for her children
to fall asleep
before she opens
and studies their homework.
so much faster
and she’s falling behind.
they speak her language
with an accent now
and she can’t
understand what they say
when they speak
in their new
Lost in translation
Lev has learnt
the word in English.
He points at the book
and says in his thick accent
It’s freezing cold,
frost on the window.
‘Rabbit’ comes out
in a rush of smoke.
‘No’ I say,
‘that’s not a rabbit.’
I point at the book.
‘It’s a pig.’
He breathes heavily,
clouds of white steam
rising around him.
He goes to the window.
A dog is running
on the white grass.
‘Rabbit!’ he shouts
‘Rabbit! Rabbit! Rabbit!’
and bursts into tears.
©Adrienne Jansen and carina gallegos All of Us, Landing Press, 2018
Watch a clip from the book launch
Adrienne and carina gave me kind permission to post their conversation which forms the introduction to the collection.
Where did these poems come from?
Adrienne: I wanted to write a series of poems from two perspectives: what does someone from Syria, for example, experience when they go to a railway station, compared to what I experience going to a railway station? What would happen if we each wrote about our experience of the railway station?
So I started to write a series of poems that were about ‘there’ and ‘here’. One of the reasons it appealed to me was because I didn’t want to take on the voice of the migrant or refugee. I might be recording the stories and experiences they’ve told me, but I’m not taking on their voice.
Now you can talk about where your poems came from.
carina: my poems aren’t imagined either, they’re just sharing the experiences that people have shared with me. they’re the observations of ‘here’ and ‘there’, when you work with people or communities from refugee backgrounds, you hear these stories over and over again. the stories go on for days and people experience them in their heads every day, and to tell them in a poetic context brings them alive in a more succinct way. but we don’t get to experience the ‘there’, we only experience the ‘here’.
coming from a migrant background it was easy for me to relate to some of their stories too.
Adrienne: Both of us are retelling the stories that we’ve heard and heard and which we think are very important to pass on, and in this case, we’re recording them in poetry.
carina: exactly. it’s storytelling poetry.
that was the other part of the vision – that we were going to write poetry that was accessible to a wide range of people. it wasn’t conceptual poetry, it wasn’t difficult, it was poetry that a lot of people could read and understand, even if there were other layers of meaning, even if there were stories between the lines. there was something there, regardless of whether you could read between the lines or not.
Adrienne: Tell me why you don’t use capital letters.
carina: because i don’t like capital letters.
Adrienne: Because … ?
carina: ever since i was a little girl i’ve had an issue with authority (that’s a longer conversation). i don’t mean for the lack of capital letters to be an obstacle for people. it’s quite common for poets to play with capital letters and punctuation and with the aesthetics of letters and words. i love full stops and commas and use them in a very traditional way. i just don’t like capital letters. i don’t even use them to spell my name.
Adrienne: So that was a challenge for us, how to combine two quite different styles. I use capitals and punctuation because I see them as a kind of small signpost to the reader and a kind of fine-tuning for the writer. That would be my approach.
But there are other differences in style too. Like yours – would you describe your style as Latin American style? It’s more discursive.
carina: we talk a lot. latin americans, i mean.
Adrienne: You talk a lot. Right. And of course, New Zealanders don’t talk so much. This could be very interesting!
carina: we’re long-winded people.
Adrienne: That’s why you’ve got longer poems than mine. We’re both being true to type.
carina: and there’s also the weather factor. we’ve been told that in the poems it rains a lot. the weather here is not tropical. if we lived in central america or south america, we’d be writing about mugginess or bad hair days. but in new zealand the challenge is the weather, even for people who were born here. it’s the cold weather that challenges people.
Adrienne: So that’s why it rains a lot.
carina: that’s why it rains a lot.
Adrienne: In the poems.
carina: because in new zealand it rains a lot.
From All of Us, published by Landing Press November 2018
Carina Gallegos has a background in journalism and development studies. She grew up in Costa Rica, moved to New Zealand thirteen years ago, and has worked with refugee-background communities since 2011. She lives in Wellington with her family.
Adrienne Jansen has published numerous books (poetry, novels, nonfiction). She teaches on the Creative Writing Programme at Whitireia Polytechnic. For ten years she was part of the writing team at Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum. She lives in Wellington.