More of Us, edited by Adrienne Jansen with Clare Arnot, Danushka Devinda and Wesley Hollis, Landing Press 2019
In New Zealand, it’s the weekend.
The streets are very quiet.
Anni Pinedo Bone from ‘The weekend and the carnival’
More of Us was launched shortly after the Christchurch mosque attacks. When many of us were unable to speak – as we sought ways to come together, to listen, to show kindness, unity, solidarity, empathy – the book became even more important. The editors have assembled a terrific range of poetry that navigates loss, dislocation, home, families, food, place. It includes 46 writers from 29 countries, from award-winning poets to high school students, all now living in New Zealand. I am moved by this book. I cry at the unspeakable wounds, I rejoice at the moments of joy. I would love to see this book in every secondary school. I would love to see this book in every lounge because it is an aid to appreciating difference as much it is an aid to forging connections. It is a gift. Thank you.
I sent a list of questions to a group of the contributors and let them choose what they wanted to answer – grateful thanks to Adrienne Jansen for helping me do this.
Why do you write poetry?
Nicky Subono: I write poetry as a way to express what is in my mind and heart. It helps me process and accept things in life and also hope that my writing can inspire or help others in tough times.
Yazan El Fares: I write because writing is often the best way to express things that a person may feel or want to tell. So I chose poetry to express what I feel and share it with other people.
Sevgi Ikinci: I love all the strands of poetry, it focuses on what wanted to be said, it’s sharp and concise. It has sound which can be delivered by writing. It can be romantic or rebellious. Also, I find poetry so delightful due to its ability to deliver different meanings for different people. When my emotions came out in a form of poetry the first time, I was thrilled. It became the way how I express my deep emotions and thoughts.
Reza Zareianjahromi: For a long while now I’ve wanted to find the perfect combination of words to describe some visceral sensation deep inside – I’ve so far failed. But the closest I’ve ever gotten to it is through poetry.
My uncle switches to a music channel.
The music is fire!
My uncles stand up, and my aunties –
they’re all ready to start that dabke,
Syria’s best dance, where people stand,
shoulder to shoulder, holding hands.
Yazan El Fares from ‘My dance story’
Like music, the poems in this anthology sound good, they make me feel the world, they make me think the world, they make my senses spark, they take me into scenes outside my knowing and I am grateful. What do you like your poems to do?
Nicky Subono:I would like my poem to communicate to individuals / be relatable to those who are struggling to find their identity/ coming to terms with living in different worlds and also help them realize and appreciate the place where they can call home.
I would like my poem to highlight diversity and embrace inclusivity.
Tofig Dankalay: Change others’ views and perception of the world and prejudice of people and places that they have never met or seen.
Yazan El Fares: I like my poems to make others feel what we feel and try to think of other people and how do they live. I also want to send a message to people through my poems that each one of us has their own culture and beliefs but we all are human being.
Sevgi Ikinci: Additionally, poetry is a peacemaker. It tells people from different parts of the world, you feel so similar, you are so similar.
Also, I love that the poetry can be read so many times and it gets even tastier.
Reza Zareianjahromi: I like my poems to make you think of dreaming. I want the dimly lit visuals of a dream to come through, the half-lucid state of your mind that produces not necessarily very fantastic and wild imagery, but instead images that are strange enough to be believable and at the same time completely alien. I want readers to get a sense of that familiarity we have with the things we see in our dreams – and I want them to realise that even though they sense this familiarity, the experience is a wholly new one each time.
Was I like this?
No, I wasn’t, but I was
just a bit quieter, reserved and afraid.
I couldn’t tell anyone who I really was!
Sevgi Ikinci from ‘Was I like this back in my home country?’
Are you drawn to certain subjects or feelings when you write?
Nicky Subono: yes, personally, I tend to write more when I feel like there is a message I wanted to express and in hope to reach out to people. It is my own way of communicating my feelings and thoughts.
Tofig Dankalay: My own constantly and forever changing views of the world as part of the universe: Where New Zealand we’re at the end of the world at sometime and at the centre of it right now…
Yazan El Fares: Yes, most of my writing revolves around my mother country and the memories always drawn me.
Sevgi Ikinci: Not objects so much, I think my drive is intense emotions.
Reza Zareianjahromi: I write quite a lot about people’s suffering. I feel a lot of people are dangerously indifferent to it. I also draw quite a lot of inspiration from my dreams, as evident from my previous answer. A good amount of the poetry I write is connected to my Iranian roots.
I remember how my first experience of lettuce
prepared me to compile a recipe book for salads
Sudha Rao from ‘Making a salad’
Do you find certain motifs or symbols keep appearing in your poems?
Tofig Dankalay: The nature, the universe, the different species, objects, that abide by the same physical and universal forces and laws.The engineering species poet within me.
Sevgi Ikinci: I am not sure. Maybe not.
Reza Zareianjahromi: A lot of my poetry is quite personal. I write quite a lot of things for myself, and never intend to share it with others. So, I guess most of my poetry has a very personal motif and intention behind. I’d like to think of them as fragments of how I felt about a certain thing the exact moment I sat down to write, and that feeling can change rather quickly or take on an almost absurd form in my writing.
I became a stranger to my own identity,
an Indonesian who never felt
she belonged in her own land.
I was a blooming flower
surrounded by poison ivy.
Now I am a bird
flying towards the clouds.
Nicky Subono from ‘Overboard’
This anthology reflects diverse migrant and refugee experience. Has your migrant or refugee experience affected the way you write? Did you write poetry in your first home country in your first language?
Nicky Subono: Yes, my life experiences has played many parts of what I write, and because English has become my first language, I tend to think and write in English.
Tofig Dankalay: Of course, it’s a huge part of it. I was born in a war zone. I have no birth certificate, I was a UN refugee at age of 5 in Sudan. Then, I moved with my family to Middle East. I got my Bachelor degree in Engineering in Jordan. Moved to New Zealand in a Skilled Migrant Category Visa (SMC). I am a refugee, expat, migrant, and a resident. I am all of that.
Yazan El Fares: Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to write in my country. All my writings are coming from my migrant background and they all talking about a child who was 10 years old when he left his own country, relatives and friends. This is because of the war which doesn’t have mercy on anyone.
Sevgi Ikinci: My migrant experience affected my writing but I don’t think it affected the way. And yes, I’ve been writing poetry for a long time. I started writing in my language and after a few years living in New Zealand, first my poetry started appearing in English.
Reza Zareianjahromi: My parents are both scientists. Because of their careers, I’ve moved around the globe a fair amount. Therefore, my migration experience is not only an experience but also a fundamental part of who I am as a person. Without it, I wouldn’t be me. So yes, the fact of my moving to new places constantly has shaped a great deal of my writing. I never wrote poetry in Persian, but I have always enjoyed reading Persian poetry.
We be pack of crow. Black bird perched upon scorched
branch. Perched upon broken building. Perched upon
snapped wire. Perched upon this doomscape.
Reza Zareianjahromi from ‘What we be?’
Was there a poet or poets that affected you in your first home country? Has a poet from Aotearoa caught your attention?
Sevgi Ikinci: Yes, possibly a few of them affected my writing from my home country.
Reza Zareianjahromi: Saadi, Hafez, Rumi, and Ferdowsi are all great Iranian poets. I can’t say any poets from Aotearoa have caught my eye (other than the really great ones is the collection!), but then that’s my own fault since I have not yet read much New Zealand Poetry. Other influences on my work are Charles Bukowski and Leonard Cohen.
I am an alien.
Call me names.
You called me all names.
Why not human?
Call me human.
Tofig Dankalay from ‘Call me human’
Which poem in the anthology really got under your skin, or moved your heart, or challenged your ideas, or gave you goosebumps? I would find it impossible to pick one so do mention others.
Nicky Subono: I loved reading ‘Call me Human’ by Tofig Dankalay because it is very raw and amazingly heartfelt… I can feel the pain within the words and it is very moving to me because I always believe that we are all belong to one race, which is humanity.
Reza Zareianjahromi: ‘The Imprisonment of Ap-Kain’ by Laurens Ikinia. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is something tremendous about that poem. I don’t know why. (Note from Paula: I agree!)
I would stand by you,
if there was no stone.
There is no sound,
that would awaken me.
I would have tasted how you felt,
if I were there.
There is only one chance
to be away from the stone.
Laurens Ikinia from ‘The Imprisonment of Ap Kain’
Tofig Dankalay: I was born in Eritrea in 1974, but I grew up in the Middle East. I speak Arabic and love Arabic poetry, which has influenced me. I have lived in Auckland, New Zealand since 2016. I have an engineering degree and am currently studying towards a Masters in artificial intelligence (AI) at Unitec University while working full time.
Yazan El Fares: I am Mana College in Porirua. I have been a part of the student council in 2018, and I enjoy playing football. I am interested in going to university in the future to do dentistry. I am from Syria and have been in New Zealand for two years.
My name is Sevgi Ikinci. I’m originally from Turkey and have been living in New Zealand nearly eight years now. I work as a finance professional, though writing is my passion. I’ve been writing mainly poetry and short stories. I took creative writing courses from AUT in 2018.
Nicky Subono: I am a writer and a beauty entrepreneur. I am a New Zealand permanent resident, originally from Indonesia. I first moved to New Zealand and became a kiwi at the age of ten. After being abroad for eight years, I have returned to live in Wellington. I obtained my Diploma in Creative Writing from Whitireia Polytechnic in 2009.
Reza Zareianjahromi: I was born in Iran, a country torn to shreds by a botched Islamic revolution. I am angry. I am sad. Confused. I miss my home and want it to be free from the bickering crows ripping it to pieces. I look forward to the day when I have children of my own, and they do not have to witness their country in ruins. My love for poetry stems from classical Persian poetry – especially the work of Rumi, Hafez and Saadi.
Landing press page
RNZ National interview
Two poems from the anthology