Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Ledbury Festival and English PEN

Hello there
I was going to write about political matters but decided not to. I'd only be saying what others have already said, more eloquently. Instead I drafted a poem and I will share it with you when I've edited it a bit more. It was inspired by this from Michael Rosen - 

Fascism: I sometimes fear...


"I sometimes fear that 
people think that fascism arrives in fancy dress 
worn by grotesques and monsters 
as played out in endless re-runs of the Nazis. 

Fascism arrives as your friend. 
It will restore your honour, 
make you feel proud, 
protect your house, 
give you a job, 
clean up the neighbourhood, 
remind you of how great you once were, 
clear out the venal and the corrupt, 
remove anything you feel is unlike you...

It doesn't walk in saying, 
"Our programme means militias, mass imprisonments, transportations, war and persecution."

And incidentally Michael Rosen wrote this before the referendum

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Instead I want to write briefly about an important project which I am proud to be a very small part of. 
The "Poetry as Protest" initiative sees poets at the upcoming Ledbury Poetry Festival sharing work from imprisoned poets from around the world. Dozens of poets will give voice to their words, to a living audience, citizens who enjoy freedoms we might take for granted.
The programme is run by English PEN  - a literature and human rights charity that defends writers’ rights to freedom of expression.

I am going to to read a poem by imprisoned teacher and poet and mother-of-two Mahvash Sabet. She is serving a 20-year sentence in Evin prison,  Iran and began writing while incarcerated.
Her poems are described as ‘sometimes a means of historical documentation…; sometimes a series of portraits of other women trapped in prison with her; sometimes meditations on powerlessness, on loneliness’.

Here is one of her poems - 

Lights Out
Weary but wakeful, feverish but still
fixed on the evasive bulb that winks on the wall,
thinking surely it’s time for lights out,
longing for darkness, for the total black-out.
Trapped in distress, caught in this bad dream,
the dust under my feet untouchable as shame,
flat on the cold ground, a span for a bed,
lying side by side, with a blanket on my head.
And the female guards shift, keeping vigil till dawn,
eyes moving everywhere, watching everyone,
sounds of the rosary, the round of muttered words,
fish lips moving, the glance of a preying bird.
Till another hour passes in friendly chat,
in soft talk of secrets or a sudden spat,
with some snoring, others wheezing
some whispering, rustling, sneezing –
filled the space with coughs and groans,
suffocated sobs, incessant moans –
You can’t see the sorrow after lights out.
I long for the dark, total black-out.
Adapted from the Persian by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani. Based on translations by Violette and Ali Nakhjavani.
From Mahvash Sabet’s Prison Poems. Published by George Ronald Publisher Ltd 

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Mahvash  is one of a group of seven Baha’i leaders known as the ‘Yaran-i-Iran’ – ‘Friends of Iran’ – who have been detained since 2008 for their faith and activities related to the affairs of the Bahá’í community in Iran. 






According to PEN, the Baha’i community in Iran has been the focus of a systematic, state-sponsored persecution since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. After the revolution, the ‘Yaran-i-Iran’ – was formed with the full knowledge of the government and served as an informal council for the Baha’i in Iran, working to support the spiritual and social needs of Iran’s 300,000-member Baha’i community, until its entire membership was arrested in 2008. Mahvash was arrested on 5 March 2008 while on a trip to Mashhad. The other six members of the group were arrested on 14 May 2008 at their homes in Tehran. All were imprisoned without charge until January 2010, during which they were held incommunicado for weeks and were not allowed access to legal counsel. 
PEN says: "Charged with espionage, propaganda against the Islamic Republic, the establishment of an illegal administration, cooperation with Israel, sending secret documents outside the country, acting against the security of the country, and corruption on earth, their trial began on 12 January 2010. On 14 June 2010 each of the defendants was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment, after six brief court sessions characterised by their lack of due legal process. Their sentences were later reduced to ten years each when an appeals court revoked three of the charges; however, in March 2011, the prisoners were informed of the reinstatement of their original sentences. They have never received official copies of the original verdict or the ruling on appeal despite repeated requests."

You can find out more about the Poetry as Protest initiative here - 

https://www.englishpen.org/campaigns/english-pen-at-the-ledbury-poetry-festival-2016/ 

In these times of turbulence across Europe it is important to remember how fortunate we are to live in democratic societies and to be able to speak without fear of persecution or imprisonment. The Poetry as Protest initiative drives this home.
It is vital that people are aware of the plight of those who cannot speak or who are imprisoned for speaking out against the authorities. Until I took part in this initiative I am ashamed to say I was unaware of poets living out 20-year jail terms in Iran, without legal recourse or right to appeal.
The chance to share a poem from Mahvash Sabet with an audience at Ledbury is therefore a huge privilege. The poem is a direct connection from her prison cell to the listener in Britain and as such it is a vital link that runs both ways.
I'm going to be sending Mahvash a letter, and a book, and she and many like her are in my thoughts. Their plight puts the current situation in Britain and Europe into perspective.


Thursday, 9 June 2016

Launch

Here are some pictures of my launch at Daunt Books last week.
Thank you to everyone who came along and helped celebrate..we sold a good number of books but more importantly it was a lovely, warm appreciative audience with some very special people in it.
Go fly Slant Light, do what you will!

Books in the front window
The wonderful Lorraine Mariner




Sunday, 29 May 2016

London Launch


Thursday, 19 May 2016

If you go down to the woods today

If you're in London on a Saturday, I'd recommend heading down to the Bethnal Green nature reserve before the end of May to enjoy the Voiced installation. This is poetry written to be spoken and heard - far from the written page and dusty annals or ivory towers. Just voices/pulses in the air triggered by motion.

Five new poems-songs-charms inspired by this rich patch of land in the heart of the East End are embedded in the reserve and set off by footsteps or movement. This makes me wonder if a fox or magpie may trigger a poem and if so how it might react.. I suspect rather non-plussed..

Anyway ... these sound pieces are written to be heard, among the trees and ruins of St Jude's church. They are all quite different and non-linear and somehow the words combine with the space to make a multi-dimensional experience that weaves the past into the present.

I'm proud to have a poem - Charm for Delayed Birth  - and my voice - as part of the installation and hope the whole project enhances peoples' enjoyment and appreciation of the reserve with its layers of natural and human history.
For once when I heard my own voice, I didn't feel like cringing because it has been curated so well it springs from the setting it draws from.

Here are some details from the press release which you can read here -

http://www.phytology.org.uk/press/

Phytology: 7th May – 3rd September 2016
Bethnal Green Nature Reserve. Middleton Street, Bethnal Green, London E2 9RR
Admission, free.
Opening times: Saturday 11:00am – 6:00pm, and other times by appointment.
For more information and details about forthcoming events including the Campfire Club programme see www.phytology.org.uk




Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Spring

I wanted to post this in April when I scribbled it down but already we are past this point and into the inevitability of May



The plants and trees are changing daily here
April is the most vigorous of months
(Rough winds doth shake)
the shivering leaflets and wrapped buds,
astonishing cow parsley (bean stalk)
All around bird life
wren, a tick, calling loud
and birds everywhere with insects and grubs in their beaks
and birdsong everywhere
and on our decking a mouse with fine-boned hands who hunches over crumbs
and the wood anemone and bluebells
the greenery and growth like a cancer or foetus
multiplying and dividing unstoppably
stopper out of the bottle
and the sheer fresh green in the energy of the sun
and all across the shreds of cloud and a northerly wind
shaking the new leaves open
I touch a bud and feel its deep earth energy
walk the earth and soak it in
crazy april growth
eating itself




Saturday, 23 April 2016

Book launch




Here are a few photos from the launch of two new Pavilion Poetry books - Slant Light - my first collection, and Every Little Sound by Ruby Robinson this week in Liverpool. It was quite an experience to read from the book and talk about the poems to an interested audience in special surroundings. A beautiful day to visit Liverpool for the first time and also meet fellow Pavilion authors and the whole editorial team.
 I'm proud of my dark green book and the poems inside its covers and I hope it reaches a few hearts/minds/ears as it makes its quiet way about the place..
I chose to group the poems I read into loose themes - direct inspiration from the natural world, Anglo Saxon charms, and then oblique ways of looking at the world. There was also a Q&A which I enjoyed for its spontaneity and interaction.
As soon as I finished my reading, I thought 'I want to do that again and I want to do it better'.
Im really delighted to be taking part in the Linklater Voice Coaching Method course next month and then reading at Greenwich, Ledbury Festival and at Poetry in Palmer's Green later this year. 
I do feel lucky to be published by such an exciting new press and I'm really looking forward to finding the space to write again. This is all a bit self-promotional but I think is probably part of being a poet these days, as is the ability to perform.
All in all, a week to celebrate, so thanks for reading.
The reading room at the university's School of The Arts
With some of the fantastic interns from Liverpool University Press who helped with typesetting and marketing the books
New authors outside the pavilion

Friday, 8 April 2016

Short and sweet..

Delighted to have a poem in Issue Three of The Compass Magazine - a beautifully designed and curated online poetry resource. Some wonderful poems here with my favourites by Pascale Petit and Liz Berry.
Poems that are unafraid to be true about their intentions - 


Mine is a playful poem really, written in the style of Les Murray, and with the idea of an 'islanders' mentality in mind, with all is positive and negative connotations.
I love observing things, closely. Have you ever looked at a bank of barnacles, millions of them encrusting rocks and piers and abandoned wood? There is a uniformity in their serried ranks, a pleasing efficiency in the way they occupy every millimetre of useful surface with their almost hexagonal forms, and then if you look up close, they are aged and new and all in between - there are larger misshapen individuals, tiny, neat ones that fit in a crevice, others snarled with threads of hair or twine, and each is marked with a tiny cross that will open like some strange space pod and wave in the salt wash in a mass feed as the tide comes.
The way they feel under bare feet too - almost painful and strong enough to resist human weight.


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Meanwhile, I am looking forward to the Liverpool launch of Slant Light soon and a London launch later this spring. I have sold a few books - hurray! 
I was also privileged to be a judge of the Greenwich University/PNSEL 2016  poetry competition.
It was interesting to be 'on the other side' of a poetry competition, reading anonymous entries, shortlisting and discussing them with the other judges. How subjective it is, and yet how clearly the winning poem announced itself despite our differing tastes.
It was interesting to hear some of the shortlisted poets read at the Made in Greenwich gallery last week and reminded me of how brave you have to be to stand up and read your words to an audience. 
I remember doing so at university and being absolutely terrified.
Happy Aprils, thanks for reading. I'll be back with a more interesting post soon.