Mother Tongue: Many Languages, One Voice…

I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable;
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

~excerpt from Song of Myself (Walt Whitman)

On two stormy Saturdays in June a group of women gathered in a little room at the Belconnen Arts Centre. As rain slashed the windows and thunder rumbled ominously, these women shared stories and secrets. They laughed and sighed and exclaimed and chatted over a glorious muddle of words.

They talked about the syllables of their mother tongues, the untranslateable sharpness and sweetness of idiom, the desolation of writing alone in incomprehensible beautiful phrases,  the confusion of entering the space of muddled meaning that exists between languages and the limitations of only communicating in one language when they have many other ways of knowing the world. I am lucky enough to be one of those women.

We hear each other’s voices, we feel each other’s experiences, we devour each other’s metaphors like delicious cakes and we stand up and speak our words: food, world, heart, mother, strength, happiness, love, song, childhood, family, earth, safety, beautiful…

In the midst and muddle of all our languages we find a common dialect that binds us together as multilingual women who walk the tightrope between cultures and whose voices are slowly creeping out from their hiding places. In this unlikely sanctuary we feel the support of others who yearn to express themselves, and to be heard, in the languages of their childhoods. We are united in our desire to sound the barabaric yawp of our mother tongues over the roofs of the world.

So how did this group of women of different ages, at different stages in their lives and from different cultural back grounds find each other? They came together through a project initiated by two Canberra poets (Jacqui Malins and Lauren Harvey) who had the generosity of spirit and courage of their convictions to start the Mother Tongue Project which provides a platform for anyone (male or female) who wants to speak and write poetry in their native language.

It was a privilege for me to deliver a workshop on poetry to these women and then to perform on the same stage as them in June this year.

On Wednesday, 7 September, 2016 three of us (Vesna Cvjeticanin, Karina Palomita (Bontes) and Anita Patel) will speak our poetry again at the Poetry on the Move Festival at the University of Canberra.

Anita, Vesna and Karina

And another one of us, Niloofar Fanaiyan,  will launch her first anthology of poetry, Transit, on the same evening.

So a huge thank you (in all our mother tongues) to Jacqui and Lauren for initiating this project in the ACT. The Mother Tongue snowball is rapidly growing and we are so happy to be rolling along with it…

~ Special Thanks to the Mother Tongue Project (Jacqui Malins and Lauren Harvey) for photos used in this blog post.

© Anita Patel, 2016

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