The cover of "Conjugated Light" by Adriana Onita. // Supplied

Edmonton artist marries poetry, artwork, and multiple languages in her new chapbook

Conjugated Light Chapbook Launch
Chapbook by Adriana Onita; dc3 Art Projects; Wed., Mar. 13 (7:30 – 9:30 p.m.)

By Charlie Crittenden

When winter arrived, Adriana Onita decided to explore Edmonton instead of hibernating for another season. Enduring inhospitable conditions and icy trails, she recorded her experiences with a mix of art and multilingual poetry in Conjugated Light, the latest chapbook from Glass Buffalo.

“I know it sounds paradoxical, but I started to paint outside in winter to survive the winter,” Onita says over email. “Nos hivers [our winters] are excruciatingly long and frigid. I was looking for ways to infuse more spontaneity and play into rutina mea zilnică [my daily routine], and connect more to the land.”

She found that the cold quickened her work process.

Adriana Onita // Supplied

“Winter forces you to be brief. With both your palabras [words] and your paint strokes,” she says. “Often I could only paint for 15 minutes because it was -30C with the windchill—but those 15 minutes were often la mejor parte del día [the best part of the day] for me.”

Onita grounded her writing by painting and photographing specific places across Edmonton. One poem is paired with a view of the tracks at Stadium Station, while another captures her perspective of Mill Creek burbling past overhanging shelves of ice. In one painting, she pauses to imagine a tiger stalking up the slopes of Gallagher Park.

“Autoritratto” // Adriana Onita

“I never planned where I would stop to paint each day,” she says. “De fapt, m-am distrat foarte mult [in fact, I had so much fun] seeing where I ended up, often traveling between school, work, and home.”

dc3 Art Projects currently has an exhibit of Onita’s photographs that display a range of work, from back alleys near her apartment to cliffs overlooking the North Saskatchewan River.  

She writes in multiple languages and switches effortlessly from line to line in her poetry.

“As a plurilingual person, I think, write, and live in multiple tongues: limba română (my mother language), English, español, français, e italiano,” she says. “More than translation, es un proceso de transcreación [it is a process of transcreation]. I wouldn’t say I consciously choose to write în diferite limbi [in different languages]: they just pour out, orgánicamente [organically], much like the colours I use while painting.”

The blend of languages in each poem offers a window into the poet’s mind as she contemplates Edmonton. Onita’s use of words with common etymological origins, many of which seem familiar, guide the reader along.

Her advice for the monolingual reader is to embrace the uncertainty as they experience the poem.

“Carta a mi misma” // Adriana Onita

“My poems weave together diferite limbi [different languages], but I do not provide translations, footnotes, or a glossary on purpose,” Onita says.

She aims to question the pervasive but largely unquestioned Anglocentrism of the publishing world by raising awareness of multilingual voices.

“In queste poesie, invito al lettore [these poems, I invite the reader] to embrace the ambiguity and discomfort that often accompanies being a language learner.”

The multilingual effect of Conjugated Light takes the reader on a journey within the page as well as across the city, as they imagine meanings or look up words with the sense of each line hovering just within their grasp.

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