Monday, May 21, 2012

Writing in English as a Second Language by Walter Ruhlmann

Writing in English as a Second Language
first published in Magnapoets July 2010 issue. Revised for The Gypsy Art Show Blog.

English has always been a language I felt acquainted with, even before I could actually speak it fluently. My parents had lived over seven years in California and I had been kept amazed in this atmosphere of souvenirs from a dreamed America, stuck in the late 50s, early 60s, with my parents twenty or thirty years younger, and my big brother in nappies or shorts.
All these images on super 8 films and photographs never made me jealous nor did they make me sad not to have been part of the experience – I was not born yet. They just filled me with wonder and encouraged me to know more about English and all the countries and cultures related to it.
It took over another decade for me to be able to live my dream and go abroad, just across the English Channel. Bath, Cirencester, Manchester – three cities I have lived in. Three cities in which I got used to not only speaking English and put aside my mother tongue for a while but to start dreaming and writing in English.
As far as I can remember, the starting point was when Dr. Teresinka Pereira – a teacher at Bluffton College, Ohio – sent me her poems and suggested I translated them into French. Soon, her words on paper and the life I was living then pulled me towards an exercise I would not have thought be ready for: putting my own words on paper in a language which had just been a topic of study and a useful vehicle of needs and services.
English had suddenly taken the shape of a language to transpose my thoughts, emotions, feelings, frights, joys, phantasms, desires, repulsions, dreams and nightmares on paper.
The funny thing is that writing in English is less exhausting, less draining, asks less efforts from me than writing in French.
I could not explain it really, but I am so fond of English and American literature, always read, watch and listen more works from artists of English culture that I guess words in English come more naturally to me than French words do.
In the late 1990s, Teresinka Pereira was the first editor to trust me with English and published two small booklets with short collections of poetry of mine[1].
Then, I came back to France, had to fulfil my military duties  – they still existed at the time – during which I wrote a collection of poems entitled Hospital of the Armies and which was written the way poets such as Harry R. Wilkens, Erich von Neff or Pradip Chouduri, all English-speaking poets from various parts of the globe, write poems themeselves.
I also used English to write this collection in order to hide all the negative thoughts I expressed against the French navy and the waste of time and ludicrousness this period implied. It was also to hide the rather crude sexual images inside it. I could not be sure these pages would not be read by one of my superiors or one of the “crew members”. It was writing in English as the most debased way to write: under a mask or doing auto censure.
I then got several part-time jobs, went back to University, carried on writing – too little – and publishing mgversion2>datura (ex-Mauvaise graine)[2], stopped to concentrate on my new job as a TESL (Teacher of English as a Second Language), moved places several times and English came back slowly as a means to write poetry and fiction.
The thrill had come back to me and has not ceased since then. Over the last seven years, I have had the opportunity to meet more and more English-speaking poets, writers and artists, translate their works, publish them, and be able to publish my own poems in various magazines.
Each time I receive a positive answer to my submissions, I am filled with pride and amazement. Pride because you are never totally accustomed to being published even after fifteen years or so of relationship with editors and magazines – well, I am not. Amazement because it took me less than five years to be published quite widely in English, American, Canadian... blogs and magazines – whether with translations of my own works or with original English material – when it had taken me over a decade to be recognized as a poet on the French-speaking scene[3].
It took me just a few weeks to have my first genuine collection of poetry in English – De Maore (From Mayotte) – accepted by Lapwing Publishing (Belfast, Northern-Ireland) when I am still struggling to have another one written in French accepted by any French publishers. I guess even my early works is filled with images and symbols that have more impact and are more meaningful to English-speaking readers than French-speaking ones. This I suppose is one of the other reasons why I chose to write in English, even sometimes translating my earlier poems in this language

I discovered the Anglo-American culture at school first and plunged into it when I sat at University. This language is useful in everyday life and to discover the world, it is a language you cannot do without. It has allowed me not only to communicate with many people all around the globe, and probably still will, but also to discover my own world, my inside world, all the abilities beyond my knowledge. Discover yet another part of my own conscience.
Nantes, May 21, 2012

[1]    Space Unconsciousness and Fireflies, IWA Editions, 1997.
[2]    A literature magazine published and printed from 1996 to 2000 now on line and available in print through
[3]    Writing in French allowed me to be published in French as well as Swiss and Belgian magazines.

1 comment:

oskar said...

very well walter...I have three collection with lapwing in Belfast,
good people

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