Articles & Reviews

"Poets lend their voices for Indonesian earthquake relief"

By Kristine Berey
The Westmount Examiner
July 12, 2006

Kindness and culture came together on Canada Day at Westmount Park Church, as local writers of diverse backgrounds participated in a Spoken Word Marathon to benefit the survivors of the Indonesian earthquake.

With a magnitude of 6.2, the natural disaster left over 5,000 people dead last May 27. The more than $1,700 raised by the event will be channeled by the Canadian Red Cross towards its ongoing relief efforts in the devastated region.

When Montreal writer Jan Jorgensen first heard of the emergency, she contacted poet Ali Dimyati, an Indonesian friend she had met through the Quebec Writers' Federation, asking if there was anything she could do to help.

"Ali didn't want to something just for himself. He wanted to help his people. We started brainstorming and decided that a spoken word marathon was the thing to do."

Jorgensen, who also animates the lawn chair soiree, a monthly reading group that meets during the school year, put out the call for readers to her personal contacts and the QWF.

"I was amazed at the response I got," Jorgensen said. "There were people who were happy to be part of this in order to help the people of Indonesia, writers who had a need to be heard and people who were willing to help out by reading the works of other people." Several of the readers came from Noches de Poesia, an international group of poets.

Poetry and prose were read by 28 participants during the 12-hour multi-lingual, multi-genre event in English, French, Spanish and Indonesian.

The tiny Indonesian community of Montreal pitched in as well, preparing home-made snacks and offering authentic Indonesian meals at Nonya Restaurant as door-prizes.

Author Joanna Gosse recently moved to Montreal from Newfoundland. When she heard of the marathon through the QWF, she took this first opportunity, since her arrival, to read from her latest novel, Liar. She says it's not easy for local writers to share their work. "Only the big publishing houses can afford publicity, yet there are so many good writers no one ever heard of."

Dorotea Montoya Sanchez read her poetry in French. When encouraged to read it in Spanish as well, she was at first reluctant, then launched into it with great zest. Though something was lost to those unfamiliar with that language, something was gained as well, as the audience seemed to delight in the music of the Spanish language.

Dimyati, who writes under the name Ali D. Musyrifa, read from his soon to be published book of bilingual poetry. In his beautifully resonant deep voice, he dedicated his poem to a friend who died in the tragedy.

Montreal poet Ilona Martonfi, who runs the Yellow Door reading series, came to lend her support. Her deeply personal poems, often speaking from a child's perspective, spoke of the pain that can sometimes mar very close relationships.

Stephen Morrissey read a lyrical homage to the sun setting over the Côte St. Luc shopping centre, written by his wife Carolyn Zonailo. The Champlain College teacher and former student of Louis Dudek also read several poems from his own published volume of poetry. Elizabeth Robert read the works in Spanish.

"I write rather bleak poems, but tried to tone it down for today," Morrissey joked. In a more serious vein, he added, "You can't lie in poems. It has to be the truth as poetry is the voice of the soul."

The lawn chair soiree is planning its next monthly reading series, beginning in September. All writers, whether published or not, are invited to share their voice. For information, or to learn how to donate to the Indonesian relief effort, contact

Copyright © 2006 Kristine Berey