World Poetry Day 2019: Poetry in Many Languages

On March 19, 2019, Poet Laureate Di Brandt and the Winnipeg Arts Council hosted the second Poetry in Many Languages at McNally Robinson Booksellers. The community-focused event featured seventeen Winnipeg citizens reading their favourite poem in the language of their heritage.

The evening began with greetings from First Nations, and an original story in Cree, Nikáwi Êkwa Wacas, or Mom and the Muskrat given by Mary Margaret Osborne, First Nations Elder In Residence at the University of Winnipeg. A performance by the Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Concert Choir and remarks from Di followed, and then theer were poetry readings in English, French, Ojibwe, Cree, Ukrainian, Mandarin, Icelandic, Filipino, Spanish, German, ASL, Swahili, Nigerian and others.

Presenters ranged in age from 7 to 80 years old, from many walks of life.  They recited, read and sung heritage poems in 15 different languages, from around the world.


World Poetry Day was initiated by UNESCO in 1999 to celebrate heritage languages and poetries around the planet, at the time of the Spring Equinox.  It's a privilege to participate in this unique global event, which also gives us a chance to celebrate together the rich multicultural diversity and poetic riches flourishing among us right here in Winnipeg—our own local mid-continental gathering of united nations!

Canada has another unique connection with World Poetry Day:  when UNESCO launched the project at the turn of the millennium, a search was made around the world for a poem that might represent an inspiring global perspective, to be published from northern and southern glaciers and the tops of mountains and remote villages and the hearts of cosmopolitan cities, as a beacon and guiding light for the future of the planet, at this historic forward-looking moment. 

The poem chosen for this momentous occasion was Planet Earth, by renowned Canadian poet P.K. Page. City Councillor Sherri Rollins brought greetings from City Council and then read Page's poem.

We heard long poems, short poems, serious poems, funny poems, tender lyrical poems, awesome teaching poems, love poems, nature poems, adventure poems, fantasy poems.  That's the thing about poetry, it's capable of such a wide range of expressions, emotions, thoughts, inflections.  Something for everyone!

Languages featured in the program included English, French, Cree, Swahili, Kráo, Ukrainian, Afrikaans, Tamil, Japanese, Polish, American Sign Language (ASL), Russian, Yoruba, Arabic and German.  Featured renowned world poets included Taras Shevchenko, Thiruvalluvar, Kenji Miyazawa, Lourens Taljart, Wislawa Szymborksa, Mikha'il Na'ima, Joseph Folahan Odunjo, Mikhail Lermontov, Jacques Prévert and Emmanual Geibel.  

Thank you so much to our evening's poetry readers and presenters:  Juliia and Sofiia Melnyk, Vishal Balakrishnana, Thanmathis Kumar, Keerthi Ramakrishnan, Nirav Selvam, Mayuri Swathisaravanan, Natarajan Thiagarajan, Junko Bailey, Lesley Falk, Muhamed Nya, Joanna Hawkins, Omosalwa Ilajumoke Adebooye, Elena Spitcyna, Alan Nobili and Dolores Lohrenz, and the wonderful Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Choir directed by Cynthia Wahl. Special Thanks to Tessa Rogowski for English ASL Interpretation.

So that makes 29 languages we've featured over two years, presented by diverse Winnipeggers, at World Poetry Day:  Poetry in Many Languages.Did you know there are more than 200 languages spoken in Winnipeg at present (with Tagalog as the second most frequently spoken, next to English).  At 15 languages per year, that means we need more than a dozen more years to feature all of our city's languages, even once!  Let's plan to do that!


  -  Di Brandt, Winnipeg's Poet Laureate (2018-2019) 


All Photos by Matt Duboff