How Manal Younus has found her voice through poetry

Manal Younus

How Manal Younus has found her voice through poetry

Eritrean-Australian poet, Manal Younus has found her voice through her honest and relevant poetry. For her, poetry is a way of expressing and processing her emotions and is an art form that can help others find their voices too.

Manal was born in Saudi Arabia before her family moved back to Eritrea when she was just a month old. She and her family later moved to Adelaide in 1998, when she was three years old. 

Younus grew up in a comparatively less culturally-diverse Adelaide and lived in a majority-white neighbourhood, where she and her family were the only visibly Black and Muslim people. 

 

Photo retrieved from Instagram: @manalyounus

 

“You always felt like you stuck out. You didn’t have much in common with a lot of other people. You’re constantly trying to fit in amongst people that you can never actually fit in amongst because your whole world at home is different,” Manal said. 

“You look different. You think differently. You are exposed to different things. It can be very isolating.”

This isolation, as well the way people of her religious background were treated, had a profound impact on Manal’s poetry. From a young age, Manal addressed heavy issues such as female empowerment, faith and racism in her work. 

 

Photo retrieved from Instagram: @manalyounus

Manal first appeared in poetry slams when she was fifteen because at the time it was the only platform to perform. 

While Manal has shifted her focus to her written works, she initially gravitated towards spoken-word poetry due to the control it afforded her. 

“I was confident about what I was saying but I wasn’t always confident about my writing on the page. So, it was almost much easier to save myself… I could have a lot of control in spoken word,” explained Manal. “Suddenly my spelling didn’t matter, my grammar didn’t matter. How I put things on a page didn’t matter, because it was there, it was my voice. I put the emphasis where I needed it to be and that was really empowering.”

Poetry helped Manal find her own voice, where she could simply share what she had to say. “I stopped trying to change people’s opinions. Or trying to change a story. Or trying to change a narrative about me or about us. Whoever else ‘us’ is, right?”

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For Manal, Younus, poetry remains a way in which others can also find their voices, as she runs workshops that support people to express themselves through writing. 

“We’re doing little exercises to show people that poetry isn’t about rules, especially with spoken works…And I think that once people see how freeing that is, they realise they can do it. Because anything can be poetry,” she explained.

Manal’s favourite poem of hers is Can We Dance?. “I get taken away when I’m performing it. I stop thinking, often I don’t even remember where I am in the poem because I kind of just get lost in it,” she explained. 

 

 

“It really takes me to a place that I always need to remember to go back to and that is one where you don’t take anything too seriously, and you do remember to be light on your feet,  moving through the pain, loving through the pain, and just letting it go. It’s okay to be happy.”

Activism is another important facet of Manal’s identity, particularly around issues that concern Eritrea. Isaias Afwerki has been the dictator of Eritrea since 1991 and is responsible for a number of human rights abuses in the nation. 

Manal is a supporter of the ‘Yiaki campaign’, which means ‘enough’ in Tigyrian, the Eritrean language she speaks. It seeks to end the dictatorship and help struggling Eritreans by providing information they would otherwise have no access to, due to the state-owned media. 

Read more of Manal Younus’ work in her book Reap, which features a compilation of her poems and can be purchased HERE 

She’ll also be performing at Drop the Mic on November 3rd as part of OzAsia Talks. 


Violetta Katsaris

Violetta Katsaris is a third-year student at UNSW studying International Studies & Media. She is passionate about international issues such as migrant rights and is also a burgeoning film buff. Got a story to tell? Get in touch: [email protected]