I’d never heard of Anis Mojgani before, yet when I was looking through the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival programme the title of his session grabbed me: Fiercely Hopeful. It reminded me of one of my favourite quotes:
And I said to myself: That’s true, hope needs to be like barbed wire to keep out despair, hope must be a minefield. (Yehuda Amichai)
It’s a quote that’s been banging about in the back of my mind since the earthquake. In post-quake Christchurch, hope has to be fierce.
Anis is a two-time US National Poetry Slam Champion and winner of the International World Cup Poetry Slam. Promising, I thought, so I looked up one of Anis’s poems and read it through. It was one of his most acclaimed poems, Shake the Dust, and started with the line – this is for the fat girls. I was hooked. It’s a powerful, passionate poem written down; hearing it out loud was incredible.
This is for the two-year-olds who cannot be understood because they speak half-English and half-god. Shake the dust.
Anis had plenty of fans in the audience; fans whose excitement spilled over, fans who’d flown in from Auckland to see him, fans of all ages and genders. There were new fans who had first heard him read earlier in the festival and wanted more, old fans who had watched his poetry on YouTube over and over and wanted more. He performed Here I Am, This is how she makes me feel, Razi’s Lemon Tree, Galumph, My library has seventeen books, Shake the Dust and at the request of the audience, Come Closer.
He talked about Christchurch and the links between us and his home of New Orleans. Right now, from August 23rd to September 3rd, is the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina; Anis empathises with what Christchurch is going through in our own journey of survival and recovery. He mentioned a similar serendipitous note: his birthday is the 22nd of February, a date carved in the history of our city. He spoke of the dark times that as humans we all go through, and how it always feels like we are the only ones to have ever felt this pain, how unlikely it seems that anyone else is suffering in the same way as we are suffering. He spoke of coming out the other end of the darkest times.
I am like you.
I too at times am filled with fear.
But like a hallway we must find the strength to walk through it.
Walk through this with me.
Walk through this with me.
(From ‘Come Closer’)
Anis loves words and it shows in his art. He is approachable, warm, magnetic, and at the signing table he asks your name like he genuinely wants to know you. He’s definitely an artist, and has a real skill for connecting with people. The book table completely sold out of his books.
After the session, still buzzing from the contagious passion of the audience and the vividness and generosity of his presence, I walked back through the city to the bus exchange and thought: this is a strange and difficult city we live in, but I am fiercely hopeful about our future here.
And questions are the only answers we need to know that we are alive as I am when I have the mind of a child
Asking, why is two plus three always equal to five?
Where do people go to when they die?
What made the beauty of the moon?
And the beauty of the sea?
Did that beauty make you?
Did that beauty make me?
Will that make me something?
Will I be something?
Am I something?
And the answer comes: already am, always was, and I still have time to be.
(From ‘Here I Am’)
If you’re interested in spoken-word or slam poetry check out:
- Our Canterbury Poetry-Slam page.
- Poetry for teens on the Pulse.
- Resources for Slam Poetry in our catalogue.
- Poetry related resources and organisations on our Poetry page.
- Read more WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival posts
- Our page on WORD Christchurch