Appropriately, the Word Travels event at Customs House Library was held on March 20 to mark Harmony Day and World Poetry Day.
There were many moments when it was hard for me to follow what was being said, but at the same time I found it to be a beautifully jarring and alien experience – to be immersed in all these languages while being touched to the core. Human expression knows no barriers. Everyone belongs.
The poets of the night included the slammers and some guest performers, and among that mix there were some who wrote beautiful poetry but were nervous, or quiet, or relying on their bits of paper, and others who presented their works really strongly, gesturing with the body and making good use of emotional tones.
Some audience members were chosen to be on the judging panel for the night, and I noticed that, generally, contestants in the second half after the interval racked up higher scores. Perhaps it’s the rule of thumb that when you’re more chilled and “in the zone” you perform better, and the second lot did get more time to prepare mentally.
Of all the performances, two guest speakers, Abe Nouk and Onur Karaozbek (the previous year’s winner), as well as Lillian Rodrigues Pang who earned second place on the night, stood out.
Abe spoke powerfully in celebration of Indigenous cultures, and what haunted me was how he said that we’re not racist to each other, but curious, and sometimes we’re afraid of people discovering our identities. Onur talked about how language needs to be more of a social lubricant like alcohol, that our openness and emotions connected to culture need to slide more with less friction. And though Lillian came second place, I did feel that she should’ve got first place, because the imagery she used about reaching out to the stars with yearning, remembering the Dreamtime, and finding hope in the universe, resonated powerfully with me.
It takes courage and creative energy to get up on stage and speak before an audience, let alone if it’s in the form of a poetry reading. Congratulations to all the performers. Everybody was a winner.