Poetry In Protest

Tuesday 25 February 2014

In Protest book cover One of this year's events at StAnza is hosted by Laila Sumpton. During her years as a student at the University of St Andrews, Laila was a key member of StAnza's planning committee. She is now based in London where she is a member of the Keats House Poetry Forum. It is a great pleasure to invite her as co-editor of the recently published anthology, ‘In Protest- 150 poems for human rights’, to take part in this year's festival. Here she sets her event in context:

One of this year’s festival themes is ‘Words under fire’, part of the national and international commemoration of the First World War, and I am delighted to be hosting an event which explores our explores contemporary war poetry.

This transports us to a familiar territory, even if we have little direct experience of war, where we sense the legacy of the Great War poets, and for me Tony Harrison and Brian Turner, the countless films and dramas, Blitz photos and history text books. Yet when you come to writing your own war poem, where do you start? Especially when the trauma is often researched, not experienced. You could see the same challenge in writing about any non-confessional theme, but war poetry really needs to be handled with respect, restraint and compassion, or it runs the risk of being a shock and awe masterpiece.
When judging entries for the anthology that would become ‘In Protest- 150 poems for human rights’ alongside fellow Keats House Poet Anthony Hett and Helle Abelvick-Lawson from the University of London’s Human Rights Consortium, we were not surprised that of the 640 entries from all around the world- war poetry was a dominant theme. We found ourselves honing in on poems that focussed on individuals, rather than those that made generalisations about the scale and impact of war. It was the details of the humanity caught in warfare that made us see violations more clearly, and the post-conflict poems we selected about war crimes tribunals and memorialisation added an important dimension. ‘In Protest’ presents human rights poetry across thirteen different themes, including Workers, Children, Equality and Expression, and we were keen to showcase political poetry produced with craft, clarity and sensitivity.
Join six contemporary war poets who are journeying to Stanza from four different countries as they perform and introduce poetry published in ‘In Protest’ at the Stanza Poetry Festival on 10th March 7pm in the Byre Studio Theatre. You can also see the ‘In Protest’ installation at the festival exhibition, or take part in a war poetry discussion event at the University of St Andrews School of English at 1pm on 11th March.

Esther Kamkar, Eamonn Lynskey, Samuel Tongue, Jasmine Heydari, David J Costello and David Lee Morgan have written about different conflicts from different perspectives, using different techniques. Sweden based Jasmine Heydari explores her own experiences on living with memories of the Iran-Iraq war, and managing the expectations and intrigue of people asking her to recount it. Whilst Glasgow poet Samuel Tongue takes us instead to the drone control room in the Nevada desert where soldiers are zooming in on their targets in an all too real videogame, and Irish poet Eammon Lynskey forensically examines a photo of a civilian execution in Minsk during the Second World War.

In Ruth Padel’s forward to the anthology she beautifully expresses the importance of human rights poetry and in continuing to write ‘Words under fire’ as a tool for change and a means for survival:

‘A poem is language under pressure: the charged, memorable patterning of words in the smallest possible space. Made out of need and vulnerability, by burning away the peripherals, a poem calls attention to how we think about what is human. For those who, on behalf of us all, defend the rights of being human, a poem is one of the most resonant and basic human tools.’

'Poetry In Protest' on Sun 09 March 7.00-7.30pm at The Byre Theatre, Abbey Street – Studio Theatre (Free) features readings from a new anthology of human rights poems with Laila Sumpton http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2014/event.php?event=649