At the invitation of Exiled Writers Ink, “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” was featured at the Poetry Cafe at The Poetry Place on Monday 1 August. There were readings from ten contributors scheduled with a possibility of an open mic, time permitting, afterwards. Jennifer Langer of Exiled Writers Ink introduced the evening by mentioning forthcoming Exiled Writers Ink events.
It was great to see a large audience: the venue was filled. Rather than have a lengthy introduction about “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge,” I introduced the first reading contributor, Jasmine Heydari. Jasmine was bought up in Sweden and we were fortunate she happened to be in London. She is Iranian and her poems are inspired by her experiences of the Iran-Iraq war and she often writes from a child’s perspective, as her poem “The First Time” which is narrated by a child who has just learnt the letter “w” at school and ends, “and as the windows performed their dance and walls crumbled, I dreamt of a world where war was just a word scribbled underneath wooden desks and wished for another first time.”
Trevor Wright was next to read, starting with his “Over Land Over Sea” contribution, “Yalla,” which starts,
“Shadowed by fissured rock,
fingers funnelling cooling sand,
the pull of the moon carving
the rhythm I need to pierce
the gloom, smell the horizon,
Trevor had travelled down from Nottingham. Our next poet had travelled across from the West Country. Tania Hershman who has two short story collections from Tangent Press and her poetry pamphlet, “Nothing Here is Wild, Everything is Open.” She started with Joanne Limburg’s poem “So Many Set Out” and read a poem from her new pamphlet as well as both her poems from “Over Land Over Sea,” “Relativity” and “The Observer Paradox” where a man with a box of knives has been trying to bargain with restaurant staff while diners may or may not have seen him, it ends
“. When he gets home,
boxes intact, will the fact that you
saw him make any difference
at all? What’s a poem to a person
with a room full of boxes
and boxes of unsold
and unwanted knives?”
Martin Johns had travelled to the Poetry Cafe from Northampton. He read three poems plus his contribution to “Over Land Over Sea,” “Consignment,”
“He’s cold, cold as the desert night, but met
by the warmth of a soft voice.
He hears only softness,
tastes sandwiches that respect his faith.
As his erstwhile liberator recognises
himself, all men and women
in the black mirror of those wide eyes
before they arrive to take him away.”
Caroline Rooney, Professor of African and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Kent, gave the last reading before the interval. Her poems often explore the way refugees can lose their voices by, e.g. documentary makers, who try to frame another’s story through their own prejudices rather than letting their subject speak with their own words. “People like to make films about me” ends
“Or why not ask me about the sweetened black tea and goat’s cheese?
Or ask me about the moped I left behind.
I thank you for your offer to write a poem about me.
I hope you’ll excuse the little I’ve sent on.
As for me? I’d like to direct a movie, to bring you
The bringing of where I am from.
You’ll see. It won’t be the same as the words about me.”
After the break, Daniel O’Donnell-Smith continued with a tribute to Elee, a friend who’d sadly passed away earlier in the day. His poem “and the sea did give up those dead in it” (quote from “Revelation 20:13”) explores the break down in language that occurs after trauma, both first hand or second hand where those who try to help vicariously live the lives of those they seek to help. It’s based around the phrase, “I enjoy great privilege those around me suffer immeasurably.”
Next was Barbara Saunders, a grandchild of Russian refugees who now teaches English to children of refugees. Her poem, “A Memorable Journey” takes a child’s viewpoint and is based on George McKay Brown’s “The Horse Fair” and starts with a group of children being instructed to write about an exciting or memorable journey and ends,
“I held on by my nails
men climbed out of the sea
someone shouted at me
are you dead or alive
the moon was gone
and my brother was gone
I was dead but they
picked me out of the sea
now I am in this country
Fantastic effort! Thank you so much for sharing.”
Hubert Moore has published eight collections of poetry and has been a writing mentor for Freedom from Torture. One of his poems for “Over Land Over Sea” looks at preparing donated clothes for wear by charity recipents. He also loves birds and their lack of respect for borders. His second “Over Land Over Sea” poem “Pedestrians” looks at “men on the long hard shoulder/ between Junctions 5 and 6,/ between entry / and almost certain removal” and ends
“There is no stopping
on their motorway.
Wait till the overhead sees,
announces its kindly truisms:
PEDESTRIANS IN THE ROAD,
TREES IN THE FOREST,
BIRDS IN SKY.”
At least there are birds. Malka Al-Haddad had wanted to travel down but wasn’t able to on the day so I read her poem “Children of War” before announcing our final reader, Ambrose Musiyiwa. Ambrose read from his poem “The Man who Ran Through the Tunnel” and a selection of micropoems from “The Gospel According to Bobba”. We rounded off the “Over Land Over Sea” part of the evening with a joint reading from Carmina Masoliver’s “The Sinking Ship.” Her poem is presented in two columns so we read in two voices with one voice for each column, one voice belongs to a refugee setting out with hope, the second to an observer questioning where refugees come from.
There was just enough time for three open mic readings. The first reader explored the contrast between the normality of wearing a headscarf in her own country with it taking on an almost political significance in the county she lives in now where reactions to her headscarf have been different. The second reader had a love song to his former country. The third reader, a nine-year-old, had a poem which explored reasons for homeless and why we shouldn’t just walk on by.
A big thank you to Exiled Writers Ink for inviting us.