Refugees finding new homes - October 2017
As I write I can see out of my window. It's a beautiful October day - just chilly enough to give me energy; sky clear except for a few fluffy clouds.
This view is familiar to me even though the trees change with the seasons.
But what if I had to leave my home, maybe never to return, as refugees have to? No view through a window would feel familiar. There'd be little time to
appreciate the beauty of nature. Instead I'd be slogging across country through a land of strangers, permanently worried about my family's current needs
and uncertain what the future held. I wonder how well I would cope. This is the challenge facing 65 million refugees, people just like me. Sometimes I
feel powerless to help them. Yet every single thing each of us does changes the world, more so when we group together. Last Sunday,
Enfield Refugees Welcome hosted the Enfield Poem-a-thon at the Dugdale Centre. 60 poets including
Tim Waller and other poetry friends each read for 8 minutes and were sponsored to do so. They planned to raise £4,500 to help a refugee settle in Enfield.
But the event was such a success they raised over £11,000 - a whole family of refugees can be made welcome. Well done to all involved. You have also
renewed my belief in the power of individuals to make a positive difference.
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The right to speak your mother tongue - September 2017
What would it feel like to lose your mother tongue, not just from your mother marrying someone in another country but because the state forces your
minority language group to be educated in the majority language? What if speaking your mother tongue in public led to reprisals, and the only time
language came alive was when your mother told your fairy-tales and sang songs in the language of her youth? It could create a rift in a person’s
creative life that only time and certain experiences might heal.
Bejan Matur comes from a Kurdish family but was educated in Turkish. Her nine published volumes of poetry are all written in Turkish. But running
under the surface, silent yet insistent as an aquifer, the Kurdish language survived. As an adult, she remembers going home to her mother and
speaking in Kurdish for almost the first time. After that, she worked with her mother to gain a stronger grasp of the language. At this year’s
Ledbury Poetry Festival, she performed in Turkish, alongside her translator, Jen Hadfield, who is from the Shetlands. Both women poets are preoccupied
with landscape and inheritance. I thought nothing could exceed the sadness and musical integrity of Bejan’s poems, recreated in English by Jen.
Then Bejan read us two new poems in Kurdish. The sound was so different from Turkish – like water tumbling over the stony bed of a mountain stream.
It echoed in her vocal cavity as if spoken at the mouth of a vast limestone cavern. The whole hour in the company of these poets was mesmerizing,
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Grenfell - Where do we go from here? August 2017
The repercussions of Grenfell Tower continue to reverberate, not just across London but the whole of the UK. How fairly do we treat those living in poverty?
Are they visible to us, to the politicians who decide where to spend the money raised from taxes we pay, to journalists on the newspapers and TV programmes that
so often promote a "good life" based on spending and the search for perpetual youth?
A lot of criticism has been directed at the choice of cladding which made the tower so inflammable - what the builders used and why it was approved.
But in his powerful poem about Grenfell Tower, Ben Okri takes "cladding" further, as a metaphor - that too much of what organisations do these days is cosmetic,
hiding the injustices and alienation underneath. Okri's poem appeared first in the Financial Times and you can hear all of it on Channel 4's YouTube channel.
But don't miss what he has to say on why he wrote the poem about
Grenfell Tower. Like many of us, he sees it as a landmark event. We can't just provide support to the survivors and remove similar cladding from other towers.
We must tackle the way our society's housing is managed in 2017 and how it discriminates against the poor and the young.
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Tragedy and Social Justice - July 2017
It seems only last month I wrote in this newsletter about the Syrian civil volunteer group known as the White Helmets, and then in another Issue
about the murdered MP, Jo Cox. In November last year, Jo Cox received a posthumous peace prize jointly with the White Helmets. The prize was awarded by
Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the Rising Global Peace Forum launched in Coventry last year. Jo's husband Brendan says she valued the White Helmets because,
"These are the people who run towards danger when others run away. They’ve saved over 70,000 lives and helped many more and, for Jo, they were a
symbol of how, even in the depth of inhumanity, humanity can still respond and individuals can still find that compassion, that commitment and that service in their hearts."
In the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, we saw the same selfless courage displayed by the London Fire Service. This has been a sobering summer.
One tragic event after another has claimed victims, reminding Londoners of the Blitz. There is a strong thread of injustice behind the Grenfell Tower incident.
It seems that building construction choices were made on the housing of poorer families that one suspects would have been made differently if the block's residents
were better off. That suspicion is being investigated but one thing is clear, the people in our emergency services take amazing risks in our defence. We owe them a
vast debt of thanks. The trauma and injury they suffered while working on Grenfell Tower has left many in distress. The
Fire Fighters' Charity is helping them but it's almost entirely funded through donations from the fire community and public.
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Climate Change and Politics - June 2017
Last month, shivering in unseasonably chill Spring weather, we celebrated two pieces of good news from environmental campaigners.
But overall the picture is more worrying - our political bodies appear blind to the threats facing Earth and its inhabitants. I saw in an Oxfam film that,
across Somalia, around 3,000 people a day are being displaced by the drought. With tragic statistics like these being reported daily, Donald Trump has still
decided to pull out of the Paris Accords. Many world leaders have already condemned his action - with the disturbing exception of Theresa May. Nearer to home,
the latest newsletter from Culture and Climate Change notes that the government's green paper on future industrial strategy seems to lack any reference to climate change.
And here we are, in the middle of an election, yet very few candidates are talking about the five days in May when London breached the annual air pollution limit.
Thank goodness for independent organisations like Oxfam, Greenpeace, and Culture and Climate Change who keep these issues in the public eye.
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Let's love our local libraries - May 2017
Recently, The Big Issue looked at lending libraries and what they mean to people's literacy levels, feelings of empowerment and access to literature.
It featured local groups keeping their libraries alive in innovative ways. I was reminded of them this week when, in
Jo Bell's Blog, I read the marvellous poem "Why We Need Libraries" by Ian McMillan. Do read it, then think how you can support your local library.
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Homelessness Reduction Bill passed - April 2017
March did yield one excellent piece of news - the day after the horrific attack on Westminster Bridge, MPs were back in Westminster to carry on with their planned work.
And part of that work was the Homelessness Reduction Bill finally being passed by Parliament. This is largely due to a powerful campaign run by Crisis and supported by
The Big Issue. No One Turned Away calls for every homeless person who approaches their council to get the help they need. The Bill, tabled by Conservative MP Bob Blackman
and supported by MPs all parties, still has to be signed by the Queen to become an Act. It should come into force in early 2018 at which point Councils will have £61 million
over two years to start delivering their new duties. Government has committed to review within two years how the duties are working in practice and whether the funding is enough.
The Bill provides new support to people who aren’t entitled to help under the current system like single homeless men. And it also requires councils to try and prevent people
from becoming homeless in the first place.
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Women Asylum Seekers - a way forward - March 2017
Every year, around 2,000 women seeking asylum in the UK are locked up in centres like Yarl's Wood - described in the Telegraph as 'a place of national concern.'
Many of these women refugees experienced rape or other gender-based violence in their country of origin. But when they came here, they were locked up in, what is effectively,
a prison without a clear release date. For women with traumatic memories, detention is especially distressing, and the uncertainty of the duration makes it even worse.
The UK is one of the few European countries with no time limit on such detention. The Way Ahead
- a new report from Women for Refugee Women - was launched this week. It proposes a different approach that supports and engages with people seeking asylum, and works to resolve
their cases in the community, without using detention. The charity's eventual aim is to end the detention of women who seek asylum and the report documents the growing support
their proposals are receiving from MPs and members of the House of Lords. But the Home Office is being slow to implement the new regulations. This is a big dream that will depend
for success on all of us. Please download the report and start sharing it and tweeting about it.
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Will 2017 be the hottest year on record? February 2017
A cold and, at times, scary January is behind us. I'm looking forward to Spring and Summer. But will this year be the hottest year on record? Already, wildfires have
devastated the Maule region of Chile, wiping out the town of Santa Olga and threatening the nearby city of Constitucion. Most of Santa Olga's 6000 inhabitants managed to escape
in time but they have no homes, schools or churches to go back to. Our role as citizens concerned about climate change is not just to say "we told you so" to Presidents and
big business but to welcome refugees or send aid to those affected by climate change; and to support Greenpeace and others working to limit the risk to Earth and all our futures. These are challenging times. It can be tempting to avoid thinking about the
future because it feels threatening. Sometimes art can help us face up to our fears and be more positive.
Culture and Climate Change is a collaboration of artists and scientists using stories and other artworks in order to communicate more effectively about the challenges
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Exiled and imprisoned writers - January 2017
English PEN is the founding centre of a worldwide writers’ association with 145 centres in more than 100 countries. Operating out of the Free Word Centre in Farringdon,
English PEN campaigns to defend writers and readers in the UK and around the world whose human right to freedom of expression is at risk. One way they do this is by people in
the UK writing cards and letters to exiled or imprisoned writers. I would recommend taking part in one of these letter campaigns to anyone concerned about people being persecuted
for engaging in free speech. Sending letters warns the authorities that people elsewhere in the world know about the writers, and it comforts the writers and their families to
be remembered. The organisation also runs a lot of interesting events like their February 2017 evening of comedy about censorship called "You Can't Say That".
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Yonas Kinde, refugee, gets into the Olympic Marathon Final
Yonas Kinde is a refugee marathon runner from Ethiopia and was part of the Olympic Refugee Team competing in Rio. In his relatively short running career in Europe
he's gained titles in Luxembourg, France and Germany but couldn't enter major competitions because of his lack of citizenship. So the opportunity to be part of the
Olympic Refugee Team was welcome. Like many refugees, he finds it hard to talk about why he had to leave Ethiopia. Even in Luxembourg he's had to live under international
protection since 2013. Adjusting to life as a refugee has been a challenge but it's clear that running always makes him happy. Kinde did well, reaching the Olympics Marathon
Final and finishing in 2:24:08. The photo at the top of the page is of a new mural in Rio, painted by artists Rodrigo Sini and Cety Soledade and celebrating the first Olympic Refugee Team.
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Palewell Press at Poetry in Aldeburgh - a correction - 02/09/2016
In the Palewell Press Newsletter for September, published yesterday, we incorrectly stated we would be at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival this November.
In fact, the festival that we and the Letterpress Poets are involved in is Poetry in Aldeburgh not the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. The two poetry festivals
are distinct organisations. Our apologies to both of them for the misinformation. Find out more about the Festival at
Poetry in Aldeburgh
and see them on Facebook
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Refugee Olympics Team - 28/07/2016
At Palewell Press one of our key values is inclusivity, that everyone should have the same chance to learn to read and find freely available books in a library, to access PCs
and the Internet, have their ideas published, find work, join sports clubs and try out other skills. I was thrilled during London’s Paralympics, very impressed by Big Issue
coverage of the Homeless World Cup that brings together street football programmes from around the world. And now I can’t wait to cheer on the Refugee Olympics Team.
At the Olympics Opening Ceremony, ten people will be walking round together – six men and four women whose original homes were in South Sudan, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic
of the Congo and Syria but who’ve been forced to become refugees. These ten were chosen from a shortlist of 43 refugee athletes and they represent many millions who have lost
their homes and countries due to war, persecution or natural disaster.
Their banner shows the five Olympic rings, they received additional training to prepare for competition at world level and they’ll be staying in the athletes’ village.
Hats off to the IOC for inclusivity and to the refugee athletes – Yolande, Popole, Yusra, Yonas, James, Yiech, Rose, Anjelina, Paulo and Rami – for having the courage and
discipline to step forward unvanquished by previous tragedy.
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Lovely Ledbury - 24/07/2016
Ledbury, a Poetry Festival with all the programmed events you’d expect, free sessions to participate in and exhibitions of beautiful weaving and other artwork.
But Ledbury is so much more than the sum of its events. Wordshare Poets performed in the Ledbury Fringe this year at the Muse Café in Homend Mews where Claire and Jan
made the three of us – Jane Sherwin, Jenny Messer and me, Camilla Reeve - very welcome. Then we performed as individuals reading our herbally inspired poems at Poetica
Botanica under a tree in the walled garden. But what makes Ledbury really special comes from this small Cotswold town filling up with poets and poetry-lovers. You hear
someone perform at an event, maybe get them to sign their collection afterwards, then you run into them in the street and suddenly see them attending your event as well.
The feeling of community grows as a series of warm interactions. For a short time, poetry’s in heaven and all’s right with the world. I came home wishing that feeling could
sweep across the UK bringing everyone pleasure and a sense of belonging.
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Derek Summers – In the Alyscamps - 22/07/2016
It feels especially good and relevant post-Brexit to be preparing “In the Alyscamps”, the second poetry collection from Derek Summers, for publication by Palewell Press.
A committed European, Derek’s poems reflect his extensive, enthusiastic travels from St Petersburg to Van Gogh's Haarlem, from Hornchurch to St Honorat’s chapel in the Alyscamps
at Arles. In this, his second collection, he also pursues his fascination with the contrasts between English and French language and culture.
The Alyscamps in the title is a Roman necropolis or city of the dead. Used as a burial ground for 1500 years and shaded by avenues of stately trees, the place has a wonderful
atmosphere. People love going for walks there and Van Gogh and Gauguin chose to paint it together, working side by side. Like The Alyscamps, his poetry both celebrates and
commemorates times past. He writes of places and people, some of them centuries old and others utterly modern and glimpsed only days before the poem was written.
Derek believes poetry provides redress to some of life’s wounding experiences and that it can speak truth about power, if not to it. Reviewer George Beddow says the poetry
“is marked by sincerity, honesty and compassion. . . There is an unashamed social and political commitment that is rare. . .Finding consolations amid conflict – whether
internal or external – is difficult at the best of times. Sharing them even more so. This is what the poet does in this new collection.”
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Mental Health Awareness and Poetry - 01/07/2016
Getting increasingly excited at Palewell Press in the run-up to publishing Nick Alldridge’s beautiful poetry collection “Playing with the Pieces” about
how he dealt with depression. Publication is expected in early July. Catch Nick on the Poets Anonymous radio programme on Radio Croydon, Sun 03 Jul at 14:00, talking about the
Sue Johns calls “Playing with the Pieces” a brave and moving collection – ‘Nick Alldridge’s poems explore everything from the raw emotions of losing control "crawling . . .
like moths through lighter fuel" to the simple honesty of "I am depressed." But Alldridge also has the gift of black humour. In a sonnet addressing a friend who has committed
suicide "can we talk about that?".
Much of this collection explores, positive and negative, aspects of the poet’s life. Debating how these memories may help or hinder his wellbeing in the future. In a series of
poems Alldridge links his, younger and older, self by the sharing of fingerprints. This is a perfect analogy for not being able to, totally, let go of the past. In the final
poem it is also a passionate advocate for self-acceptance. As the poem ‘Labels’ deduces, being different doesn’t mean being inferior.’
In her review of Nick’s collection, Jane Grell wrote that he puts you surprisingly at your ease. . . and allows you like a confidant into his musings: "Short utterances speak
of loss/and hold us locked in shared experiences,/orbiting each other, poet and listener"
He doesn't shy away from dark subjects such as lost love and friendship, even depression at its worst. Referring to an old voicemail, he writes: "I left the message there,
/too bitter-sweet to play again/too important to delete."
His language, like his topics, is both complex and accessible and there, to counter dark thoughts, is a wry humour which, along with hope, and life, triumph in the end.
"This present time is such a gift." And so say all of us! A collection well worth reading.’
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Love to Europe - 24/06/2016
I was one of those who voted for the UK to Remain in Europe. Today started with sadness hanging over me like a cloud. My mother’s family came from Poland, Austria
and Hungary and my father’s from Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Legend has it we’re partly Basque as well. No matter how few or many generations you look back, the UK is a real
melting pot. I remember Mum and Dad maintaining friendships and family links around the world – keeping them alive by letters, phone-calls and occasional journeys since email
hadn’t been invented.
For a few hours this morning it felt as if the united peaceful Europe they dreamed of after WW2, the Europe of visits to French friends, German cousins, Spanish colleagues,
of sporting competitions, international choral events and sunny holidays had been moved a little further away from where I live. But has it – do we need to sit back and let
our foreign connections be distanced? No way - however difficult the new rules make it, let’s take great delight in staying in touch and let’s show some love to Europe!
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Jo Cox and standing up for others - 17/06/2016
I was deeply saddened by the murder of Jo Cox as I suspect were many people. Struck down in the street. A hate crime? Was it because of her strong support of Syrian
refugees? Parliament and her constituency have both lost someone special. Tim Farron’s letter to Liberal supporters linked his feelings about Jo’s death with shock and sorrow
about the massacre at the LGBT club in Orlando. And I second that thought. Our sympathy goes out to those most closely bereaved by these terrible events.
But the rest us have lost something too – our confidence in public order perhaps, in civil society, a world where Good Samaritans come forward when travellers need help,
where everyone’s instinct is to aid the afflicted rather than taunting them or capturing their sufferings on mobile phones.
People of all political and religious persuasions, and as a humanist I include myself in that number, need to come together in a renewed search for these virtues.
Publishers, journalists, newspaper editors, authors, poets and teachers - we all have an important part to play in providing a platform for the publication of peaceful,
inclusive ideas.To paraphrase the old adage about challenging censorship, it isn’t “Publish and be damned” we need now but “Publish to ensure others are blessed.”
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Speaking up about our Mental Health - 07/06/2016
A poetry collection, a committee of MPs and a wellbeing centre - what do they have in common? You know how it goes – you hear the name of a favourite artist and
suddenly you’re seeing their paintings everywhere? I’m experiencing that in relation to the need to talk openly about Mental Health.
Like many of my friends I’ve had episodes of depression but didn’t say anything at work in case it damaged my career. These days we’re encouraged to speak up and share our feelings.
But as Rachel Diamond of 38 Degrees emailed recently – when you do need help it can be hard to get it. Local mental health services are closing down, and waits for appointments
can be months. A committee of MPs is looking for a way forward and asking whether mental health services should be free under the NHS. On the plus side, my amazing daughter
Sasha Wallace is pressing on with the People’s Choice phase of her bid to create “Bloom - the Health Spa for the Mind” where local people in Croydon, or another urban centre,
can learn how to manage and improve their own mental wellbeing. Do look at her pitch and vote for her on https://www.vmbvoom.com/p…/bloom-the-health-spa-for-the-mind.
And to crown the simultaneity of these connections, Palewell Press is about to publish Nick Alldridge’s beautiful poetry collection “Playing with the Pieces” about how he dealt
with depression. So my initial sense of deja vu is rapidly morphing into a celebration of what can be achieved when we all work together on something important.
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What is Independent Publishing for? 06/05/2016
As followers of this page may know, I recently relaunched Palewell Press. Since it started in 2006, my little press had been a very personal resource, allowing me
and poet friends get their words into print and in front of a wider audience. Within that limited brief, it achieved success.
Having independently published “Travels of a Spider” in 2006 gave me confidence to approach the editors at Flipped Eye Publishing about them producing my second collection
– “Travelling East by Road and Soul”. Between 2006 and 2015, I also brought out several poetry pamphlets and my first novel. Then in 2015 I published the Letterpress Poets
Anthology which sold a lot of copies (ISBN 978-1-326-38531-6 at £6.00 plus postage from email@example.com). The book helped Letterpress Poets be invited to perform
at the also-relaunched Aldeburgh Poetry Festival this November.
It was at this point I realised I wanted more. Publishing poetry was aesthetically satisfying. But it didn’t engage the other sides of my personality – the passion for Human
Rights and universal access to literacy, concerns about the suffering of refugees, people isolated by circumstances or disability, and the damage we’re doing to the planet.
Mainstream publishing is a difficult nut to crack for writers whose challenge the status quo. But couldn’t Palewell Press play a part by publishing writers with something
important to say about our troubled world?
This was clearly going to need a lot of time and energy. I gave up the day job, relaunched Palewell Press and went out to poetry events with a fresh sense of purpose and
excitement. Throughout the Spring those feelings grew as I met writers whose work isn’t just marvellous poetry or prose. It champions the oppressed and gives a voice to
others less able to speak for themselves. Right now, I’m getting ready to share that excitement, to shout it from the rooftops. Watch this space!
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My Writing Journey and The Artist's Way - 01/03/2016
I started writing poetry about thirty years ago. My first marriage had just ended in divorce and I was keen to meet new people but still feeling raw. A friend
suggested I leave dating for a while and join a writers’ group instead. So I tried attending the Room on the Roof group at Riverside Studios. They made me welcome and
kick-started me writing poetry. For ages I poured everything onto the page – all my angst and my tentative hopes for happier times in the future. Goodness knows how many
fairly dreadful poems I wrote in that first couple of years.
That kept going till, just as an experiment, I tried writing a short story. To my horror the poetry instantly dried up. Where had it gone? And when, two years later, I tackled
writing – or trying to write – a novel, my ability to write short stories disappeared as well. It seemed like my brain was wired so I could only work on one sort of creative
expression at a time – so frustrating. Poetry had become such a valuable outlet. The blank page had been like a totally accepting friend I could communicate with, but now I
felt completely blocked.
Then, during an evening class on novel-writing, I heard about Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way”. Julia had seen lots of creative people who either couldn’t start writing
or for some reason had stopped and wanted to get past whatever stopped them. She swears by two techniques both of which I’ve found invaluable: Morning Pages and The Artist’s Date.
The Morning Pages technique requires you to write about 3 x A4 sheets of diary every morning, just brain-dumping anything and everything that drifts through your consciousness
– such as whether you like the new type of cereal you tried at breakfast or you’re overdue for a dental appointment. You can include more creative thoughts if they come to you
and my Morning Pages very occasionally leads to a poem. But their real purpose is to help you clear away the log-jam of uncreative, often gloomy or cross, thoughts clogging up
your mind. That makes room for creative ideas to come to the surface of your inner “well”.
The Artist’s Date technique is to go out alone, every so often, to have some fun – maybe visiting a food market and trying different types of cheese or sitting in the park
watching the clouds drifting across the sky. If you’ve been working hard on a manuscript or some other creative project and are feeling exhausted and demotivated, that’s a good
moment to go on an Artist’s Date. The idea is to play rather than work. Julia advises against treating it as a day to write. Instead you are filling up the creative “well” inside
you that I mentioned earlier.
Do check out Julia's website and watch the free videos she offers about both these techniques. Or borrow her book “The Artist’s Way” from the library.
And I hope you find her ideas as liberating as I have.
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