Translingual Playground


Published on March 14, 2024

G is a new book by Klara du Plessis and Khashayar “Kess” Mohammadi that began in a fricative sound that bridges their two native languages – Afrikaans and Persian. 

In both languages, “g” is a guttural sound, a throat-borne utterance that does not use the vocal cords. The closest equivalent in English is at the end of the word “loch.” The idea of a poem built around “g” seeded the ground for a poetic collaboration in which two poets met in their shared language – English – and together explored other languages and meaning. The result is a translingual playground that, though rooted in the poets’ mutual interest of linguistic theory and translingual poetics, is inviting, warm, and decidedly unserious. Structured in three parts – “زبان,” “G,” and “Speech” – G is not simply a co-authored book of poetry, but rather a record of an expansive artistic collaboration that lives both on and off the page.

Klara du Plessis and Khashayar “Kess” Mohammadi

Palimpsest Press

Du Plessis is a South African-Canadian poet and scholar, whose previous work has often explored translingualism, collaboration, translation, and her multifaceted poetic worlds in both Canada and South Africa. Mohammadi is an Iranian-born poet and translator based in Toronto, whose work has been similarly focused on translingual poetics and translation. They connected shortly after the publication of du Plessis’ poetry collection Ekke (2018), which inspired and guided Mohammadi through the writing of their first book. During the pandemic, Mohammadi reached out about working on a project together, which quickly became the idea to co-author a poem in a shared document.

“It was meant to be one poem,” Mohammadi tells me. “We wrote four pages, and were like, ‘Ah, let’s keep going.’ We wrote twelve pages, and I was like, ‘Ah, let’s make this a chapbook.’ Then Klara said, ‘Let’s make this a book.’” Du Plessis agrees, saying simply, “The book is a testament to how good the energy was.” This dynamism comes through on every page. The reader is looped into not only an exciting poetic space, but a collaboration that feels wide open to anyone who may encounter it. 

When I ask them about their decision – innate, intentional, or somewhere in between – to make the book accessible and warm, du Plessis says: “There was a line at the beginning of the book, ‘the conspiracy of meaning,’ that our editor wanted the book’s title to be. It was such an off-putting suggestion to me that I went and changed the line to ‘the hospitality of meaning.’ In many ways, that made me understand the project of our book better. Even between the two of us as collaborators, it is a project of hospitality.”

 That line appears in the very first poem, “پروتز” (which translates to “Prothesis”), in which the written word is presented as an extension of the self, as an arm: “Flickers of text, dust, and ink, composite in unity, / relax into the hospitality of meaning.” At the fore of the book’s theoretical framework, in its first utterance, this is a welcome sign. The problem of language gets briefly reduced to the simplicity of written text – a marking on a page – and is reconsidered from there. 

Throughout the entire first section, “زبان,” which translates to “Language,” you get a sense of two discrete voices working in concert, eking out a poetic meeting place, one they can share with anyone who might join them. “زبان” aims to reconstitute the surfaces and sounds of language by experimenting with translingual homonyms. It reads as a conversation in poems, full of gentle directives; the poem “Vestigium” ends:

the key is repeating words into primal abstraction

don’t take yourself too seriously

let words stare.

The second, titular section of the book, “G,” is flurried in comparison. Here, the voices of the poets merge, ricochet, and twist around each other. They pull the reader into a world where the differences between languages are in question, and where the distance between them is being closed. They write:

Against all odds,

share is poem in Persian.


So I share

and you share

and we share

in this sheer fantasy of names

overlaid and veiled.

Experimenting with sound and images, from the guttural “g,” to the duality of meaning in words like god (which means god in Afrikaans but self in Persian), they discover and rediscover the aim of their poetry: “This us/ this me-and-you/ poem resides in the we.”  

The first two parts of the book were written in a shared document over the course of six weeks, and then submitted to their editor. Over a year later, after having received a few editorial changes, they began to think about a third component to the project. “It felt like the book needed something,” says du Plessis. The third part of the book – “Speech” – stands apart. In a series of poems, or speeches, the reader is brought into an oral animation of the authors’ previous collaboration. Mohammadi tells me of its process and importance: “So we composed the entire third part by speaking. It’s the difference between the philosopher’s academic book and their lectures.” By expressing the nexus of ideas and impulses invented in the earlier, written part of their collaboration, they bring their new lexicon to life. 

There is a puckish urgency to “Speech.” Where the formatting of the text is occasionally cheesy – asides bleeding into the margins, shifting between different sized typefaces to change volume, letters gleefully multiplying and dancing across the page – this section adds an important dimension and energy to the text. Du Plessis says of it: “The first two parts of the book are so keenly about language in a more conceptual and experimental way. Having the third section be about speaking that language embodies it. It’s been taken off the page. Where language was the subject [in the first two parts], it has more agency in the last part.” 

In “Speech,” we re-meet the distinct voices of the poets in conversation, but this time they are, as they speak, focused on the way language moves in the body. The physical reality of speech, “the lynx of the larynx sinking,” is the problem being considered and toyed with in this section. In a standout poem that begins “On meeting one of my favourite artists,”  the speaker mines a simple interaction – an awkward greeting – and reveals the heaviness of the embodying language:

To be pinned down in the catastrophic garment of being.

Burdened and bedded with voice.

I hand my hands to the artist.

Within the exoskeleton of speech,

of giftgiving, of yes, here, please,

I regress into a redness so potent

that the tips of my life are reborn.

Across this section, their poetry is lifted out of abstraction. The certain speakers fiddling with language and metaphor become coughing people with wet, spit-filled mouths. In turn, their written collaboration transforms into a vital record of the real, living thing.

Shortly after the publication of G, du Plessis published a collection of literary criticism, I’mpossible Collab, in which she suggests that essay writing is necessarily collaborative and dialogical. Later this year, Mohammadi will be publishing Daffod*ls, a collection of dream poems that were all composed orally during the process of falling asleep and transcribed upon waking. There are traces of G in both projects, and, I expect, in much of their work to come; it reads as a pivotal moment for both artists, a project that brings fresh air and new modes for thinking moving forward.

As a collection of poems, G is fun and deeply felt, especially for readers who have more than one language. It serves as a reminder that at its best literature is flexible, unexpected, and hospitable. Above all else, it is a selfless and freeing model for making literary art in tandem.mRb

Emily Mernin is a writer based in Montreal.



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