Birmingham Lit Fest Presents….

This week's episode brings Liz Berry, Romalyn Ante and Rupinder Kaur together, three powerhouse poets from the Midlands.
Featuring a series of wonderful readings of the poems from their collections Rooh and Antiemetic for Homesickness, Rupinder and Romalyn join Liz for a discussion of their work, the importance of poetry during a pandemic and the power of poetry to connect us.

Show Notes

This week's episode brings Liz Berry, Romalyn Ante and Rupinder Kaur together, three powerhouse poets from the Midlands.
Featuring a series of wonderful readings of the poems from their collections Rooh and Antiemetic for Homesickness, Rupinder and Romalyn join Liz for a discussion of their work, the importance of poetry during a pandemic and the power of poetry to connect us.

The Birmingham Lit Fest Presents... podcast brings writers and readers together to discuss some of 2020’s best books. Each Thursday across the next few months we’ll be releasing new episodes of the podcast, including wonderful discussions
about writing, poetry, big ideas and social issues. Join us each week for exciting and inspiring conversations with new, and familiar, writers from the Midlands and beyond.

Take a look at the rest of this year's digital programme on our website:
For more information on Writing West Midlands, visit

Follow the festival on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @BhamLitFest


Curator: Shantel Edwards (Festival director)
Guest Curator: Kit de Waal
Production: 11C/ Birmingham Podcast Studios for Writing West Midlands


Kit de Waal 

I’m Kit de Waal, writer and Guest Curator of this year’s Birmingham Lit Fest Presents…podcast. Today’s  episode brings Liz Berry, Romalyn Ante and Rupinder Kaur together, three powerhouse poets from the  Midlands. Featuring a series of wonderful readings of the poems from their collections Rooh and Antiemetic  for Homesickness, Rupinder and Romalyn join Liz for a discussion of their work, the importance of poetry  during a pandemic and the power of poetry to connect us.  

Sponsor message 

This episode of the Birmingham Lit Fest Presents… podcast is brought to you in partnership with the  University of Wolverhampton. Visit their website at for information on January 2021  enrolment. 

Liz Berry 

Hello, everyone, and thank you so much for joining us across the miles for this very special Birmingham  Literature Festival podcast. I'm Liz Berry, a poet and patron of writing West Midlands and I'm delighted to be  introducing you to two of the brightest rising stars on the poetry scene: Rupinder Kaur and Romalyn Ante.  These two wonderful Midlands poets bring us what's best and most exciting about contemporary poetry – true heart and deep feeling; a meeting of gorgeous, lyrical languages; and an engagement with the stories  and experiences which transform us. I'm going to introduce both the poets to you and then we'll hear their  poems and chat about their work and the importance of poetry in difficult times.  

My first guest, Romalyn Ante, is a nurse, award-winning poet and editor. She was born in San Sebastian in  the Philippines, where she lived until she migrated to the UK at 16. Romalyn's poems have won many  awards, including the prestigious Poetry London Prize and the Manchester Poetry Prize. Romalyn was the  co-founding editor of Harana Poetry journal, a journal for poets who write with English as a second or  parallel language. This summer Romalyn published her first full collection with Chatto [an imprint of  Penguin], Antiemetic for Homesickness, and it's already received rave reviews and acclaim, being named an  Observer Poetry book of the month.  

My second guest is the wonderful Rupinder Kaur. Rupinder is a Birmingham Punjabi poet, performer,  workshop facilitator and creative curator. Her debut poetry book, Rooh (2018) was published by Verve  Poetry Press. She's been awarded a DYCP grant from the Arts Council to work on a next poetry collection.  And is currently a BBC New Creative developing an audio piece with Rural Media. 

Rupinder and Romalyn, welcome! Thank you both for joining me. I wish we could all be together having a cup of tea and chatting about your poems in front of an audience. But as this has been a really different  kind of year, we're just going to imagine instead. We're going to pour our virtual tea, get comfy on our virtual sofa. And Romalyn. I'd love you to start us off by reading a poem, please. 

Romalyn Ante 

Thank you. Thanks so much, Liz, and thank you for that wonderful introduction. The first poem that I'm  going to read is called Names. And it has an epigraph which I will read before I read the poem. 

In the Philippines I grew up with an absentee mother. So my mother worked abroad as a nurse in order to  provide a better chance in life for us. But that experience was not unique to me. So in 2018 nine million  children in the Philippines were left behind by their parents. And I guess this first poem attempts to explore  what it means to be exiled through employment, not only through physically but also emotionally, and what  it means to find a sense of belonging and a sense of knowing in the names that are given to us.  


‘We are nameless, and all names are ours’ 


My mother’s name is Rosana, but when she left, 

I had other mothers. Rowena, Jimboy, Alma. 

I was named after 

the first syllables of my parents; 

I will always have them with me. 

My mother says not all names have meaning – 

Riverside. Manila. London. Kurba. 

And someday I will forget 

all the commands I did not heed – 

like the time I did not spin the plate clockwise 

before my father left for work 

even if it would deliver him from accidents.

Not all destinations are found 

in the junctions of your palm lines. 

Say better life, say better life. 

And God knows I am repenting. 

Say airbus-something, say one-way ticket, keep following the sunset. Clouds are the closest things to my mother. 

Say United Kingdom, say the queen, NHS. Does winter always mean – ? 

Listen – can you hear it? The loneliness of stretchers along A&E corridors. 

And the strongest part of me 

is the scar I hide underneath my fringe. 

My mother 

hides in the staff toilet 

to make long-distance calls 

Someday I will realise 

the woman lonely in her mansion 

is not my mother  

but a future version of myself. 

I will chop bitter gourds 

on the galaxy-glimmer 

of her worktop. 

Shall we shorten your name on your name tag so it’s easier to remember? Say Yes please, Sister. 

Say Please, Sister, can I take this call?

Say Arnold, Marcus, Harold. Say septicaemia, alcohol poisoning, hernia. 

Say Jason, Darius, Vernon. Say cancer, myocardial infarction, query schizophrenia.  

Hides in the toilet. 

And I have the first syllables 

of my parents' names, 

that is why I am not scared. 

A boy sticks out his tongue 

and says I do not have a mother. 

I punch him in the face. The sanctity of blood. I am not scared.  

Because my mother has followed the sunset, because she has burnt her lips on mash and gravy in a three-minute lunch break. 

Because she calls me Anak – my child, my baby. She asks, What do you want for Christmas? for your birthday? 

1990 remains stuck on the other line. 

Say Please, Sister, can I take this call? 

My breasts blossom,  

she can call me only by my name. 

I have the first syllables of my parents' names, that is why I am not scared. 

I can trek the mountain of Makulot,

my father's rifle hanging from my back. 

I can carry myself 

not how someone carries 

a cytotoxic drug 

but how my mother hooks 

with her finger, a drain bottle 

with blood clots the weight  

of gemstones. 

Liz Berry 

Thank you for that beautiful reading, Romalyn. In Kate Kellaway's Guardian review of your wonderful book,  Antiemetic for Homesickness, she speaks of how a poem can be a bridge and describes you as the skilled  bridge builder. And I noticed in the notes for your book, you tell us that in your home culture in the  Philippines a bridge represents both connection and separation. And I wonder – is that how you see your  poems?  

Romalyn Ante 

Thank you, Liz. That's a very wonderful question. I think yes, to some extent poetry is a bridge. It is a bridge  that connects distant places, distant people when two people are too far away from each other. And I mean  it literally and figuratively and body language is restricted. I think words are all we have. So the poems in  Antiemetic for Homesickness is[sic] quite tricky because the speaker always remains on the bridge. The  speaker is never really here nor there. And I tried to show that fractured self throughout the book.  

But to me, poems are more powerful than bridges. In certain folk beliefs, words are used to ward off bad  spirits, or to bring down towering trees, to eradicate life. Language is used to heal, to preserve life. So, for  example, in one of the poems in the collection, ‘Respecting the Nuno’, the speaker is warned by her  grandfather that if she twists a bud of a twig without the Nuno's consent, her feet will bulge like an  elephant's. The Nuno is a folk tale mythical creature that could be good and could also be malevolent.  

And I believe that's how powerful and sacred words are. Poetry to me personally is like incantations or  invisible intravenous lines, delivering medicine that could either heal or harm you. And I think that's what it  is for me. 

Liz Berry
Thank you. Rupinder, thinking of your poems in Rooh, I wonder if that idea of the poem as a bridge  between self and others, languages, cultures, generations – is that an idea that feels meaningful for you? 

Rupinder Kaur 

I so loved what Romalyn was saying, how language is more powerful and how words are powerful as well. I  really love that idea. And I think my poems are bridges or the in-between-ness, I would say, between myself  and others – bringing the influences of languages spoken in my home, such as Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu,  followed by the rich Punjabi culture. And in Rooh, the poems often do call out to poets of the past, followed  by interactions of bringing the past into the present. 

Liz Berry 

Rupinder, I wonder, would you treat us to a poem please? 

Rupinder Kaur 

Yeah, sure. So this poem actually follows on what we were just saying, which brings the past kind of into the  present. And it came about when I was listening to a Punjabi song actually from the 70s or 80s, ek meri akh  kashni which is written by Shiv Kumar Batalvi, a poet who I adore and … While writing I began thinking  about how again the past comes into the present looking at the women in my family, my mom, my Nani Ji,  my mom's mother and my Daadi Ji, my dad's mother. So this is a poem. 

Putting my salwar on 

I play Surinder Kaur's 

ek meri akh kashni 

written by my favourite poet 

Shiv Kumar Batalvi  

that carries too much language 

that can't be translated. 

As I put my kameez on 

it lines my body's curves 

coming down with Lahore and Amritsar 

a bit like my mother's salwar kameez 

from an old photo 

where she stands in-between 

as she is the middle child  

that has the worry of all.

The photo brings old Delhi where poetry lingers 

and Sanskrit-Latin origin washes away – 

no foeticide or qurbanis. 

I remember my Nani Ji holding me, 

calling me a ray of light – Kiran. 

I see my Daadi Ji looking at me 

through the mirror smiling – 

she lost her husband so young 

yet she remained so strong 

and raised two sons by herself 

working day and night. 

And as I place my dupatta by my side 

I feel my ancestors next to me 

travelling through two worlds  

of life and death 

coming at the platform of reality. 

And I stand between two parallel lines 

bringing a fusion of language 

from every mohalla, area 

that they set foot on 

from Lahore-Delhi-Amritsar 

And finally Birmingham. 

Yes, sometimes I write for myself 

but mostly I write for my mother. 

I write for my ancestors 

that spill ink in every poem. 

Liz Berry 

Beautiful, thank you. Wow, what a way to start with those two gorgeous readings. And that wonderful  reading, Rupinder, leads me on to something I love about both of your books. And it's the way that you  both, as poets, move between your languages in this wonderfully fluid and irrepressible way. Romalyn:  

vibrant Tagalog bursts out in many of your poems, and Rupinder, talking about Rooh you said – Rooh was  the Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Arabic and Farsi word that means soul: it's free, there's no border, just like my  writing. How wonderful! 

And so I wanted to ask you both, and I'll ask you first, Rupinder. Do you make a conscious choice to include  your multiple languages in your poems? Or is that something which just comes intuitively to you as you  write? 

Rupinder Kaur 

I think for me I would say it just comes naturally, I mean. I do have poems where I don't have words from  Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and it's just purely English, but it kind of comes naturally or subconsciously, you could  say. Sometimes I don't necessarily know what the exact word is in English so I just use the language that it is  originally in. And I think it's 'cos as I've grown up I've also always mixed kind of having Punjabi, Hindi and  English. And actually, when I was younger my parents would say to me, 'Just speak English because you mix  everything together and sometimes it doesn't even make sense'. So I think that's what kind of comes into  my poems as well.  

So this is just a few lines [extract from the poem For the Origin]: 

when the tiger begins to fly 

when the bulbul wears a blue kameez 

sits on the rooftop of Noor Mahaal 

and sees hundred women 

all with the same orange-mustard kameez 

and purple salwars but have no shoes 

disappear into the clouds 

with two lovers on the grass. 

So, like here are a few certain words which just makes sense being in the original language. 

Liz Berry 

Beautiful, thank you. Romalyn, can I ask the same question to you? Do you make a conscious choice to  include both your languages? Is it something that comes intuitively to you? Is it a political choice for you? 

Romalyn Ante 

I think I feel very similar to Rupinder. When I write generally Tagalog comes intuitively. And I think that's  because I'm a Tagalog native speaker. So I arrived in English as my second language. And there are also  some descriptions that I think only Tagalog can give justice to. And as I edit my poems even I get to, I get to feel the sound; how a line or a phrase sounds, or how a certain syntax feel[sic] like. And I feel that in some  lines and in some syntaxes[sic] Tagalog should be there because that's the, that's the truest to the poem.  

However, when I was working on Antiemetic for Homesickness since 2017 I made a conscious choice that I  want to include Tagalog poems – sorry, Tagalog words in them. And I think it's because I knew that I was  writing from a perspective of a migrant – migrant nurse, migrant child, migrant woman – and not to include  Tagalog words in my poems would be, would be a fakery somehow. So I have to, I feel that I have to be as truthful to the speakers of my poems as I am truthful to my work as a whole. 

Liz Berry 

What a wonderful answer. I love that idea of, of being true to the poem and true to the speakers of the  poems. And that's something we'll come back to in a little while. But first, I wanted to ask you a bit about  the influence of oral culture upon your work. Romalyn you've spoken before about how important oral  culture was to you growing up: your grandfather and the stories and songs you'd hear as a child in the  Philippines. And I'm curious, is that how poems started for you? Were you reading poems when you were  growing up in books, or did the music of words and poetry come to you through the ear first? 

Romalyn Ante 

Growing up I didn't really read any poetry books. I came from a family who couldn't really afford any literary  works. Our socio-economic background in the Philippines was quite, quite poor. So I didn't have that, I  didn't have that history in me. But what I had was my parents' and my grandparents' folk tale narratives.  What I had was a community of people singing together, playing their guitars at night. And what I had was  my mum's stories of her life abroad.  

And in my poems, particularly in Antiemetic for Homesickness, I wanted to create speakers that aren't only  important to me, but speakers who can also be important to the world. And I remember when I was writing  this, I remember Li-Young Lee who's one of my favourite, favourite poets, he said that poetry is like a score  for the human voice. So I'm trying to recreate or create that sense of human voice in my poems, and in  Antiemetic for Homesickness there are notes inside the balikbayan box; there are tape recordings from a  left-behind child or mother; there are indigenous poetic forms from the Philippines, like the uyaya or the  tagai. And it's important for me, it's important to know not only to whom, or for whom those voices are  speaking, but also where they are speaking from.  

And I guess in a way, my answer to your question is that poetry finds me because there is a voice that wants  to speak from a certain place, from a certain position, whether that position is from a migrant position from 

a position of a left-behind child, from a position of a mother who left her children to work abroad. And I  think I'm quite fortunate that I'm quite attuned to that voice, so I can write for that voice. That's the fun  part. But then, of course, the more technical stuff follows after, you know: the polishing and editing and  choosing the right words, or is this poetic form, the actual perfect form for this? 

Liz Berry 

Do poems begin for you, even now do they begin with, like, a phrase in your head or a voice in your head  that you feel then you're sort of transcribing down and turning into a page poem? 

Romalyn Ante 

Yes, definitely. It begins with a voice in my head. It begins as if there's a voice from a speaker that is quite  important to the world. And I feel that and that, that's not necessarily my voice, that could be the voice of  the speaker of the poem. And I feel that that voice has to speak otherwise the world would be quite sad, in  a way. So I guess my poems are quite narrative in a way because they begin with a voice that wants to say  something And then later on, that's when the technical stuff follow[sic]. 

Liz Berry 

And how about you, Rupinder? How did poetry first find you? Were there poets or singers or storytellers  that inspired you to start writing? 

Rupinder Kaur  

I'd say I've always been around poetry but I never knew it was really poetry because music kind of had a  really big influence on my work, especially Sufi music and ghazals, which are actually poems but sung. And I  think that's what really influenced me. My mom would always play these ghazals whenever she'd be  cooking. And I used to love just sitting in the kitchen shelf and just watching my mom cook, and she would  just sing along to the songs. And then sometimes she would even recite some of her favourite poems. But I  never really realised how, how it wasn't influenced to me till, I think, recently. And I would say it's the music  definitely, 

Liz Berry 

I love that image of you being a little girl or a teenager sitting in the kitchen watching your mom cook and  hearing these poems and songs. That's such a beautiful image. And when you're writing now, does a poem  start off as like a phrase or a line in your head first and then you build it from there? 

Rupinder Kaur
I would think so, yeah. I agree with what Romalyn said, as well. I think it's something in my head; it's a voice  or sometimes it could be from a song that just triggers me to write something. Like I really, really like some  of the folk tales, the Punjabi folk tales. And recently, I've been looking at them in a lot of depth and just  wanting to explore the different narratives between them. And it's always, I would say, a voice as well. 

Liz Berry 

It seems to me that in the past few years poetry's had a real flowering, a real opening up in all sorts of  different ways. And it feels like a great time to be a new poet with so many exciting new voices coming  through. A really great time to be a reader.  

Now, Rupinder, in interviews you've spoken so powerfully and eloquently about how important you feel it is  to explore and represent your culture and community in your work, not so much as in your poems, but your  performances and your collaborations. And I loved your line, 'If you can't find the representation become  the representation'. That's so inspiring. Would you tell me a little bit about that? 

Rupinder Kaur 

I mean, I personally feel instead of waiting for change, it's important to make the change you want through  your work. And also now I feel there's so many young people that are thinking about creative careers,  something which I feel was still difficult for my generation. But now, you know, there's so many amazing  poets and so many in the field of arts, which makes many youngsters more hopeful. And I think it's, it's just  about seeing one person like you, like I remember when I was in high school, I think I was in Year Eight, and  Bali Rai came into our school and he writes teen fictions. And he's written books which have central Punjabi  characters, which are about Punjabi youth in high school and all their drama cases, their problems with  their boyfriends and girlfriends. And I hadn't really seen anything like this before; it was very contemporary  and especially the fact his central characters had Punjabi names. And I remember just reading all the books  that I could find of him in the school library. And I think I've still got a copy of his Rani and Sukh [2004], I  think. So I feel like you never know what will help and spark a young person to think that they can do this as  well. 

Liz Berry 

That's a lovely example. And I think it's so true that you never know who's out there just needing to see  somebody like them reading poems and writing poems and performing, perhaps using the languages they  use at home with their family.  

I wonder, Rupinder, would you read us short poem?

Rupinder Kaur 

Yeah, sure. So this poem is called ‘Jugni’, which is a word used in a lot of Punjabi folk songs actually, to  describe... It's used as a metaphor I would say to kind of travel but also as a travelling firefly. I mean, the  literal meaning is 'firefly' but there's various metaphors for it. So this is how I've kind of interpreted jugni for  me. And it's from Rooh. 


o mereya jugni, jugni 

o mereya jugni, jugni 

jugni travels from Delhi to Amritsar 

across to England 

jugni; the essence of life, the spirit of life 

comes inside my rooh 

jugni comes and dances in my dreams 

jugni makes me fly 

jugni takes me across borders 

taking me to Lahore 

jugni removes the Radcliffe line 

and I see my five rivers flowing together 

jugni sees me read and write poetry 

jugni tells me to light the candle 

jugni watches me apply kohl 

jugni watches me paint my lips 

jugni looks at me and smiles 

jugni tells me to fall in love with myself

jugni is no kafir or fakir 

jugni is azaad, jugni is azaad 

and jugni makes me free 

jugni sets my rooh free 

the jugni becomes me… 

and the jugni becomes me… 

Liz Berry 

Wonderful! Thank you, Rupinder. Oh, I could listen to you for hours.  

Romalyn, just thinking back to what I was just chatting about with Rupinder. I wonder if that's something  that resonates for you too, this idea of representing or exploring the stories of your community? And  thinking about the poems in Antiemetic which explore and celebrate the stories of migrant workers,  especially nurses like you and your mom, those – you call them 'the invisible women', 'the goddesses of  caring and tending'. And they're, they're characters, they're individuals whose experiences we seldom find  in poetry. Was it important to to explore that world and those stories? 

Romalyn Ante 

I could definitely relate to what Rupinder was saying about how important it was to, to find someone,  whether it's in poetry or in novels or other stories, someone who looks like you, talks like you, someone  who is similar to you. And my experiences are quite difficult in a way that I am not only a nurse, I came from  a generation of migrants. So technically, I'm 1.25 [one point two five] generation migrant. I grew up in the  Philippines. My formative years were spent in the Philippines, and I came here in the UK to reset the life  that I had. And for me, that's, that's quite difficult.  

In the UK there are 40,000 Filipino nurses. In the US there are around 150,000. But little is known about  Filipinos. And I'm, I'm not speaking from my nursing perspective, or I'm not only speaking from a nursing  perspective, but from the perspective of a Filipino. I feel that nurses have always been in battlegrounds yet  they are always in the background. This year, there are concerns about a disproportionate number of  deaths amongst Filipino healthcare workers in the UK.  

In America Filipino nurses have always helped during crisis. So, for example, in 2012 a Filipino nurse 

help[sic] transport infants when New York had a power cut from Hurricane Sandy. And she devised this plan  to carry 20 babies down eight flights of stairs with only cell phones to light the way whilst her home was  flooding. So there are quite a lot of stories from the Filipino backgrounds, from the Filipino culture. Filipino  nurses, migrant labourers, people from the working-class backgrounds, and I find that very little is known  about them, very little is written about them. And for me, when I was writing Antiemetic for Homesickness I  wanted to shed light, not only on the career, but also on the culture that I love so much, that I am very  proud of – maybe not as a voice that necessarily represent[sic] them, but as a voice that, that is amongst  them. 

Liz Berry 

Romalyn, I'd love to ask you, sort of, what's been the reaction of the Filipino community say, just in the  Midlands or in the UK, to your poems? Have you, have people written to you? Have you heard from  listeners and readers? 

Romalyn Ante 

I am very thankful. And I'm very lucky because I feel that my book has been welcomed and accepted by the  Filipino community. And that's very important to me. Like I said, when I was writing the book I didn't  necessarily try to represent them. But the comments that I was getting was, 'Oh, finally, somebody is  writing about my experiences', or 'I really love this nurse now because she can, she can explain what I'm  feeling at the ward or at the hospital'. So I'll get tweets and tag, tags from Filipino nurses, from migrant  nurses. And that is something that – that really is the power of poetry for me, and that's really the reason  why I write.  

In Wolverhampton we have quite a strong Filipino community. And I'm quite surprised that they really,  really supported the book considering that nurses here in Wolverhampton, they don't, they don't really  read poetry, to be honest. They're like, 'You know what? Somebody was telling me, I don't necessarily read  poetry, but for you, I'll buy your book'. And once they bought the book and they read it, they were quite  surprised that it, it was so welcoming. And it was so … The comment that was often said to me was, 'I  understood it'. And for me, that's something – that poem … that poetry opens the room for them. And  that's what I like about poetry. That's what I attempt to try in my poetry for it to opens[sic] up the room.  Whether you're someone who came from the non-literary background or whether you're an academic,  that's what I try to do. 

Liz Berry 

Rupinder, do you feel part of a poetry community in Birmingham, like a Punjabi Brummie poetry community or a wider Birmingham community? 

Rupinder Kaur 

I feel like I'm part of a wider Birmingham poetry community. I mean, two poets that I'm quite close with,  who are also Verve poets, Nafeesa [Hamid] and Kamil [Mahmood]: we kind of share poems. And we  recently actually started Gully Collective. And we've actually received funding from Transforming Narratives  to create our first sign. And it's just a space for South Asian creatives, for us, created by us, where, you  know, sometimes I feel it's hard to find a starting point. I mean, I found that very difficult. I wasn't really  unsure how poetry works or has, how it is. So I feel it's just nice to give something back to the community as  well.  

And there are a few Punjabi poets but I haven't come across poets in, in the UK that write in Punjabi, which  is what I love reading the most. But I am connected to a few poets in, back in Punjab that do write in  Punjabi. And one of my favourite poets is Nirupama Dutt, she's a contemporary Punjabi poet, also a  translator and me and her are quite well connected. And she also shares poems, and I share poems to her  and we talk about the past kind of poets, and how the scene's moving forward as well. So it's nice to kind of  have those connections as well. 

Liz Berry 

I wonder if, Rupinder, as a result of your work and your book and your readings actually you might start to  see other young women poets from your community writing, sharing, being part of your events. You often  find it flowers like that; it just takes one person to go first, start doing brilliant things. And it opens the door  up for everybody else.  

We've had such a hard year in 2020. It's been a really fractured and frightening year for so many of us in so  many different ways. And I wondered what poetry's meant to you through those difficult days? And  whether you both feel that poetry can be something which can heal us or can bring about change?  Romalyn, what do you think about that?  

Romalyn Ante 

Yes, I think, I definitely agree with you. For me, even before the pandemic, poetry has been my own  antiemetic; poetry has been my solution and help, and the elixir to everything really. I think, for me, despite  all this that's happening in the world, and despite all the experiences that we as unique individuals  experience and plough through, I think beyond all this, poetry has the power to connect us again, to make  us feel as if we are connected, and we can relate to each other again, and we can touch each other again, 

and we can celebrate together again. So definitely poetry is an antiemetic and a healer for me. 

Liz Berry 

Rupinder, how about you? Has poetry been something for you which has, feels like a healing thing or  something that can bring about change? 

Rupinder Kaur 

Yeah, definitely. I agree with everything that Romalyn's said. Poetry has always been there for me, you  know. Poetry has a lot of power to make you feel and understand things, whether you're writing or whether  you're reading poetry. And listening to poetry, especially something that I also love. I love getting my mom  to read me Hindi or Punjabi poetry. I just prefer it when my mom reads it to me because I, I take my time  joining all the letters together because I'm not as fluent in reading, but mom just reads it, like, straight away.  And it's just listening to it just makes me feel really happy. It gives this warmth feeling, which I don't really  know how to explain. And the same way when I read new poems and how they make me feel and think different emotions, so I definitely agree there's a lot of power in poetry: that can be very healing. 

Liz Berry 

Two beautiful answers. Two really hopeful answers. I'd love the chance to hear another poem from both of  you. So I wonder if you'd be kind enough to read to us again before we part? Romalyn, would you read first,  please? 

Romalyn Ante 

So the next poem that I'm going to read is called ‘Eponym’. When I was writing about this poem I was  thinking about nurses and nursing, although this poem is not about nursing. It's actually about a special  pearl which was found in the ocean of Palawan in the Philippines. And when it was found it was named  after a different person. It wasn't named after a Filipino who found it. It wasn't named after the Philippines  or anything related to the Philippines.  

And I was thinking about nursing in a way that: nurses have always mechanically worked in the background,  and they are seldom acknowledged. For a little while, while we were in lockdown, we had this clapping,  clapping thing for the nurses but suddenly it's gone now. So for me, sometimes, it's not really about who  society forgets, it's more about who the establishment choose[sic] for you to remember. And I think that's  what I'm trying to explore within this poem. 


Legend says a disciple slipped a clam 

into a jade amulet and it persisted to grow – 

the Pearl of Lao Tzu. Its lustre spilled over 

the valley and peeled the sky with the peal 

of Yuqing bells. Perhaps the pendant was flung 

in a fit of fury from a delayed enlightenment 

or as a gift to calm the Great Ocean's upheaval. 

Millennia later, an American called Cobb saved 

a datu's child. He was rewarded with a pearl as heavy 

as an infant. Resembling the shape of a prophet's  

turban, it was then renamed the Pearl of Allah. 

I'd like this poem to take you somewhere else 

but all I've got is the song of my grandfather 

about a fisherman's son whose arms shone 

in the bloated glow of the goddess of the moon. 

Tides divide at his skull – he swam down to a cathedral  

of corals. Sometime, somewhere, there was a diver 

who hoisted the Pearl of Whoever. 

He sat at a table with his wife or – maybe – on his own, 

shoulders studded with brine. Sometime, somewhere, 

there was a fisherman's son who found the world's  

largest pearl and we'll never know his name.  

Liz Berry 

Beautiful. Thank you, Romalyn. Rupinder, would you read for us before we part? 

Rupinder Kaur 

Yeah, of course. Thank you so much. So I'm going to read another new poem which explores the word aurat,  which means 'woman'. And it was actually inspired by a poem which Tiffani Yankee in a collection wife does  to the word wife how she just broke the word down into its different meanings. So here it is, ‘Breaking the  Root’:  

Breaking the Root

aurat / meaning woman /in panjabi/ in hindi / in urdu/ the origin is persian and arabic /meaning  imperfections/ genitals/ nakedness/weakness /woman/ skipped being girl/ with 

the opening of fingers in raspberry jars /and homemade scones / baked in the heat of sweat/collecting fresh  ripe raspberries/ to become filled with aurat-ness/other words/ babe/bird/ 

bitch/ chick/gal/ gyal/ goddess/man eater/ mistress/nymph/ queen/ seductress/slag/ slut /vamp /wild  witch/ ugly/ beautiful/ aurat /also sometimes/daughter/ granddaughter sister/ 

girlfriend/ ting/ side chick/ wife/other woman/ mother/ grandmother /or nothing/ just aurat/ the orange  and red in the flame of fire/ medusa / kali/ aphrodite/ tilottama / free/ 

garden of aurat /writing their own story / before the men came/ there was aurat/ shakti /power/no lost  history /bulbuls sing songs/ aurat danced in joy /in her island aurat  

Liz Berry 

Romalyn and Rupinder, thank you so much for joining me today. And thank you for those exquisite readings  and your generous chat. It's just been a pleasure to listen to you both. I know lots of listeners will be really  keen to hear and read more of your work. So you could find Rupinder Kaur's Rooh published by  Birmingham's own Verve Poetry Press. And Romalyn Ante's Antiemetic for Homesickness is out now from  Chatto books [Penguin imprint].  

So thank you, dear poets, and thanks to you all at home too for listening to this podcast and supporting the  ever-brilliant Birmingham Literature Festival and the work of Writing West Midlands. We might not be  together in Brum this year but we're always together in our love of good books. Thank you. 

Outro message 

Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of the Birmingham Lit Fest presents…podcast. If you enjoyed  this episode, we’d love for you to tell us about it – leave us a review or a rating and find us on instagram,  Twitter and facebook @bhamlitfest. You can download our latest podcast episodes, every Thursday, from  all the places you would normally get your podcasts and find transcripts of our episodes in the shownotes  and on our website at . Details about our full programme can also  be found on our website. Until then, happy reading! 

The Birmingham Lit Fest Presents... podcast is curated by Shantel Edwards and produced by 11C and  Birmingham Podcast Studios for Writing West Midlands.


What is Birmingham Lit Fest Presents….?

The Birmingham Literature Festival Podcast - Welcome to the very first Birmingham Literature Festival podcast, bringing writers and readers together to discuss some of 2020’s best books. Each Thursday we’ll be releasing new episodes of the podcast, including wonderful discussions about writing, poetry, big ideas and social issues. Join us each week for exciting and inspiring conversations with new, and familiar, writers from the Midlands and beyond.