The importance of beginnings

I love that the opening line of the first poem in “Welcome to Leicester” starts “Leicester is alive”.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read each poem in “Welcome to Leicester” prior to publication. Each poem submitted was read at least three times – once on receipt and twice (once silently, once aloud) at editorial meetings. Those that we thought were maybes where spread out on my table and arranged near poems they seemed to fit best with. This involved several re-readings as new poems were added to the maybe pile and poems were rearranged. All maybe poems were read again at our final editorial meeting as we decided which poems were actually going to be accepted. The accepted poems underwent several more re-readings as the typesetting was done. Some of these readings were detailed, checking spelling, grammar, whether commas were justified. Some readings were of the overall shape of a poem or how it sounded when read aloud. Since the anthology has been published, one thing I’ve not done is read it from cover to cover.

At the launch, I’d asked which contributors were available to come and read their poem. If everyone who said they were had turned up, the poetry readings would have taken 1 hour and forty-two minutes. Naturally on the day, some weren’t able to be at the launch so the readings part took an hour and twenty minutes. It was wonderful to hear the poems read in the poets’ voices and to hear audience feedback that they appreciated the range of subjects, styles, approaches and stories about Leicester arising from the poems.

The invitation to hold a “Welcome to Leicester” event to start the “Write On, a Leicester Writers’ Showcase” series which take place in Leicester’s Central Library on the third Wednesday of each month was a great opportunity. It was an informal, relaxed evening with a good turn out. Around 10 poets read their poems and, to keep to the agreed time slot, I read a poem from the anthology in between readings. This gave audience members time to absorb each poet’s reading and allowed some of the themes explored in the anthology to be teased out.

What was most intriguing was seeing the audience react, sometimes with nods of recognition, but mostlly with that stillness that suggests people are absorbed in listening. I had to remember that some were hearing the poems for the first time and those who were contributors hadn’t necessarily read all the poems so were hearing some poems for the first time too. My job was to introduce poets but, more crucially, also to allow a space between each poem, rather like the space around a poem on a page or that pause when pages are turned, so give each poem a fair hearing and not to rush the audience into the next poem. It was a privilege to do so.

The very last word of the final poem in “Welcome to Leicester” is “home.” That was not a happy accident.

“Welcome to Leicester” is available from Dahlia Publishing.

The next “Welcome to Leicester” event is at De Montfort University’s Clephan Building from 6pm on Monday 27 February as part of the Cultural Exchanges Festival.

The next two “Write On, a Leicester Writers’ Showcase” events are:

15 February “Lost and Found: stories from home” (Dahlia Publishing, 2016) featuring readings from writers whose short stories are in the anthology.

15 March Carol Leeming will be reading from “The Declamations of Cool Eye”. I reviewed “The Declamations of Cool Eye” here.

Both events start promptly at 7pm. Doors open at 6.30pm.
Welcome to Leicester poetry anthology book cover









To Review or Not to Review?

On the rare occasions I’ve had to turn down a review request, it’s generally been because I’ve already reviewed the book or poetry collection offered for review. However, news that Milo Yiannopoulos has signed a book deal with Threshold, made me seriously pause for thought. Milo Yiannopoulos is an editor at Breitbart News, led a harrassment campaign against the actor Leslie Jones, which led to him being suspended from twitter, and plagarised Tori Amos’s song lyrics in a book of ‘poems’ published under a pen name, Milo Andreas Wagner. He claimed the quoted lyrics was an intentional artistic statement. I can see why Threshold are willing to take a chance on him delivering a book: he will generate a lot of buzz if not actual book sales.

Why would this be a problem? Why not simply boycott the book?

Threshold are an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Regular readers will have noticed I review Simon & Schuster novels because I’m on their list of book reviewers, i.e. if they publish a book they think will interest me, they send me an ARC. The Chicago Review of Books have stated they will not review any Simon & Schuster books this year. I can sympathise with this.

But it makes me uneasy. I am generally in favour of people having the right to say what they think. However, that right does not extend to the right to abuse and bully others. It does not extend to using a platform to attempt to silence others either. I don’t think it helps other Simon & Schuster authors to refuse to review their books, particularly when they’d already signed contracts (books take a long time to publish) and had no say in the signing of Yiannopoulos or chance to renege on their own contracts if they had known about it.

So I will not boycott Simon & Schuster books, providing I think that the ARC is interesting enough to justify a review. Do you think this is the right decision?

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DNA Fingerprinting, a Poem and a potential new Tourist Attraction

When we put a call out for submissions for “Welcome to Leicester”, we expected poems about King Richard III, Leicester City Football Club and areas with personal significance for the poet. While the poems started coming in, I began to write a list of topics I wanted the anthology to include in some way. Topics such as the Shoemakers’ Walk, Suffragette Alice Hawkins, adverts taken out to deter refugees in the 1970s and the contrast with events during Refugee Week and Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys’ discovery of DNA fingerprinting. My list became a series of poems, however, if someone submitted a poem on a topic I’d written about, I put mine to one side and did not put it forward for the anthology.

I was pleased to learn that Leicester City Council, Leicester University and the King Richard III Centre have teamed up to study the feasibility of creating a new tourist attraction to tell the story of Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys’ discovery of DNA and its significance in the clearing the name of an innocent man and providing evidence to identify the murderer, as reported in the Leicester Mercury.

You don’t really get Eureka Moments

“Complicated” became “Eureka”
at 9.05am on 10 September 1984:
I saw genetic fingerprinting.

It started with a chemist’s set
and sulphuric acid burns
leading to me wearing a beard.

After studies, an invite to Leicester
University gave me a lab,
a part-time technician and freedom.

to study human genetic fingerprinting,
disease diagnosis, inheritance
and evolution of genetic variations.

I proved two fifteen-year-old girls
were murdered by the same killer
but not the chief suspect.

I’d cleared a man’s name.
But the killer was still out there.
We continued testing

and looking over our shoulders.
Potentially the murderer knew
where we worked, where our families lived.

The price of my insecurity was £200:
the payment made for a man
to give a blood sample for a colleague

and mask a serial murderer/rapist.
Two hundred pounds.
Until a drink loosened his tongue.

Then the trial of a man,
of forensic DNA.
If it had failed, my work…

The remainder of my poem can be read in “Welcome to Leicester“.

Welcome to Leicester poetry anthology book cover

“Welcome to Leicester” poetry anthology launch

The launch of “Welcome to Leicester” poetry anthology takes place at the African Caribbean Centre, Maidstone Road, Leicester LE2 0UA from 7pm on Friday  7 October. The launch will feature readings from some of the contributors.

Welcome to Leicester poetry anthology launch


Welcome to Leicester poetry anthology book cover

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Over Land Over Sea: Future Dates

Over Land Over Sea poems for those seeking refuge book cover“Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” has now gone into a second reprint. It has also had an extensive review at Sabotage Reviews. New events are listed below:

18 June 2016 11.45am Town Hall Square Leicester

Poems from “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” will be read by the editors on the acoustic stage during Red Cross’s fundraising events to mark the start of refugee week.

23 June 2016 6-9pm Voiced at the Exchange Bar, Leicester

Contributors and editors will be reading poems from “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” during Voiced, an evening of spoken word and music at the Exchange Bar.

1 August 2016 from 7.30pm Poetry Cafe, London with Exiled Writers Ink

At the invitation of Exiled Writers Ink, poets from “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” will reading their work.

1-9 October 2016 Leicester Railway Station Journeys Pop-up Poem Library

ER LogoReading is about sharing stories and making an imaginative journey, ideal to liven a routine commute or inspire on a longer trip. Travelling is an ideal time to read or think of other journeys. To provide inspiration, we will give out postcards from Leicester Railway Station with extracts from poems featured in “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” (Five Leaves, 2015). The poems are about journeys refugees have undertaken, including historical journeys, to inspire and provoke ideas.


Copies of “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” are available from Five Leaves.


Welcome to Leicester – poetry anthology

What message would you give to others about Leicester? What is the story behind that message? Could you write a poem that shares an experience or aspect of Leicester City? Your poem could be about part of your life story, a family story, about your favourite place in Leicester, about a personality or celebrity with a strong link to Leicester or it could be about your relationship with the city, its people, features, landmarks, peculiarities or history.

Submission Guidelines:

  • Poems should be 40 lines or less with a strong, recognisable link to Leicester.
  • Poems must be in English. In the case of translated work, it is the translator’s responsibility to obtain permission from the copyright holder of the original work.
  • If submitting a poem which has been previously published please give details of where it has appeared and confirm that you own the copyright.
  • Ideally poems will be typed single spaced and submitted either in the body of an email or as a .doc attachment. Postal submissions will also be accepted.
  • Please include a short biography of 50 words or less. This will be included in the anthology if your poem is accepted. If you do not send a biography, it will assumed you do not wish your biography to appear in the anthology.
  • You may submit a maximum of three poems. You do not have to submit all three poems at the same time, but the editors can only consider a maximum of three poems.
  • Please send poems to or Welcome to Leicester, 36 Leybury Way, Scraptoft, Leicester LE7 9UB by 15 July 2016.
  • We welcome submissions from writers of all ages, based anywhere in the world.

Welcome to Leicester will be edited by Emma Lee and Ambrose Musiyiwa and published by Dahlia Publishing.

Emma Lee has published three collections of poetry, “Ghosts in Desert” (Indigo Dreams, 2015), “Mimicking a Snowdrop” (Thynks Press, 2014) and “Yellow Torchlight and the Blues” (Original Plus, 2004). She reviews for The Journal, Sabotage Reviews and London Grip. She co-edited “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” (Five Leaves, 2015) and edited Paul Lee’s “Us: who made History” (Original Plus, 2012).

Ambrose Musiyiwa facilitates CivicLeicester, a community media channel. He is the author of “The Gospel According to Bobba” and has had poems published in “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” (Five Leaves, 2015) and in The Stare’s Nest. His short stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines as well as in the anthologies of contemporary Zimbabwean writing called Writing Now (Weaver Press, 2005) and Writing Free (Weaver Press, 2011).

Dahlia Publishing is a small press based in Leicester, founded in 2010 by Farhana Shaikh, which manages both The Asian Writer and Leicester Writes. Our diversity policy is at the heart of everything we do and we’re passionate about publishing regional and diverse writing. It hosts the monthly writers meet up at Café Bru, on the first Tuesday of every month.

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The Man Who Ran Through the Tunnel

With a bandaged hand Abdul, 21, tells of imprisonment
and gestures to describe the electric shocks he received
after his arrest from the Sudanese government.
His tribe also harassed by rebel militia. He feels deceived
by traffickers. Despite his razor-wire injury,
he’ll try again. Sudan was an English colony.
He wants to stop looking over his shoulder.

From “Stories from the Jungle” published in “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge.”

The Abdul in the poem is not Abdul Rahman Haroun, but he is seeking refuge for reasons probably very similar to Abdul Rahman Haroun who has been granted refugee status by the UK government. Both men left Sudan, the latter became “The Man Who Ran Through the Tunnel,” “When I heard/ how he ran/…/and through tunnels/ how could I fail/ to be inspired?” (also from “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge”. You can hear Ambrose Musiyiwa reading his poem here.)

Despite Abdul Rahman Haroun’s status as a refugee, Euro Tunnel are determined that his story will not inspire others to make the same journey and he is being prosecuted under Section 36 of the 1861 Malicious Damage Act. This is in conflict with the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, which recognises that refugees could be forced to use illegal means to travel to the country where they will seek asylum and should not be prosecuted for irregular entry, and was incorporated into the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act. Mr Haroun’s defence team asked for an adjournment for the CPS to reconsider their prosecution in light of Mr Haroun’s status as a refugee, but the CPS have decided to go ahead and the trial has been scheduled for 20 June. Ironically, the start of Refugee Week. There is a petition asking for this prosecution to be stopped – please consider signing.

This shows how contemporary “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” is and, sadly, how some of the issues explored in the poems continue to be relevant. There are opportunities to hear poems from the anthology at:

25 February 2016 from 8pm at Attenborough Arts (Lancaster Road, Leicester).
Readings from “Over Land Over Sea” at the invitation of the Leicester Migration Network. Event starts at 6pm but poetry readings run from 8 – 9pm.

27 February 2016 from 7pm at Attenborough Arts Poems for People Benefit in aid of the current refugee crisis. Spoken word performance poetry featuring readings from the anthology.

1 August 2016 from 7.30pm Poetry Cafe, Betterton Street London, joint event with Exiled Writers Ink.

There is a review of “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” at London Grip.