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Melting identities: does it matter where you are from?

There is no doubt about it: the world is changing, and changing quickly.

As people travel from one place to another to work or live, they create increasingly multicultural communities where different ideas, customs and languages interact, combine and clash. In London, for example, the streets are filled with the cadences of different dialects as people from different cultural and social backgrounds come together.

More than ever, each of us will find it pressing to understand our own identities in the community where we live. At the end of the day, does it matter where we come from? If it does, why does it matter to anyone? How far are we shaped by the place(s) where we were born; studied; grew up in; have worked or lived; or simply left behind? For those who come from elsewhere and adopt a new place to live or work, do they still maintain a tie — familial or emotional – with their native places and communities?

Jahan Ramazani said in A Transnational Poetics, the poetic form has made it possible for poetry to offer a unique space that transcends borders and cultural divides, making poets the ‘citizens of imaginative webs formed by cross-national reading and rewriting’. If so, how do we understand this new space? How do we put down in words the colliding place(s), culture(s) and past(s) within us that makes up who we are? In a broader context, no matter where we are from or how long we have lived in a place, how do we translate the particular cultural experience that we have, and to be understood?

Currently, there is an amazing range of established and new poets who have done a great job in translating multicuturalism and borders-crossing in their work. In Naomi Shihab Nye’s ‘Burning the Old Year’, she writes of the new spaces being created by movements and displacement:


When there was something and suddenly there isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, then leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.


On my upcoming online course The Melting Poet, we will look at how some of these voices articulate their otherness through the poignancy of their language, the evocative power of details and imagery as well as their risks in forms, such as Bei Dao, Naomi Shihab Nye, Zeina Hasham Beck, Jee Leong Koh, Amali Rodrigo, Lorna Goodison, Hannah Lowe, Sarah Howe and others, helping you to unleash the bridging power of poetry in your own writing. By discussing and appreciating these texts from the frontiers of contemporary poetry, as well as working through creative assignments that focus on translating experiences and finding the authenticity of voice, you will discover what it is in your own refreshing voice and writing style that resonate most powerfully.

Write poetry that articulates and appreciates cultural differences, and find unity in our different origins and life journeys, on The Melting Poet: Multiculturalism & Cultural Difference, a new online poetry course from the Poetry School. Book online or ring us on 0207 582 1679.



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Image Credits:

Andi Jetaime