A highlight was in discovering a poem in Patuá, the critically endangered patois spoken by people on the island of Macau, near to Hong Kong. I had read on the language database Ethnologue that the language was ‘nearly extinct’. A helpful and knowledgeable academic, who was also a prolific and thorough anthologist of Macanese writers living in Macau, told me that he’d heard carol services sung in Patuá, but had never come across any new poetry that had been created in the language. Another academic, John Corbett, who had hosted my visit to Macau a few years before, had also drawn a blank, but suggested I try Miguel S. Fernandes, a lawyer and local theatre director. A few days later Fernandes’s response left me stunned:
‘Hi Chris to my knowledge I’m afraid I’m the only one writing poems in Patuá these days, and I hope I’m wrong. How can I help?’
The book includes several last poets who are also amongst the last speakers of their language and makes a statement about the role poetry plays in activating creativity, engagement and awareness of languages. Not all of the languages in the book are listed by UNESCO as endangered but are included because they represent politicised language, the danger of writing in a sidelined language. Sometimes it is poetry itself that is the politicised language, as with the Afghan women who risk great danger in writing landays in Pashto. The launch of the book took place as past of Southbank Centre's Poetry International festival on 19th October 2019. The performers were Shehzar Doja, James Byrne, Stephen Watts, Nineb Lamassu, Valzhyna Mort, Hawad, Vaughan Rapatahan and Laura Tohe (all pictured below, backstage before the event).
I have had the opportunity to talk about to talk about the book on BBC Radio London, Radio 4's Front Row (with Laura Tohe, Navajo Nation Poet Laureate) and on The Guardian podcast with Vaughan Rapatahana and Valzhyna Mort.
Poems from the Edge of Extinction is available from Chambers publishing here.
The Endangered Poetry Project remains open to submissions here.