Our Multilingual Poetry Evening

On a cold winter’s evening in Canberra last week, be:longing teamed up with MotherTongue Multilingual Poetry to present a special event at our favourite community and performance space, Smith’s Alternative in the city centre. Our Multilingual Poetry Evening, which sought to gather poetry in languages other than English that touched on be:longing‘s themes of migration, cross-cultural life, nostalgia and belonging, brought together eight wonderful cross-cultural poets from across the broader ACT region.

And the performances brought us so much! We started with reflections on a childhood and adolescence spent in the UK, listening to parents and relatives speak the Twi language of Ghana, and learning how it interconnected with Multicultural London English to help the poet develop his own unique sense of cultural identity. Then we moved to powerful ruminations on the experience of war and hardship in Afghanistan – from the country’s own perspective, as imagined by a few of its devoted citizens – and witnessed a beautiful 3-way recital, in 3 different languages, from 3 sisters who came together in this faraway Australia to deliver it.

We heard how language – in the next poet’s case, Yiddish, spoken within his family unit here in Australia – can keep us connected to our own pasts, and can lend new significance to time spent with now-ageing parents. We also heard how language can be both a barrier and a bridge to connection, when a poet described her own attempts at finding a sense of belonging (or not) to the Malaysian language and culture when the poet’s own heritage harks to Mother Russia.

The evening came to its close with a rousing recital of a poem told from the ‘downunder’ perspective, in Tagalog and English – inspired by Dostojevsky’s Notes from Underground – speaking of the multiple ways permanent migration affects our past, present and future, forcing us to reimagine our lives and find a new inner compass to guide us into the future. And last but not least, another Afghan poet spoke to us her words of peace and God, and what it means to be human in this world – what we can do, and what we should do.

We felt very lucky to witness these recitals, and to share in the warm and welcoming atmosphere with these poets first-hand and face-to-face. And if you missed the live event, don’t worry – we will be bringing you several of the poems recited in the months to come as we publish them on this here site!

Thank you to all the poets who came together to make this event what it was – Andrew Geoffrey Kwabena Moss, Wafa Rahman, Afreen Zakria, Shazia Rahman, Isi Unikowski, Margarita Gurgutsova, Teena Saulo, and Hangama Obaidullah.

To help you imagine the event, we bring you the following photos, which were taken on the night by local photographers (run by migrant and cross-cultural individuals themselves!), Burrows and Aster. We thank Jamie and Sonja for their beautiful work and for capturing the spirit of the evening so wonderfully! If you’d like to see more from Burrows and Aster – or book them for an upcoming event, wedding, family photo shoot, etc of your own! – check out their work at https://burrowsandaster.pic-time.com/portfolio and get in touch through their Instagram, @burrows.and.aster!

© be:longing, 2022
Photos © Burrows and Aster, 2022