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Yassmin Abdel-Magied reflects on what poetry means to her and her role as Poetry Ambassador for Poetry Month 2021.

What does Poetry mean to me?

My first proper introduction to poetry was on the stage, rather than on the page. Like many others, I had read poetry at school, but it wasn’t until I saw poetry being spoken out loud, performed and embodied by people (like me) that I began to truly understand its power. It was the late 2000s/early 2010s, a time when Slam Poetry was finding its way into my life through pixelated YouTube videos and issues I cared about. Being a young, migrant hijabi Muslim woman with an opinion wasn’t really the done thing in Brisbane - but through slam, it was. In the world of spoken word, women like me were taking up space, feet spread on stage with their broad Australian drawls switching between ocker and arabic, فصحى and fuck you, giving voice to the anger and frustration we felt at the inferno of the post 9/11 world we were baptised in, without our consent. Poetry gave us protection, permission, a moment of peace.

Yet, it remains mysterious. Sometimes I wonder if that in itself is poetry embodied: requiring you to engage in it to understand it, earn its trust before it reveals all its secrets. Whether it is a call to action or a lament, a parable or confession, poetry for me represents the essence of literature, a distilled version of a truth that can echo through generations. It is a profound honour to be a Poetry Ambassador, and I look forward to poetry revealing more of its secrets to me this month, and for many months to come, inshallah.