Reflection on poetry book launch
by Raghid Nahhas, 30 August 2019
I am truly overwhelmed by the support I received on Friday 30th August 2019, for the launch of my two translation books of the works of Khalid al-Hilli and Ghassan Alameddine, at Gleebooks.
It was a day of continuous strong rain in Sydney and it would have been difficult for a lot of people to commute. However, we had a strong audience of over sixty people.
Book purchase was very high, with most people buying both books. This was great support.
The speakers and readers were eloquent, dignified and provided an insight into the works of both poets and my translations.
Mrs Ghada Daher Elmowy, Director of the Andalus Arabic Choir, chose and performed a lively folk song as a tribute to the late poet and musician Ghassan Alameddine. There could not have been a more appropriate choice as befits Ghassan who loved life, but it was cut short by his sudden departure.
Mrs Nabiha Haddara voluntarily and tirelessly documented the event using her mobile phone (visit her Facebook Page where you can view several posts covering the event). Shame on the media that was totally absent, particularly those supported by tax-payers to serve multicultural Australia!
The highlight of the evening for me was when Dr Deborah Ruiz Wall OAM, who launched the books, decided to present me with one of the photographs she took during a rally for refugees in Sydney in 2001. A card created by Deborah, using two of her shots, accompanied the gift. The gift was handed to me by Deborah and Aunty Beryl Van Oploo, an Aboriginal elder.
Not that I am seeking any rewards, but I consider this gift and the way by which it was delivered to be the finest reward any Australian can get for a life-long effort of bringing understanding among cultures and people.
When I shook the welcoming hand of Aunty Beryl, I felt I was “redeemed”.
Refugees and migrants’ arrival in Australia’s First Nations’ Country
Over sixty people turned up at Dr Raghid Nahhas’ double poetry book launch at Gleebooks in Glebe recently. The audience were from diverse backgrounds including the writers — Ghassan Alameddine (Lebanese), Khalid al-Hilli (Iraqi) and Raghid Nahhas (Syrian-Lebanese). Nahhas translated Alameddine and al-Hilli’s work from Arabic to English.
Dr Deborah Ruiz-Wall OAM (Australian Filipino) launched the event. She was accompanied by Aboriginal elders, Kamilaroi woman, Aunty Beryl Van Oploo and Biripai woman, Aunty Ali Golding. She cited extracts from the poets’ work, highlighting their background as migrants and refugees in the context of the cultural landscape of Aboriginal Australia. The elders who accompanied Wall are mentors for the Women’s Reconciliation Network (WRN), an advocacy group that promotes reconciliation between First Nations people and non-Aboriginal Australians. Some members of WRN also attended the function in support of the bicultural poetry book launch.
Following is an extract from Wall’s introductory speech.
As fate would have it, we new settlers who have landed in Australia are all refugees from our original homelands. Our journey may be likened to migrating birds on the lookout for a more hospitable nest. The poets whose works we celebrate tonight have come from diverse countries whose language is Arabic. The non-Arabic speakers amongst us are fortunate indeed to be able to cross the bridge and experience vicariously the poets’ lamentation and joy through Dr Raghid Nahhas’ translation of their work from Arabic to English.
I am truly honoured to be asked by Raghid to launch tonight’s poetry event despite the fact that I have no background in the richness of their cultures. Our common ground, I believe, is two-fold: we all dwell on this ancient land that has become our home and we share a love of the language of the soul. We all seek refuge from the storm in our hearts. A flight to nowhere terrifies us. It feels that to escape the clutches of Death is beyond the materiality of skin, or of place! Poets converse inward with the language of the soul. Many seek a glimmer of hope and a taste of the divine. Famished hearts look for the embrace of a Mother to receive warmth, comfort, solace. Why not here in this new place where they landed — that is, we in a sense, are all boat people. This blended soil where we landed is the home of past survivors, now only slightly over 3 per cent of Australia’s population — the original people. Their numbers were decimated since 1778 after they were dispossessed of their land…yet they have survived — the oldest continuing culture.
Before boats kept arriving onshore, the original dwellers on this land who have lived here for millennia have a different connection to land. Land for them is the all-embracing Mother gathering all her children to her breast to ease the pain inflicted by the blind amongst us. Mother Earth wants us to be restful and find stillness on this soil. We are kin, with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disquiet, as survivors. We boat people have arrived to find a new nest to lay our heads. We, newcomers have found cracks on this land, felt faint lamentation arising from beneath the earth, heard the cry of the Spirit of the Land — for justice. We have arrived on the blood-stained soil where even the voices of the slain cannot be silenced.
We weigh the words said about us by other settlers and sense a wall within a wall, borders within borders, erected by structures of power that glance our way suspiciously. Some of them do not see us as survivors but as perpetual strangers. We, like them, have crossed borders to seek life anew, to fly from our original nest for whatever reason, or escape the violence of soulless regimes. Are we in exile like the original dwellers herded to missions and reserves supposedly for their own protection, whose movements were subjected to surveillance, and whose half-caste children were stolen to wash away imagined remnants of the first habitation of Country, this country?
Civil war or military dictatorship drove many to leave their homeland. Some of them from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines ended up in Australia and have adopted this country as their home. Ghassan Alameddine was an Australian-Lebanese writer, journalist, poet and musician. He published five poetry collections and translated several books to Arabic. Khalid al Hilli had to leave his country, Iraq for political reasons and migrated to Australia in 1989.
So, where do we sit? How do we survive? Where is our voice? We hear the lament of the soul from Ghassan’s poem:
All the matchsticks dropped
from my box.
How can I burn
the coal of dreams?
I couldn’t even find
the ashes of the black tree
I used to ignite with my desires.
For a long time I have thought that
the day is born from a deformed night
and the sea is the only place to drown.
by Ghassan Alameddine
And from Khalid, I cite an extract.
Window and Voice
…Sadness takes me to my homeland.
My garments weep for me in Babel
and I lament my days and years.
My dreams are stolen
My arm is lost
And my tongue is condemned to death —
Is the voice coming?
How could the voice become louder?
by Khalid al Hilli
Raghid, originally from Syria, of Syrian/Lebanese ancestry, arrived in Australia in 1988. Raghid made it possible for us to hear the inner voice of Ghassan and Khalid. Raghid is the bridge, the ‘trustee’ of these poets’ work, the mirror that allows us to see a reflection of the original words. We cross borders to break down walls that have been put up to stop us from seeing each other in truth as brothers and sisters enjoying the bounty offered lovingly by Mother Earth. The soil on which we stand has become a blended nation sitting on an ancient sacred land where the original descendants have welcomed the diversity of people who have come after them.
I too am a new settler. 1972 when I left my country, the Philippines, then under the grip of martial law. I worked as a journalist in the Philippines and in Papua New Guinea briefly until my move to Sydney permanently with my Australian husband in 1974. ‘Everywhen’, a word coined by W.E. H. Stanner was his attempt to capture Aboriginal people’s sense of place and time. Our past, and our forebears’ lives conceived as eternally present in us and carried in the soul of our descendants yet to come.
My poem, ‘Flight to Nowhere’, published in 2006, depicts my experience of a political storm when I was living in my homeland.
Flight to Nowhere
Behind bars, I saw them,
their eyes tinged with sadness.
Though strangers to each other,
we spoke through our hearts
in a world where soldiers once walked…
… Behind bars, I see them still
looking at me
with their ghostly eyes
tinged with sadness.
I realize I am them, like them
I am behind bars.
For there is joy in my heart —
struggling to be free.
by Deborah Ruiz Wall
Lest we forget ‘Joy’ sits in our hearts too. Our First Nations people have generously welcomed us here to walk in harmony with them, not behind bars, but in truth and justice as we walk with the spirits on the land free as ever as the Dreamtime.
Published by ICAI Winds and Waves, 22 November 2019
View at Medium.com
View at Medium.com