erasing clouds

Mehfil – Tramway Theatre, Glasgow, Scotland, 4th December 2004

review by anna battista

Writer Suhayl Saadi introduces the evening telling us that the word ‘Mehfil’ in Urdu means ‘gathering’. Tonight’s event at Glasgow Tramway Theatre is indeed a gathering, but a special one, a gathering of writers and poets who present their work in different languages.

Palestinian poet and playwright Ghazi Hussein opens the evening reciting three of his poems in Arabic accompanied by Iranian poet and musician Mahmood Farzan who plays the darabuka for the occasion. Hussein’s poems tackle the theme of exile and are painful odes to the country he left.

Writer and poet Jackie Kay follows: she reads different poems, all sparkling with life, humour and occasionally sad, from her three collections The Adoption Papers, Other Lovers and Off Colours and she also gives us a preview of the poems which will be included in her next book Life Mask.

Broadcaster and poet Daljeet Singh Dalbir sings a few poems in Punjabi while journalist and broadcaster Rahat Zahid reads in Urdu from her book Udaas Galion Mein (‘In Sad Streets’).

Pakistan’s acclaimed poet Kishwar Naheed and Scottish poet and writer Liz Lochhead close the evening. The former is Pakistan’s most celebrated feminist poet and the recipient of various literary awards, among them also the Sitare-Imtaz, the highest literary award in Pakistan. The condition of the woman, freedom and justice are just a few of the main themes of Naheed’s strong poems.

Lochhead’s poems are a blend of Scottish and English: the two languages and the two different registers are used by the author in an ironic and funny way as proved by her poem “Kidspoem/Bairnsang” in which she recounts her first day to school, first in Scottish, then in English, creating an hilarious effect: “it wis January/and a gey dreich day/the first day Ah went to the school/so my Mum happed me up in ma/good navy-blue napp coat wi the rid tartan hood/birled a scarf aroon ma neck/pu’ed oan ma pixie an’ ma pawkies/it was that bitter/said noo ye’ll no starve,/gie’d me a wee kiss and a kid-oan skelp oan the bum/and sent me aff across the playground/tae the place Ah’d learn to say/It was January/and a really dismal day/the first day I went to school…”

Mehfil, which was organised with the help of Ankur Productions, was an extraordinary opportunity to hear contemporary poetry in Arabic, Punjabi, Urdu, Scottish and English, and even though none of us in the audience could really understand all the five languages, each of us could follow the rhythm of the words and the tone in which the poets recited their works.


Issue 29, December 2004

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