The Majlis

Design by Cleo Maloney

Elm City Scrapbook is a column alternately written by Daniella Sanchez (MC ’25) and Catherine Kausikan (GH ’25), which each week reflects on a different artwork in and around New Haven.

The other day a pop-up Majlis was hosted on campus. It was a small event. We gathered under a white tent on a misty Monday afternoon. I remember my hands going numb from the cold as I waited for my turn to read the poems I had prepared. There was coffee to keep us warm. But what truly kept us warm were the sounds that we could and couldn’t understand as we came together to share poetry from around the world and across time. 

Majlis is an Arabic word meaning “sitting room.” The term is used to describe the spaces in which communities gather for administrative, religious, or social purposes. Historically, majlises were also gatherings for academic and literary communities to share oral traditions, folk songs, and poetry. Organized by Professor Ayesha Ramachandran and Professor Peter Cole as part of Professor Ramachandran’s Global Lyrics project, the pop-up global lyric majlis from this past Monday aimed to emulate that community. 

Poets, writers, translators, professors, and students brought poems and songs to recite from the 11th century to the 21st, and in a myriad of languages including Persian, Catalan, French, Japanese, Arabic, and Spanish. As I sat in my chair, listening to the sounds of soft guitar and flute playing in the background while each speaker walked up, I felt immense pleasure. 

I read proverbs and songs from the 20th-century Spanish poet Antonio Machado. Machado was perhaps the first poet whose work I fell in love with. I made my own translations for them too, and by the end of my time with these poems, I felt so much closer to them, as if I was bringing them into a new age with my translation and reading. It was my first time reading poetry at an event in college. What I enjoyed most was being a part of this long tradition of writers, translators, poets, and singers—seeing how all these voices carry. Often, we see words as ephemeral things that disappear into the mist. But really, words have the power to remain, to bring together, and to come back to life. 

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