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How to express yourself in English using poetry

Manal Younus
Australian storyteller, Manal Younus.

Supplied: Edel Garipov

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March 21 is UNESCO's World Poetry Day. It's a day to celebrate the way poetry connects us to one another and recognises the practise of writing poetry across the globe. Today we're learning about a poem by Manal Younus, an Australian storyteller. Manal explains the literary techniques that she uses in her poem, 'Meshrefet'. She also talks about why poetry can be a useful medium for English learners - even though poetry doesn't always follow conventional rules of written English.

Manal Younus was born in Saudi Arabia, raised by her grandparents in Eritrea, and moved with her family to Adelaide when she was three years old. She's the author of a published collection of her poems, Reap.

'Meshrefet' is the title of Manal's poem and it is a Tigrinya word - the first language of Eritrea, in Northeastern Africa. It's a handwoven device that looks similar to a mat. Meshrefet is widely used in daily activities - including the making coffee and the East African flatbread, injera.

Manal making meshrefet
Manal making meshrefet - a handwoven circular mat that is made of reeds.

Supplied: Manal Younus

In poetry, a stanza refers to a group of lines. There are five stanzas in 'Meshrefet'.

This is the first stanza:

Manal says that wanted to open the poem by describing a scene that appealed to the senses - including touch and sight.

"I talk about the 'smooth' beneath her feet and sitting on the concrete. You get a sense of what it felt like being there and you can imagine it."

This is the second stanza:

Alliteration is a poetic technique where the same letter or sound is repeated. Manal uses alliteration with "patience, precision" - repeating the letter 'p' - and "wit of a woman" - repeating the letter 'w'.

She chose alliteration because it makes those lines memorable and draws attention to what she is describing:

"With 'patience, precision / the wit of a woman' - these are all key themes I would want someone to remember because I am talking about a woman. And a woman who empowers through her work. They're things you can't miss... it's partly because of what's said and partly because of how it's said."

Opportunities for learning and writing poetry

Manal has taught poetry writing workshops with participants of varying levels of English - including refugees and people from non-English speaking backgrounds. She argues that poetry is important because it offers English learners a lot of freedom:

'Meshrefet' was commissioned by the Red Room Company, an Australian organisation that works with schools and community organisations to extend the reach of contemporary Australian poetry in diverse ways.

It was one of five poems by contemporary Australian poets, who were commissioned for the Red Room Company's Poetry Object series - "to inspire budding writers and their teachers to experiment with language and push the boundaries of the stories that poetry can tell," says Eunice Andrada, producer of Poetry Object.

Eunice also argues that poetry can be liberating for people who are learning English.

"I think that the foundations of poetry are on image and in story. You wouldn't need an excellent grasp of the English language - to be able to weave the story. You would need imagery and that imagery would be drawn from personal experiences or personal imaginations."

You can read the rest of 'Meshrefet' and hear Manal read it out loud on the Red Room Company's website. Manal has also written a description of the poem. Poetry Object is a writing competition for students and their teachers from Years 3-10. Launching 17 April 2017, it invites participants from Australia and New Zealand to write poems inspired by "special and curious objects".

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