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by Sydney Peck


It has become obvious to me over the years that my language has altered slightly in response to the environments in which I have lived. I have noticed that the foreign quality of the environment abroad ( currently Russia ) in which I live affects my output of writing. The strangely different customs and values of the host society seem to establish a tension inside the spirit because they conflict with personal customs and values derived from my own native upbringing. I can see the phenomenon too in many other poets on the Soup. It is seen in the fascinating contributions by poets living where several languages co-exist, such as Philippines or Canada, where several religions co-exist side by side as in India, or where different races live together as in Jamaica or England.

Many famous writers, including poets, have done their best writing while living in foreign environments. Indeed some of these people deliberately sought out such an environment to do their work, and hardly ever wrote in their native countries. Examples include the Nobel prizewinners, W B Yeats (poet and playwright), James Joyce (novelist , notably “Ulysses”), Samuel Becket ( playwright, notably “Waiting for Godot”). Becket only wrote famously in French, never in English. Yeats wrote much of his best poetry in London, away from his native Ireland. Joyce too went to England to write. Louis Hemon, famous to Canadians as author of the delightful novel “Maria Chapdelaine”, is and was unknown as a writer in his native France. It seems these authors received some stimulus from the cross fertilization of cultures, from the freedom to think in a different way abroad.

The influence of foreign languages upon English itself is another aspect of the process of living abroad. My wife is Russian and her English is fluent but frequently contains expressions which no native speaker would ever use, and these sometimes become lines or motifs in my own poetry. The languages of Belgium ( French and Dutch)and Switzerland (French , Gerrman, Italian and a minor one called Romansch) interact with each other in similar ways. The different strains of English itself, such as American, British, South African, Australian, etc. also work as yeast in each other to produce a strong growth in phrases and lexicon which benefits our English poetry enormously.

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