Enough Said About Sara Saleh?
by Amanda Craig
Enough Said’s Poetry Slam at Jane’s in Wollongong on Thursday, 25 May is slated to be a memorable night with this month’s powerhouse feature artist Sara Saleh.
An Arab, Muslim poet, Sara writes her poetry on culture, politics and emotion. Giving voice to a marginalised society, she performs with her “Slamily” at Bankstown Poetry Slam, is the co-founder of the Dubai Poetry Slam, and was the Australian Poetry Slam NSW state-finalist in 2015.
Since finding her passion for spoken-word poetry, Sara has been travelling internationally for over four years and, during that time, worked with various human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International Australia and Mission of Hope. In August 2016 Sara also released Wasting the Milk in the Summer, which is a book of poetry on her personal experiences, heritage and identity.
Talking to Sara, she gives an in-depth look into what inspires her writing, discusses the Dubai Poetry Slam, and reveals what she is currently reading.
Q: How did you get into spoken word poetry and can you recall the first time you performed your poetry to an audience?
Storytelling is central to my culture and has been a constant feature in my childhood... when you have no heirlooms in the face of constant displacement that is what stories become... your legacy. I can’t remember a time when I was not writing – on post-its and napkins, on homework sheets and diaries, I wrote constantly and read every book I could get my hands on... But it wasn’t really until four years ago that I started writing poetry.
I was hitting a creative ‘dry spell’ of sorts and so I began trying different art forms – from painting to poetry, and the Western Sydney poetry slam scene was just kicking off at that time. Serendipitous!
Poetry was only ever meant to be temporary and I certainly did not have the courage to perform the poetry I was writing… but the Bankstown Poetry Slam family (now my slamily) are a very convincing, and of course, supportive bunch.
Although it’s an incredibly safe space, I was extremely nervous on stage the first time (I still get so nervous!), to allow yourself to be vulnerable is very unnerving... I never expected to win the slam that night, let alone to be writing a poetry book three years later.
Q: Last year you released a book of poetry called Wasting the Milk in the Summer, which you have described as a collection of poems which highlight heritage, love and identity. What was the inspiration or trigger for you to write this book?
This book was like an open wound, layers and layers of vulnerability and truths and stories that somehow wrote themselves.
Ultimately I view it as the product of all my experiences of exile – whether in heritage and home in all its manifestations, or in exploring notions of identity and resistance in the face of displacement, or in moving through the worlds of all the women, mothers, migrants, women of colour, that we carry with us across generations.
To me, this book is where sorrow and celebration intersect, where the personal is always political. And ultimately, it’s about the spaces in between this, the nuances in the universal experience of love and loss, hurt and healing that we can all relate to as human beings.
Q: You were also a part of Amnesty International Australia, fighting for human rights. Does your experience within this organisation have an impact on what you want to say in your creative work?
Writing does not happen in vacuum. As a writer from a marginalised background, who happens to work with other marginalised communities, my writing is inextricably linked to these experiences. My writing is certainly personal, and therefore inevitably political. The personal is always political... this almost seems imposed – we do not have the luxury of choice in that matter.
Having said that, story-telling is also a way to own my narrative and heal and build resilience. No one can tell my truth but me.
Q: You have also performed your poetry overseas in places like New Zealand and New York. How do you feel your powerfully emotive and political poems are relatable and also important for diverse audiences to hear?
As an Arab, Muslim, female poet, writing has become an emotional cartography of sorts for me... it is about expressing myself, and preserving memories, but also, disrupting the status quo.
Art is a significant tool to decolonise our minds... to ‘un-know’ what you already know and is deeply embedded in you – whether through upbringing, education, culture, community – and to then allow us, as marginalised voices of society, to deconstruct ourselves as that silenced/erased/fetishised “other” we are so accustomed to being.
Q: How did you create the Dubai Poetry Slam, and what do you love about it?
I see poetry as a powerful form of self-expression, a medium for cultural, social and political reflection and awareness-raising, and most of all, an essential way to collect memories and heritage in the diaspora... And Dubai of course, is the epitome of intersecting, overlapping and often contradicting identities... with so much talent to showcase!
I wanted to help carve a space to document, interrogate and celebrate both local and international storytellers and their experiences, and construct a safe space that proactively celebrated this diversity and allowed us artists to bypass any existing barriers to speaking about topics like family, love, gender equality, war and racism within these communities.
Q: If you had to describe your poetry in one word, what would that be?
Q: Lastly, what book are you currently reading?
The Hate Race – Maxine Beneba Clarke
Watch Sara Saleh perform a poem from her book, Wasting the Milk in the Summer below:
Written by SCWC
Posted on May 23, 2017