On the 13th of July PEN Sydney hosted “Tales of the Wind,” an evening of Uyghur poetry, food and dance to help raise money for The World Uyghur Writers’ Union.
“To write in an indigenous language today is far more than a political statement: it is a heroic act of survival,” writes Victor Terán, one of the most highly regarded poets writing in Isthmus Zapotee, a disappearing Mexican language. PEN’s “Tales of the Wind” night was a celebration of the Uyghur culture and a call to champion those fighting to keep it alive.
The PEN Empty Chair for the evening was Chemengul Awut. Awut was a poet and editor for the Kashgar Publishing House before she was arrested in July 2018 and sent to a ‘re-education camp.’ One of Awut’s poems Flower, was read in her absence by Laila Kaleido.
The evening was opened by a young boy from a local primary school reading a poem in both Uyghur and English.
The eminent Ahmadjan Osman was streamed from Canada and interviewed on the night, which was such an honour, as he is renowned as the ‘father of modern Uyghur poetry.’ Osman also published Uyghurland, the Farthest Exile in 2014, which is the first anthology of Uyghur poetry to be translated into English. Osman, who had not written poetry in 15 years, presented four new beautiful poems again in both languages. These poems included powerful imagery of birds taking flight and the celestial world which he grew up contemplating in Urumchi, where he was born.
Osman was followed by an interview with Joshua Freeman, a historian of modern China and Inner Asia and a translator of Uyghur Poetry, who was streamed from Taiwan.
Zohra Imin, now a Sydneysider, recited her latest poem, Your Presence Brings Me Ease, which used the metaphor of a blade of grass and evoked themes of nature and resilience. Zohra graduated in 1984 from the Central National University in China, majoring in modern Uyghur literature.
Merdan Eheteli, another Uyghur in exile, was streamed from Paris and read his poem, Common Night. Ehet’éli, born in Khotan, one of the major southern cities of the Uyghur region in East Turkestan, studied the famous Sufi central Asian poet Mīr ʿAlī Shīr Nawā’ī and joined the Nothingism movement founded by Ahmadjan Osman. Eheteli initiated a literary journal that intertwined reflections on being and nothingness, with poetic and literary musings and went to Cyprus in 2016 to pursue his studies, however was never allowed to return home. He now lives in exile in Paris, after two years languishing in Serbia. He’s a Member of the European Uyghur Institute. He now teaches creative writing and theatre studies at the Uyghur school of Paris.
Fatimah Seyyah read her new poem, Negation. She calls herself a traveller, from one edge of the world to another. She was born and raised in Kashgar, East Turkestan in 1980. Fatimah writes in Uyghur, Chinese and English. Her poems speak of and for the unspoken words of the universe. Fatimah studied geoscience in China, North America, Europe and at present is living and studying in Sydney.
Dilnigar Alim, who had been a dancer in east Turkestan, performed two beautiful pieces. She was dressed in a deep purple traditional outfit and headdress.
The attendees of “Tales of the Wind” enjoyed a four-course traditional Uyghur banquet. A night of dinner, dancing and phenomenal poetry, “Tales of the Wind” showcased the historic Uyghur culture that must continue to be celebrated.