Introduction to AMWP Issue 1

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.

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

How To Navigate These Poems

An audio version of each poem is provided at the top of the page, between the title and the text of the poem. This is a way of inviting you into the poem even if you do not speak all of the languages it uses. Sound, cadence, and music are at the heart of poetry and this audio provides a way to access parts of texts that we cannot manage by reading alone.

The poems in this issue represent the individual relationships that the poets have with the languages in which they write. Because of this, the decision to translate or transliterate the non-English languages, or to provide glossaries, explanations, and notes, was left up to each poet.

If the poet has chosen to provide any explanatory material, you will find it after the poem, towards the bottom of the page, or in their bio. Some poets have done full translations, some have provided glosses, and some have presented their work as is.

Rashida Murphy: Sab Ki Diwali

Rashida Murphy reading ‘Sab ki Diwali’

My nephew was born during Diwali
every dhamaka
of every phataka
rumbled through his body
like an earthquake,
and he couldn’t sleep

Years later, another Diwali
another birth
At dawn my mother rose from namaz
to hear my daughter’s first cry
What shall we name her, she asked
meri jaano jigar, meri baade sabah?

Diwali didn’t always
herald birth in my family
my brother once set fire to a cane palm
with lit phuljaris
and stubbed mombattis
We smouldered for days

Before our children interrupted Diwali
our mother bought us payals and kangans
and toe-rings
in chaandi
to appease a goddess
she didn’t believe in

Now, that girl born at Diwali dawn
wears chaandi and khadi
and names her cat Tulsi
What was it like, she asks
growing up where
everyone celebrated everything?


Notes and Glossary

The Hindu festival of Diwali is celebrated to honour the return of Lord Ram from exile. It is typically celebrated with the lighting of lamps and candles and is also known as the Festival of Lights. Silver and gold jewellery is bought to mark the festivities and appease the Goddess of Wealth.

Sab Ki Diwali – Everyone’s Festival of Lights
dhamaka – Explosion
phataka – Firecracker
namaz – Muslim prayer
meri jaano jigar – Endearment, loosely meaning heart of my heart
meri baade sabah – A line of poetry, meaning early morning breeze; Sabah is also used as a name
phuljaris – Sparklers
mombattis – Candles
chaandi – Silver
payals – Anklets
kangans – Bangles
khadi – Coarse cotton
tulsi – Sacred herb (basil), also used as a name


Rashida Murphy is a Perth-based writer and the author of The Historian’s Daughter (UWA Publishing, 2016). She is an Adjunct at Edith Cowan University. She runs workshops on writing at various writers centres and writes about identity and appropriation. Her poems, short stories and essays have appeared in national and international journals and anthologies.


Paula Abul: Горчивник

Paula Abul reading ‘Gorchivnik’

I still think of you as a quiet man,
the kind of man who, stepping
in plainly human shit on
a riverbank could scrape himself 
clean in silence, who wouldn’t even 
wrinkle his nose because gestures 
are words and why speak when не нужно.

it’s my duty as a daughter to flatten you
into something I can hold, tuck you into 
the top of my boot and call it growth. 
горе живое и ржавит тебя. 

how sweet and baffling then,
your застольный routine
me – aghast,
you – lining them up:

          3 chillies (green), 
          2 cloves garlic (raw), 
          1 teaspoon mustard (hot english)

with hands soaked in method 
you’d deliver each one, and I’d 
brace for the tears and the thunder
горчит! алxамдулилла, горчит!

it seems to me now the 
most adult thing, to twist in the
heat and call it pleasure.

I think if Openness had eyes they’d 
be fringed in fine gold petals, холуд
dancing down her arms, gauzy орна
flapping in the sticky жар.

на его месте, у нас есть холод, 
Российская верность, склизкие
слова напиханные в шершaвыe
чемоданы, a language that casts
mustard in sorrow’s shadow. 

now I buy шориша oil labelled
‘for human consumption’ and
think of a yellow so bright it
seems lit with sin, a lurking vapour
like sirens, capable of firing twelve 
rounds into your sinuses with a laugh. 

I stepped in shit by the river too, 
caked it deep in the grooves of
my self-conscious boots
and the crescent boats curling
towards the sky rocked as my cries
thundered across the Подда. 


Paula Abul is a poet, linguist, and illustrator living in Naarm. Through a quirk of Soviet international education policies, they have grown up communicating with their Bangladeshi father in Russian, a language neither of them is entirely fluent in. This particular situation has been both beautiful and isolating – their father has a dexterity with Slavic grammar that is unhindered by canon, and together they have filled in any gaps with etymological leaps and creativity; on the other hand, they are not easily understood by Russian speakers, and there has been no functional distinction between Bengali and Russian words since they are all plugged into the same almost-Russian grammar. This poem reflects that linguistic landscape, as well as the encroaching position of English as we continue to settle in so-called Australia.

Rose Hunter: girls, girls, girls, & God

Rose Hunter reading ‘girls, girls, girls, & God’

or being a bit precious i mean semi-
precious, i mean burning out of EZ Pawn            

& por favor conduzcas on the right

side of the road            anytime now–

confetti & polyester sweat            sliding
               gunning the bumps

the thunder            (vámonos Jimbo!)
of martillo neumático & I-15
rocket ship liftoff; Jimbo!            spaghetti 

bowl billboard & horizontal freefall
end of the world en todas las direcciones

               a no woman’s land

the Wynn            sweats & swells
a giant/cooking/golden/            almohada


Glossary

por favor conduzcas – please drive
vámonos Jimbo! – come on Jimbo!
martillo neumático – jackhammer
en todas las direcciones – in all directions
almohada – pillow


Rose Hunter’s book of poetry, glass, was published by Five Islands Press in 2017. From Brisbane, she lived in Canada for ten years and currently spends a lot of time in Mexico, where she works remotely as an editor and ESL teacher. More information about her can be found at rosehunterwriting.com, and she tweets @BentWindowBooks, a chapbook publisher she founded. These poems were written during a stay in Las Vegas.