How Much Harder it is to Speak

 

 

My mother and my father, Gong Gong and Po Po. Chinese New Year 1978, Paloh, Malaysia. My father speaks no Hokkien, no Mandarin; my grandparents spoke little English and no Punjabi. The language they shared, however unfluently, was Bahasa Malaysia. At family gatherings like these, my father and my grandparents would speak in Malay as Hokkien raucoused around them.

 

We are delighted to collaborate once again with Queensland Poetry Festival to present in part this special poetry edition, ‘I Can’t Speak to You’.  This year’s theme at QPF, ‘Distant Voices’, asks us to consider how we connect to ourselves and to others when language dissolves, is disappeared.

How do we make sense of what cannot be said? How do we understand the untranslatable?

At the time of writing this editorial, I am on a plane suspended somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. As we fastened our seatbelts, and the pilot welcomed us aboard, he said over the loudspeaker: ‘We have twenty-four nations travelling with us today, carrying seventeen languages’. This, of course, was said in English.

I’ve spent the last month in Thailand and Cambodia, each day appreciating—yet grappling with—the universality of English.

Like many of our poets, this edition’s theme made me think of how connected or disconnected I am to my heritage because of language, and its loss. My mother tongue is not my mother’s tongue, neither my father’s. Instead I must confront the fact that my own mother tongue has, historically, been the colonising language of both of my parents’ ancestries.

Language is violent, is of the body. But for writers, it is also the way we understand the world. Language distils.

Instead of speaking on poems in this edition that I connected with most, the ones that thrilled or slapped me clean across the face, I will leave you with a list of all eighteen poets, without whom this edition would not be close to what it is.

I’d like to express my gratitude once again to the Queensland Poetry Festival, and its co-directors Anne-Marie Te Whiu and David Stavanger, as well as Peril’s own Board Chair, Eleanor Jackson, for making this edition and collaboration come together in all its possibilities.

As ever, my thanks go to our readers. We welcome your voices—in any and all languages—to this conversation.

 

Contributors

Adam Aitken
Evelyn Araluen
Lachlan Brown
Brianna Bullen
Zhi Yi Cham
X Chen
Eileen Chong
Theresa Creed
Shastra Deo
Nithya Iyer
Anna Jacobson
Ella Jeffrey
Bella Li
Anisa Nandaula
Nadia Niaz
Omar Sakr
Saaro Umar
Radha Wayuwidayat
Jessica Yu

Mindy Gill

Author: Mindy Gill

Mindy Gill is a Brisbane-based poet and editor. She is Peril Magazine's Editor-in-Chief.