for Korea. One of the more fun tasks, for me anyway, is studying Korean language.

I’ve had a lot of trouble learning and retaining languages in the past. I think the main reason is that I never really put them to use. I studied Spanish in high school and my first year of college (a practical choice, living in the Southwest), but I rarely, if ever, went anywhere that people were actually using Spanish. I didn’t watch Spanish television or movies, didn’t make Spanish speaking friends, so most of the language I had acquired faded away pretty quickly.

After giving up on Spanish, I switched to Japanese–I am a geek & do enjoy an occasional anime flick, after all–but even after four years of Japanese, my competency is extremely low. Again, I had very minimal exposure to actual language use and in Japanese, I had to start even farther behind, learning whole new orthographic and phonological systems in addition to vocabulary, grammar, and pragmatics.

The primary source of my exposure to Japanese language for a while. (I did know enough to recognize when the subtitles did not match what they actually said!)

The primary source of my exposure to Japanese language for a while. (I did know enough to recognize when the subtitles did not match what they actually said!)

Today I know about enough Spanish to have a very slow, very basic conversation, and I can write about as well as a 1st grader, but probably with a worse vocabulary. I know enough Japanese that if I hear people speaking it, I know they’re speaking Japanese, I recognize the grammatical structures they are using (i.e. “that was definitely a question” or “that was a negative statement–as in something is NOT…”), and I recognize a handful of vocabulary words, but that’s it. I can’t even have a basic conversation at this point.

So, when I decided to live abroad, did I choose a country where I could potentially develop the language skills I started when I formally studied language in school? No! Much better to acquire completely insufficient ability in yet a 3rd language!

Which is what I’m doing now. Independently. In my spare time. (Not that I have much of it to begin with, and a lot of it has lately been spent writing for this blog.)

I know that once I am in Korea, I will be hearing and seeing the language much more, and will have to interact using it, so I will pick it up, but before I get there, I would really like to have a basic survival vocabulary.

Currently, I have a native Korean speaker as a tutor (one of the many advantages of living in a town with a great TESL/Applied Linguistics program is that you get a pretty diverse set of international students hanging around), a couple of books on basic Korean, and the internet at my disposal.

If you, like me, are trying to use the internet to learn Korean I highly recommend Korean Class 101’s YouTube channel. The website itself seems to be mostly locked unless you pay for it, but there are a ton of videos available for free on YouTube, that integrate listening, speaking, reading, and vocabulary (throw writing in there too if you choose to take notes), and that use a variety of methods to get the content across.

Here’s a great example of one of their videos–which made me really hungry when I watched it, by the way–Korean street food is amazing!!!


 

This is what I love about this video series:

  • Important vocabulary items like the word for street food ( 분식 )1 are 1) pronounced by native speakers 2) written on the screen 3) pronounced slowly when introduced 4) visually broken into their syllables while being pronounced, allowing viewers to understand the word in a variety of ways.
  • Vocabulary is put in context–the hosts discuss not only the definition of the word being used, but when and how it is used, the nuances of meaning, and so forth.
  • The hosts’ mixture of English and Korean discussion related to the lesson is one that keeps me from disengaging because I don’t know what they are talking about, but that also exposes me to authentic use of Korean language
  • The lesson itself is focused on an authentic conversation about a given topic. Images accompany the conversation providing further context for the interaction.
  • After the main conversation of the lesson, the hosts pull important vocabulary, and teach it in more depth.

Potential downfalls:

  • If you don’t yet know how to read 한국어, the written Korean characters, these videos may not do you much good. However, there is another series on the Korean Class 101 channel that can help with that.

 

So far, this series is proving to be very engaging and good for helping me pick up the language (although I definitely need to practice more and take notes if I want things to really stick!!!)

Check back for more resource reviews once I finish my TEFL class and have a little more time to devote to intensive studying. In the mean time, if you know of any great resources for studying Korean, share them in the comments!

 

 

1-Wondering how I did that? I used a Virtual Korean Keyboard program.