Voices on language: Helene Cardona
We have a ferocious curiosity for language, and we love to talk to anyone who has an interesting professional take on it.
We want to know how people use language in real-life, practical contexts – whether they’re typographers, writers or those who learned (or are learning) English as a second language.
Hélène Cardona is a poet, actor, translator, teacher and dream analyst. A citizen of the US, France and Spain, she is the author of the bilingual poetry collections Dreaming My Animal Selves (Salmon Poetry, 2013); The Astonished Universe (Red Hen Press, 2006); and Life in Suspension (Tupelo Press, 2014).
Hélène taught at Hamilton College and Loyola Marymount University and translated for the Canadian Embassy and the NEA. She holds a Master’s in American Literature from the Sorbonne and received fellowships from the Goethe-Institut and the University of Baeza, Andalusia.
What’s your favourite word at the moment?
Whose words are you most enjoying right now?
Lee Upton’s and John FitzGerald’s. Lee’s gorgeous novel The Guide to the Flying Island haunts me and I love her new book, Swallowing the Sea. John FitzGerald, my companion, is constantly writing and I try to keep up. I’m rereading The Mind, and a book of nonfiction that he’s still working on.
Whose words are annoying you?
Words per se are not annoying. It’s the thought and energy behind them…like by some pundits in the media, TV…
What’s your favourite book/poem/song lyric?
It’s almost impossible to pick a single poem. But I would have to pick “I lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen”: Rilke’s “I live my life in widening circles”, from The Book of Hours: Poems to God:
“I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.
I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm or a great song?”
Lyrics from Leonard Cohen, George Brassens, George Moustaki, Jean Ferrat, Jacques Prévert, Pink Floyd. The Ambassadors by Henry James remains one of my favorite books.
What’s your memory of English in school? How did you do?
I was extremely lucky to have great teachers early on in school. In high school particularly I had the most amazing teacher, Mrs. Burton, whose love for the English language and literature was contagious. It was a great adventure. As a result I did very well.
My interest in English went beyond the school requirements. I read novels avidly. I truly became an anglophile and would study English literature and philology in England every summer. And I fell in love with Henry James, devoured his work, which led me to write my Master’s thesis on The Wings of the Dove.
Has a piece of writing ever made you cry?
Several have. The one that broke my heart was my father José Manuel Cardona’s poem “Oda a un joven marino” (Ode to a Young Mariner, dedicated to his brother, my uncle). Also Rilke’s Duino Elegies and Book of Hours. And certainly a few novels.
Have you noticed any new trends in communications lately?
Because of the internet we communicate more in new ways all the time.
Do you speak more than one language? Which do you prefer?
I speak six languages: French, English, Spanish, German, Italian and Greek.
I go back and forth between French, English and Spanish the most. My father is Spanish and my mother Greek so I grew up speaking all three languages at home. I deepened my study of Spanish at the Sorbonne, the Universidad Menendez Pelayo in Santander, and the Universidad de Baeza in Andalucía.
I started learning German when I was twelve and went on to study it at the Goethe Institut in Paris and in Bremen. I loved German right away. It feels very familiar and comfortable to me, as if I had a past life in Germany.
The question is almost impossible to answer. I love French, English and Spanish for different reasons. Italian I haven’t much opportunity to practice. It’s more a question of which is the dominant language. And that fluctuates. I use English most because I live in the U.S. now. I’m always struck by the beauty of the French language and literature and the purity of Spanish literature. I teach French and Spanish and translate. And French is my mother tongue. The moment I return to Europe the focus goes back to French and Spanish.
Which expression do you overuse?
In English, “properly”.
Please make up a word and tell us what it means…
Years ago I made up the word “metaphonic” in a poem, which I intended to mean “beyond sound”. It comes from “meta”, which means “beyond, after, next” in Greek, and “phonic”, “pertaining to sounds or speech.”
I Googled it at the time and couldn’t find it anywhere. It still doesn’t appear at dictionary.com to this day. However if you Google it now it will return a different meaning as a translation of Umlaut.
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