British pro-refugee poetry

This 27 December 2015 video series from England is called Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge.

By Ross Bradshaw in Britain:

Solidarity which sings

Thursday 14th January 2016

ROSS BRADSHAW of Five Leaves Publications reports on a poetic response to the refugee crisis

TOWARDS the end of summer, a group of East Midlands writers started discussing the refugee crisis. The outcome is the book Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for Those Seeking Refuge, with 80 writers contributing material for the collection.

All donated their work free, as did the editors, typesetter and designer, with production costs raised by crowd-funding.

Five Leaves’s involvement started when staff member Pippa Hennessy offered to design the book in her own time, suggesting that maybe we could offer to take on the whole publishing side.

The book, with an introduction by scientist Martyn Poliakoff, has just come out. It includes over 100 poems and the proceeds will be split between Nottingham Refugee Forum, Leicester City of Sanctuary and Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Demand has been high. Over Land, Over Sea was reprinted within two weeks of publication, with organised readings — including “pop up” initiatives — taking place around the East Midlands. The project will raise several thousand pounds for refugee charities and, equally importantly, give political and moral support to those seeking refuge.

Some of the contributors are well-known or are at the start of their career. Some are refugees or from other migrant families, others have campaigned or raised funds for refugees in the past.

But what is remarkable is that the idea — first mooted by Zimbabwean activist Ambrose Musiyiwa — gathered support immediately. From the initial idea to the final copy took only weeks. Work poured in from around the world, some new material, some from poets’ backlists. Press pictures of drowned migrants in the Mediterranean gave an urgency to the project.

Siobhan Logan, one of the editors, says: “Like other people, I felt distraught about the scale of the unfolding refugee crisis and especially the media representation of migrants crossing Europe as a ‘swarm’ or ‘flood.’

“The impetus for the anthology came out of an established community of writers sharing their thoughts on social media. As writers we’re very alert to the power of naming and labels and wanted to shift that discourse to a more humane one.

“We didn’t control TV channels or national newspapers. But we had our own words and shared them. When Ambrose posted up the suggestion of an anthology, there followed a flurry of suggestions and volunteers.

“I was blown away by the poetry submissions that came in — well over 200 thoughtful, complex, diverse poems — deeply felt but also beautifully crafted. It was a considerable challenge to whittle this down to about 100 poems that spoke to each other thematically. We wanted an array of voices, including those of refugees themselves.

“The book has been raising funds but it has also taken that conversation that started on Facebook out into the wider community. It turns out we could do something after all. And coming together made that solidarity not only practical but also made it sing.”

Musiyiwa had worked with what became the editorial and publishing team on a number of projects in Leicester but was still astonished at the immediate and powerful reaction to his idea.

Like Logan, what concerned him was the way labels had been attached to people crossing the Mediterranean as well as those in camps in the north of France.

“The anthology challenges the ‘othering’ and dehumanisation that has been prevalent,” he says. “It presents this challenge without preaching. It strips the labels to their bones and reminds everyone that the people who are seeking refuge are people and not numbers, insects or environmental phenomena.

“And it enriches because it does what people do, it reaches out and reaffirms the humanity of people who are in a difficult situation.”

Other exiled writers involved in the project include Malka al-Haddad, an Iraqi living in Leicester, and the refugee writing group at the Arimathea Trust in Nottingham. Established refugee writers, including Ziba Karbassi and Jasmine Heydari, have material in the book and there are a number of Jewish, Black and Asian writers from an earlier generation of migrants.

But the material has been chosen solely on quality, relevance and the way the poems in the collection relate to each other. The editors wanted the book to mirror the crises that caused refugees to flee, report on their journey, reflect on the welcome and often the small kindnesses they have received which strengthen peoples’ ability to overcome their traumatic recent past.

In introducing the Leicester launch of the book Emma Lee, who took on much of the role of chairing a complex Facebook and email debate on how to take the whole idea forward, remarked on how more home-grown writers were conscious of their relatively privileged position.

This is echoed in Poliakoff’s introduction. “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,” he writes.

Lee is one of several contributors who have not only staged “proper” launches but ensured that many relevant poetry, literature and film events have some guerilla readings while others have taken copies to Quaker meetings, Green Party branches, conferences on refugees, and in the case of one poet, to his choir practice.

Another editor, Kathleen Bell, is convinced that poetry has a role to play because of Musiyiwa’s poem The Man Who Ran Through the Tunnel, very necessary given the language used in the media.

“While poets may not be able to solve big problems they do have a role to play in terms of language and narrative, enabling readers to see situations differently,” she says.

“I was aware of WH Auden’s Refugee Blues as a precedent. It seemed that a poetry anthology could do two things simultaneously — tell more varied, nuanced and complex stories and raise money for charities helping refugees.”

There was agreement that the focus would not be just on poems about the current situation but would create parallels with past experiences of refugees and exiles. The crowd-funder launch coincided with the pictures of the death of the child Aylan Kurdi washed ashore on a Mediterranean beach and a big change in the public mood.

A large number of poems relating to the photos in the press were received, she says. “But we decided that we didn’t want too big a focus on one instance but to tell a wide range of stories and offer a variety of approaches.

Influential as Aylan’s story was, we knew there were many other stories which had not received so much attention. This meant turning down some strong poems, some of which have since appeared elsewhere and rightly so.”

And so this will continue. Further events are planned, including in London and possibly in Scotland. The group’s Facebook site, Poets in Solidarity with Refugees, lists other poetry initiatives in support of refugees, while in London the long-established Exiled Writers plugs away at this issue month after month. Poetry can make things happen.

Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for Those Seeking Refuge is available at £9.99 from Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham,, telephone (0115) 837-3097 and at Housmans bookshop in London.

British poet Attila the Stockbroker’s 2015 in review

This poetry video says about itself:

The Corbyn Supporters From HellAttila The Stockbroker, 15th Oct 2015 at The Blue Boar Hotel, Maldon, Essex, UK.

By Attila the Stockbroker from Britain:

Thursday 24th December 2015

2015 has been a momentous year for me, personally, poetically and politically.

On September 12, I was just driving out of my adopted 1980s home town of Harlow, having done a storming gig there the night before celebrating the recent publication of my autobiography. The news came through that Jeremy Corbyn had been elected leader of the Labour Party by a landslide. I had to stop the car as I listened to his victory speech. Tears of happiness filled my eyes and I punched the air. But I forgot I was still in the car and I punched the roof.

That is true, funny and it hurt but I didn’t care. It was the culmination of a very happy few weeks for me. I’d recently been given the all-clear after an operation for suspected bladder cancer, was about to become a step-grandad for the first time, and the Seagulls had just soared to the top of the Championship.

Corbyn’s amazing, inspirational victory was the absolute icing on the cake. In fact, it was two layers of icing with a great big bar of chocolate on top of those, a chocolate seagull with a red star made of strawberries on its head perched on that and the whole thing topped off with a load of clotted cream and six pints of Dark Star Six Hop Ale. Magic.

Twelve years before, in my song Guy Fawkes’ Table, written as the Labour government voted to join Bush in his illegal invasion of Iraq, I had despairingly written off new Labour — “Aneurin Bevan, your party is dead” — and declared that: “We need a new radical party, but not the Judean People’s Front/Not another small sect but a movement, with the power to change and confront.”

This music video says about itself:

Punk poet Attila the Stockbroker‘s ‘homage’ to New LabourGuy Fawkes’ Table – live onstage at Belper Queen’s Head, Derbyshire, England, on Thursday, 21st May 2010 with backing vocals from David Rovics.

The article continues:

Against all the odds, sneers, put-downs and scare stories from the national media, many of whose so-called journalists’ tongues are a deep shade of brown from constantly ensuring that the rectal cavities of the likes of Rupert Murdoch are as clean as a Singaporean airport lounge, we got it.

And our “new radical party” is the one it always should have been — the Labour Party.

I did 37 gigs between September and December on my autobiography tour, all over England and Wales, and the vibrant new hope I have encountered everywhere has been a joy to behold.

As we know, local Constituency Labour Parties have had a huge influx of members — including yours truly — and a huge grassroots movement is growing. Even in constituencies like my local one, where literally a dead duck could get elected wearing a Tory rosette, the recruits are flooding in.

Of course, the power of the opposition is daunting, not least because some of it is from within the Labour Party itself. But the sneers and jibes of the Tory press are testament to how frightened the tiny, unrepresentative elite which controls it are that their power could one day be taken away and legislation passed to bring true media democracy to this country.

That day certainly can’t come fast enough for me.

I certainly fully intend to spend 2016 as I have 2015, travelling the country and further afield as Comrade Corbyn’s unofficial — indeed unsolicited — social surrealist Minister of Propaganda. With a few reservations, not to be mentioned here — you can’t agree with someone about EVERYTHING, that’s being sycophantic. I’ll be spreading ideas, drinking beer and having fun. Fun’s important, you know! Beery Clashmas and a Hoppy New Year to you all.

Poetess Tineke Vroman, RIP

Leo and Tineke Vroman

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands today:

In her hometown of Fort Worth in the USA at the age of 94 Georgine Sanders has died. She was better known as Tineke Vroman, the muse of the poet Leo Vroman, who died last year.

Tineke Vroman-Sanders was a medical anthropologist and started to write at a later age. She debuted in 1990 under her maiden name with the poetry collection Het onvoltooid bestaan [The unfinished existence]. Her latest publication was the poetry book Een huis om in te slapen (2007). She also wrote a number of books together with her husband, who besides being a poet also was a biologist.

The two became engaged in 1938. Shortly after the German invasion Leo went to England and then to the Dutch East Indies. There he was arrested after the invasion of the Japanese. He was in various Japanese camps and did not see Tineke again until after the war. They married in 1947, had two daughters and were virtually inseparable.

Play about poet Leo Vroman

This video is the trailer of the Dutch theatre play Hoe mooi alles (How beautiful everything).

On 16 December 2015, Hoe mooi alles was in the Leiden theatre in the Netherlands. It is about the life of famous Dutch poet Leo Vroman (April 10, 1915 – February 22, 2014) and Tineke, his wife.

There are two roles in the play: Kees Hulst as Leo Vroman, and Esther Scheldwacht as Tineke.

Hoe mooi alles, book coverThe play is based on the novel, also called Hoe mooi alles, by Mirjam van Hengel, written in close collaboration with Leo and Tineke. The book was supposed to come out on Vroman’s 99th birthday, but he died just before that.

The play is set at shortly before Vroman died at 98 years of age. The couple reminisces, especially about 1938-1947: the time between when they met and became engaged, and when they finally married. Tineke was of partly Dutch, partly Indonesian ancestry, and had recently come to the Netherlands to study at the same Utrecht university as Leo. 1938-1947 was the time of the second world war.

Before that war, Vroman, being Jewish, sometimes experienced anti-Semitism. After the war, in New York City, a doctor advised Vroman to have an operation to make his nose look smaller: ‘With such a Jewish nose, no employer will give you a job’.

On 10 May 1940, nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands. The Vroman family suffered terribly from the fascists’ persecution. Leo fled the Netherlands on 14 May. Against all odds, he managed to reach England on a sailing boat. Tineke decided not to join Leo on that journey, for a complex of reasons, including expecting then it might be even more dangerous than the nazi occupation.

Soon, Leo Vroman decided to leave England for Indonesia, where he could finish his biology studies. Then, imperial Japan invaded Indonesia. That meant three years of Japanese prison camps for Vroman. Often, he came close to dying. Thinking about Tineke kept him alive. Along with small things, like a little mudskipper fish.

After the defeat of Japan, the Dutch government demanded that Leo Vroman should fight in another war: colonial war to stop Indonesian independence.

However, Vroman refused that. He wrote a famous pro-peace poem (also quoted in the play). He went to New York City. Eventually, he became a famous biologist in the USA.

In 1947, Tineke also came to New York City. It was illegal for her to go to the USA to marry. So, officially she came as a student. When she saw Leo after landing, she admonished him not to welcome her too enthusiastically, as authorities might see them.

One theme in the play is mutual feelings of guilt of the couple. Tineke felt guilty about not having joined Leo in fleeing the Netherlands in May 1940. Leo felt guilty about being away from Tineke for so long, and not returning to her immediately in 1945.

Nevertheless, this is a play about two people loving each other for many decades.

A review of the play is here.

Dutch author Judith Herzberg protests against king’s Argentine dictatorship links

Ms Judith Herzberg accepts the P.C. Hooft literature prize in 1997

This photo shows Dutch author Ms Judith Herzberg, when she accepted the P.C. Hooft literature prize for her poetry in 1997.

Ms Herzberg is from a Jewish family, and went into hiding from the nazi occupiers of the Netherlands as a child. Her parents were deported to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, but survived; contrary to Anne Frank and her sister Margot.

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

Judith Herzberg resigns at Resistance Museum in protest against king

Today, 08:08

Poet and playwright Judith Herzberg has resigned from the recommending committee of the Resistance Museum in Amsterdam. Her reason is the opening by King [Willem-Alexander] of the exhibition about political prisoners [in Dachau concentration camp] No numbers but names in April this year.

According to Herzberg, the museum should have asked someone else, because Willem-Alexander‘s father-in-law, Jorge Zorreguieta, is accused to have been involved in the disappearance of political prisoners in Argentina at the time of the Videla [military] regime. Herzberg resigned for that reason in August as a member of the committee of recommendation.

“I do not understand how he had the nerve to open this exhibition in the Resistance Museum,” Herzberg wrote in a letter that came into the hands of NRC Handelsblad daily. “He thought it was “an honour”? Didn’t he realize that this was an insult, especially in the Resistance Museum, to those who lost their lives? Doesn’t he see any parallel with the criminal regime in Argentina, when between 10 000 and 30 000 ‘numbers’ were made to disappear? And why did you ask especially him to open this exhibition? And talk with young people on that occasion? What should young people learn from that?”

Not in the Netherlands

Herzberg was at the time of the opening not in the Netherlands. That King Willem-Alexander had opened the exhibition, she heard later. After some thought, she decided that she did not want to be any longer on the recommendation committee, she says to the NOS.

Herzberg asked the chairman of the Resistance Museum, Hans Blom, to send the letter to the 24 other members of the committee of recommendation. Of these, three or four people responded, Blom told the newspaper. One person agreed with Herzberg. That was professor emeritus and former Director of Human Rights at the UN, Theo van Boven.

Poem on British Blairite warmonger Hilary Benn

This video from Britain says about itself:

Hilary Benn’s speech ‘reminded me of Blair’ says John McDonnell – BBC News

3 December 2015

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell says the speech made by Hilary Benn supporting air strikes in Syria reminded him of that made by Tony Blair ahead of the Iraq war. Mr McDonnell told the Today programme that he was impressed by the shadow foreign secretary’s oratory.

“I’m always anxious that the greatest oratory is going to lead us to the greatest mistakes,” he told presenter Nick Robinson.

This poem is about Hilary Benn, a right-wing Blairite MP within the British Labour party.

Recently, during the debate on whether British warplanes should bomb Syria, Benn spoke for a minority of Labour MPs siding with the Conservative government that the bombing should go ahead. To justify that, Benn made a historically crackpot equation between the British government ordering its military to bomb the Middle East yet again, and 1930s British anti-fascists who against the will of the British government went to Spain to oppose Franco, Hitler and Mussolini there.

This poem is by Kevin Higgins:

Premature Elegy for Hilary Benn

Thursday 10th November 2015

A chandelier accent

comes galloping to the aid

of things as they must remain.

A perfect bag of air, with a mouth

that can sound out the word


He heroically picks up the test tube

to pour out the blood of others.

He believes, passionately, in allies

the Prime Minister invented

while smoking a large herbal cigarette

Boris gave him the other morning;

perseveres, stoically, when those

who, in traditional times,

didn’t have telephones

call his office to tell his staff

what he is, or say the truth

about him on Twitbook.

Eventually, he’ll go upstairs

to not sit at the right hand

of his father, who’ll be too busy

trying to light his pipe,

or having a difference of emphasis

with the late Vladimir Lenin

over a ginormous mug of tea,

to be bothered with Junior’s excuses

for having spent

his final years on Earth

in a vast red robe

banging on the door

of the House of Lords,

shouting for someone to, please,

let him in.

Jeremy Corbyn reveals he was ‘appalled’ by MPs’ reaction to Hilary Benn’s pro-intervention Syria speech. The Commons erupted into spontaneous applause after Benn gave the last speech in favour of attacking the ‘fascists’ of Isis in Syria – to his own leader’s disgust: here.

British bombs and Syrian children, poem

This grandfather cries at the graves of his five grandchildren killed by United-States led international coalition air strikes on Atmeh, Syria

This poem is by English poet Andy Summers:

The Responsible Bomb

Thursday 3rd December 2015

Andy Summers responds to a British politician discussing bombing Syria on BBC radio last month

I am the Syrian child
Awaiting the British Responsible Bomb.
Each day I wake and rush to my window
Hoping to catch a glimpse as it falls
I want to welcome it with open arms
Because it keeps the British safe in their beds.
I want to catch it and caress its metallic beauty
This glittering message of peace
This reasonable response.
Each day I scribble crayon pictures of
Responsible Bombs
On smooth sheets of paper.
I stick them to our fridge with magnets shaped like butterflies,
My infant brain imagining friendly fire.


The pieces of my skull
Tear the paper
Smear my blood across the wall
Sprinkle spleen and scorched skin
Across my simple art.

The Responsible Bomb
Screams out my name

I am the Syrian child!