The launch took place on 7 December at the Secular Hall in Leicester from 6.30pm. This event was part of the Human Rights Film Festival. Ambrose Musiyiwa, one of the festival coordinators, started the launch by talking briefly about the festival, one of the highlights of which had been the previous day’s Music Without Borders that had raised funds for MSF.
Rather than give a lengthy introduction to “Over Land Over Sea poems for those seeking refuge,” I began with a selection of the poems because that’s what everyone had come to hear. Poems read (I read for those who weren’t able to be there on the night):
“Song for Guests” Carol Leeming
“Come In” Lydia Towsey
“My Neighbour” Richard Byrt
“What’s in a name?” Penny Jones
“We Walk Together” Sally Jack
“Children of War” Malka al-Haddad
I wanted to start with these poems because the first two were about welcoming. One of the key themes we found with many of the poems submitted was neighbourliness, reaching out to meet refugees as fellow humans. Malka al-Haddad’s poem is a powerful reminder of why people are leaving their homelands.
After this poem, I read an extract from Sir Martyn Poliakoff’s introduction, “…most of my adult life has been spent living in Beeston and being part of the community. So it is hard to ignore the plight of families who are going through traumas today similar to those experienced by my father and grandparents nearly a hundred years ago. This book is a really impressive collection of poetry and prose put together by a group of East Midlanders who care passionately about the lives of others and who are determined to help those less fortunate than themselves. Everyone who has contributed has done so free of charge and all of the proceeds from the sales are intended to help refugees. It is a great demonstration of the spirit which exists in our region. It also shows that compassion is still alive in the UK and that we are willing to welcome new families into our country so that they too can contribute to our communities as soon as they have overcome their dreadful experiences. Until then, we need to help them.”
It is often the case that small kindesses are more memorable than grand gestures, which introduced the second set of poetry readings:
“Blue Folder” Lily Silverman
“Birthdays, May 2015” Merrill Clarke
“The Whiteness” Mariya Pervez
“The Humans are Coming” Siobhan Logan
“What we know” Kerry Featherstone
“Hayride” Roy Marshall
“Yalla” Trevor Wright
“Stories from the Jungle” Emma Lee
“The Man Who Ran Through The Tunnel” Ambrose Musiyiwa
Some of the poems in “Over Land Over Sea” contrast our relative privilege with the little the refugees had and what they’d left behind. Space was also a recurring theme in submissions. Some used the idea of exploring space and alien lands as a metaphor for refugees arriving in foreign lands and being regarded as different. Siobhan Logan’s poem was based on a story of a teenaged refugee who dreamt of becoming an astronaut. Another theme was the journeys undertaken by refugees, and understanding how it must feel to make that journey and the motivation to keep going.
I paused here to talk about editing the anthology which I’ve already blogged about. The poetry readings continued:
“Waiting” Kathleen Bell
“Through the Lens” Liz Byfield
“The Devil and the Deep” Diane Pinnock
“In a small boat” Louisa Humphreys
“Outside the Photograph” Emma Lee
“but one country” Rod Duncan.
Rod Duncan’s poem is a wonderful unifying poem which uses a verbal mirror image to transform a negative view into a postive one. That’s primarily what we were looking for in “Over Land Over Sea poems for those seeking refuge,” a sense of connection, an acknowledgement of tragedy and trauma but without unremitting doom and gloom and a note of hope.
Thanks to all the poets who came along and read their poems and to Ross Bradshaw of Five Leaves who helped run a bookstall on the evening.
“Over Land Over Sea poems for those seeking refuge” is available from Five Leaves Bookshop. The proceeds of sales will go to MSF, Leicester City of Sanctuary and Nottingham Refugee Forum, charities working with refugees. Printing and distributions costs have been paid via a crowdfunding project before publication.