You will find thirty different languages represented in the collection. These include : Mandarin, Japanese, Tamil, French, German, Italian, Russian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Estonian, Ewe, Igbo, Tigrinya, Somali, Afrikaans and /Xam.
The last six named are languages spoken in Africa south of the Sahara, either presently or in the past.
But this time there is also some variation on the collection’s main theme of creating free and open speech between language and language.
For instance, the new collection includes a poem called “These are the Hands” by Michael Rosen, the UK Children’s Poet Laureate between 2007 and 2009. He was commissioned to write the poem in celebration of the recent 60th birthday of the UK National Health Service.
Michael agreed that we could add the poem to our collection and offer it to everyone visiting our site. And then he agreed that I could get it translated into various languages as well. The point is obvious. People sit quietly together in NHS waiting rooms, sharing their common human precariousness and mortality, who back in their own places of origin might be trying to kill each other.
So in the new collection there are four versions of the poem, besides Michael’s English original – in Punjabi, Turkish, Greek and Somali. And soon I hope to add other languages too – such as Arabic and Hebrew.
A few days ago Michael saw the poems for the first time. Here is his response : “This is amazing and wonderful. Many, many thanks. All power to your elbow … It shows that we can talk to each other just as we try to care for each other. I think the project needs all the help it can find.”
But there are other variations, hinging on the meaning of the word “frontier.” Frontiers are not just geographical, lingual, cultural. There are other bars besides those of language.
There is a frontier in me between life and death. I am afraid to cross that frontier.
There is a frontier in all of us – I suggest – between mental well-being and mental ill-being. We are almost as afraid to cross that frontier as the one that divides life and death, and our fear affects our behaviour, the closer to the frontier we find ourselves.
So in this new collection there are pairs of poems in English which seek to speak clearly across this other kind of frontier, in the cause of better human connection.
– A pair of poems by someone who was dying of an aggressive terminal cancer, and kept recording it all in verse, almost to the last minute, and humorous to the last.
– A pair of poems by someone also recently dead, who was seriously physically disabled himself and was campaigning to the last and with high effectiveness for disability rights.
– A pair of poems about someone with Downs Syndrome (my sister).
– A pair of poems by children.
– And a pair of poems by people familiar with in-patient psychiatric units, having often been patients themselves.
Each one of these pairs could become a whole collection in its own right, if we can get the funding …
For poetry can be both powerful and intimate and therefore can play a part in strengthening community, binding people in. It can speak to people beneath the skin, it can penetrate armour, it can speak straight to you, where your average advertising copy or political speech merely works on or round you, diminishing you.
In three months time, we shall combine the sixty new “One-World” poems with the earlier forty-five, making a total of one hundred and five (or thereabouts) poems for one world.
Thank you again, Stephen Watts, for the guidance, counsel and friendship you give, without which this collection could not have happened, just as the previous collection of forty five could not have happened. Access to your dragon’s hoard of poetry books from all over the world is like entering an unutterably powerful electric field. I come out of there with all my hair on end.