BY NYSSA BOOTH
This October, Australia’s largest performing writers program, Word Travels’ Story Fest, is taking on the international conversation surrounding refugees. For most Australians it is impossible to understand what it is like to have to flee your home country, blinded to what the future may hold.
Through the power of creative writing, Story Fest provides a voice to those who have transformed their challenges into influential stories, and is a platform to discuss past experiences with passion, vulnerability and raw authenticity.
The weekend extravaganza will consist of multiple poetry slams, forums, discussions and a special event entitled Writing Through Fences, which will open the Australian Poetry Slam National Final at the Sydney Opera House.
Featuring three refugee poets who sought asylum in Australia, Writing Through Fences is sure to spark heartfelt discussion among the audience and other competing poets. “You will hear from people who have travelled through the darkest places in the human psyche and have found poetry to guide them to sunlight,” said Creative Director of Word Travels, Miles Merrill.
Hani Aden is a Somali writer, who wrote from Christmas Island where she was held for 13 months. During her time in detention, Aden reached to poetry as an outlet to express her emotion and pain. “I thought expressing myself through the power of poetry and storytelling was the only way many of us could walk free in this land,” she explained. Aden is performing alongside Yarrie Bangura, a young refugee, who as a child fled civil war in Sierra Leone; and Kaveh Arya, who fled Iran and became a refugee in Turkey, until he and his family migrated to Australia in 1995.
While all three poets grew up surrounded by war and danger, they agree that by sharing their stories they are bringing to light the social and cultural issues that surround refugees and seeking asylum.
“I want to let many people know seeking asylum is not a crime,” said Aden. “Together we can make change because [it is] kindness [that will] keep the world afloat.”
“I think that’s a constructive way of drawing attention to a real problem, to a real situation which we are faced with in the world, as you know, the refugee crisis is evermore alive now,” said Kaveh Arya.
Arya grew up reading from one of the only books his parents kept – a book of poems. “It was one of the only books, that they kept, that I could actually read and sort of connect to, so I started reading that book at a young age and I fell in love with poetry that way,” he explained.
In his work, poetry is an afterthought. Instead Kaveh chooses to focus on his life experiences as the primary objective, which provide a unique and effective contribution to the international conversation surrounding human rights and refugees.
As a child, Yarrie Bangura fled from her home in Sierra Leone to Guinea, where she lived in a refugee camp with her family before migrating to Australia in 2004. For Yarrie, writing best expressed her pain and enabled her to escape all the terrible things from her past. “I felt like I always had to talk about my pain,” she explained. “I had to find another way to express my pain, which was through music and creative writing – poetry.”
Bangura writes short autobiographical poems and stories, and is one half of the band Sierra Sisters, whose music has featured on several commercials and Triple J Unearthed. Her work reflects the terrifying experiences that haunt her past, and bring to light the issues that many refugees are facing today.
“I never thought that it would get to that length, that people would be interested,” said Bangura. “I was doing it because it made me feel good and it was letting out and chucking away the things that I don’t want to remember anymore in my life – or at least I don’t want to deal with.”
Writing Through Fences is opening the Australian Poetry Slam National Final, one of the most anticipated events in Sydney’s literary and performance calendar. Over the weekend, 20 of Australia’s finest poets will speak, scream, whisper and shout their way to being crowned Australian Poetry Slam Champion.
The Story Fest will also include children’s activities ranging from workshops and events in which they will learn the art of creative writing.
Word Travels’ Story Fest, and Writing Through Fences in particular, is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to immerse yourself in eye-opening and inspirational, truth-telling tales. The festival will provide a new perspective of life, and the ongoing, international issues surrounding refugees. (NB)
WORD TRAVELS’ STORY FEST Oct 9–11. Info: wordtravels.info/story-fest
AUSTRALIAN POETRY SLAM NSW FINAL Oct 9, 8pm. Sydney Dance Lounge, Pier 4/5, Hickson Rd, Sydney. $30+b.f.
City Hub’s pick of the festival: AUSTRALIAN POETRY SLAM NATIONAL FINAL feat. WRITING THROUGH FENCES Oct 11, 7pm. Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House. $36-$44+b.f. Tickets: sydneyoperahouse.com
Follow Kaveh Arya at: facebook.com/kaveh.theunlikelypoet