Welcome to the first issue of the Australian Multilingual Writing Project journal.
When I first posted the call for submissions, I was unsure of what kind of response I would get. Although I knew there were poets in Australia who spoke more than one language, and that some had published or performed work in two or more languages, what I was setting out to create was different from the kind of multilingualism generally presented in Australian poetry. Usually, the focus is on translation or translatability and, more often than not, poets will use just a word or two of another language in a poem written otherwise in English. While this is understandable given that Australian establishment literature is largely monolingual, my objective was to capture the way that multilingual people actually speak and think.
To be multilingual is to have access to multiple musics, multiple vocabularies, multiple idioms and, most importantly in this context, to be able to combine them in ways that create whole new musics, syntaxes, and idioms. It is to have multiple, complex relationships with each language while also knowing how easily languages cross-pollinate and combine if permitted (and even if not). It is to understand, and even delight in, the slipperiness of language and all the deliberate and accidental connections that we make daily. Why keep that much sound, music, joy, experience and potential bottled up?
This issue features poetry by 13 different poets in 14 different languages. Some of these poets have always spoken their languages while others have acquired their second or third or fourth languages as older children or as adults. Some have inherited their parents’ languages while others have made a deliberate effort to re-learn what had been lost, while still others have simply fallen in love with a language. Some are comfortable with the way their languages have receded over the years, while others fight to retain their fluency and even pass it on to their children and students. Some work with languages as translators, linguists, academics, language learners, and language teachers, while others live with languages as migrants, expats, and third culture kids. None are limited to a single category. In fact, as it arguably typical of multilingual people, most inhabit multiple identities fully and simultaneously. Facets, not fragments, is the overarching theme here.
I would not have been able to edit this issue without the very generous help of my friends and colleagues who volunteered their time and efforts to review the poetry that was submitted and help make the final selection. They did everything from engaging in deep, involved discussions regarding usage and declensions to proofreading and checking for spelling errors in scripts I cannot read. Thank you, Asha Bedar, Nadia Clarice Budiman, Felipe Castillo, Vanessa Giron, Daniela Karky, Sangeeta Shresthova, Daphanie Teo, and Maria Tumarkin for your time, energy, and linguistic prowess. Thank you also to Ameel Zia Khan for editing the audio recordings of the poems, being my sounding board throughout the process, and addressing any and all technical questions.
Finally, thank you to all the poets who entrusted their work to this fledgling project. I hope this publication is a source of joy and inspiration to everyone who reads it.
– Nadia Niaz