Celebrating suffragettes

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In July I was honoured to take part in an event marking 100 years since (some) women were given the right to vote in the UK. Thank you to Lynne Cheong, Equality Officer at Bolsover District Council for organising the event, which celebrated all who strive for equality, and commemorated in particular Josephine Foote Hitch, a local suffragette. Here is the poem I wrote for Josephine, and for all who speak up and stand up for social justice against the odds.

Josephine Foote Hitch was born in Rotherham in 1872, and lived at Stainsby, Derbyshire for much of her life. Her family inherited her suffragette sash, and a 1910 letter of thanks from Adela Pankhurst. Josephine was known to hide under platforms to heckle renowned anti-suffragette speakers, and was arrested, possibly imprisoned.Josephine Foote Hitch

 Josephine waits underneath the stage

with musty panto props, ghosts of applause,

hears audience arrive, laced black boots tap;

her wooden cave’s a dusty silent pause,

 

she waits, injustice at her back, not knowing 

future thousands owe their freedom

to her acts. She waits with muted breath,

the cloud of voices swells above her head –

 

the twittering storm, the ones that wish her dead,

the words, the words she’s poised to break apart.

She’s daughter of the rage that swept her here, 

a prison cell’s her fate; she gifts us

 

these seconds, this tipping point

in which is found the strength to interrupt,

to fling aside the tired old ways,

to shatter inequality of gender, class and race; 

 

Josephine shouts out, takes centre stage

and makes her mark indelibly on history’s page.

Poems to Lift the Spirits. 22 Nov. Ripley Library

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guided_autumn_walkLooking forward to visiting Ripley Library, Derbyshire, 7.30pm on Thursday 22nd November. As autumn draws in, and the world has no shortage of challenges to deplete us, I’ll be inviting the audience to reflect on what nourishes us in times of trouble, and reading a selection of poems to support this. Not to deny or gloss over the difficult, but to remind us all of potential sources of strength and hope. Tickets available here

Verse Matters

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… anthologies are like buses … Delighted that my poem ‘Welcome’ is included in ‘Verse Matters’ a new anthology edited by Rachel Bower and Helen Mort. The book has evolved from the legendary ‘Verse Matters’ spoken word movement started by Rachel and now run by an intersectional feminist arts collective. Also proud to see work included from Bashar Farahat, whom I had the privilege to mentor for the ‘Art of Migration’ project, and from Mimi Mesfin, with whom I’ve collaborated for several years. The anthology has just been reviewed in the Yorkshire Post.

Small Acts of Kindness

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Delighted to have two poems – ‘Insha’Allah’ and ‘In Common’ in this anthology from Nottingham Peacebuilders. Copies are available from Five Leaves Bookstore and Waterstones in Nottingham. ‘In Common’ was inspired by the late Jo Cox MP, and written for Sheffield’s Great Get Together in June 2017, one of many such events held across the country to bring communities together.

‘We are far more united and have more in common than that which divides us’ Jo Cox, first speech to Parliament.

Courage of Conscience

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WW1-Be-Honest-LBIn these challenging times, many are challenging the status quo, asking why injustice, war and poverty continue alongside the extremes of affluence and waste. 100 years ago, courageous women and men also challenged the order of the day: a merciless hunger for bloodshed. Together with young writers, I’m proud to have taken part in a project researching and writing about World War One’s Conscientious Objectors, and our book is now available online.

‘I refuse to be a soldier. I object to killing my fellow men and consider it murder in any circumstances.’ Isaac Booth, 24, boiler stoker at Pilsley Colliery. Chesterfield Rural Tribunal, reported in the Derbyshire Courier, 5th January 1918.

Poem-a-thon Success!

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!cid_F8366462-FE5F-4F58-B4D4-E15A5F54779E Huge thanks to the 53 poets who took part (& kept to time!) and to the hundreds of people who sponsored, listened and gave generously. Round of applause for the Art House who hosted us and whose cafe kept us stoked up with food and drink. A tip o’ the nib to Jane Knight of Karuna Design who made us this beautiful poster.

The response was overwhelming, and even got a mention from The Poetry Society.  A fantastic community event, standing room only, enthusiastic audiences, tears and laughter. The end result? Over £14,000 raised for ASSIST Sheffield, plus a further donation to Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Hummingbird Project for grassroots work in the refugee camps of Northern France. This is what poetry is for. Poetry at its best. Poetry in action.

Sponsored Poem-a-thon

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2nd April, 50 poets, 8 hours of continuous poetry. Not a delayed April Fool, just a way of converting the spoken word into food, shelter and support for destitute asylum seekers and refugees. I’m reading alongside IMG_0082refugee poets Renuka and Mimi, with poems in Sinhalese, Amharic and English. Sponsor us here, or find all the teams here. So far we’ve collectively raised over £6,000 for Assist Sheffield. Join us 10 am – 6pm on Saturday 2nd April at the Art House, Backfields, S1 4HU.

Girl Rising: Derbyshire

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I’m very proud of this project which I’ve been working on over the past year, in conjunction with the wonderful artist Fi Burke and film production students from the University of Derby. Most of all, I’m proud of the Long Eaton girls who made it all possible. You can now watch the film on YouTube.

Senna_square‘Girl Rising: Derbyshire’ was inspired by Girl Rising, a documentary and social action campaign which uses the power of storytelling to raise awareness of inequality, and to get girls into classrooms worldwide. ‘Girl Rising: Derbyshire’ was devised, written and filmed by Year 9 students at The Long Eaton School. Their starting point was the story of Senna, a girl from a Peruvian mining town struggling for her right to education, who finds inspiration and hope through reading, writing and performing poems; her strength inspired the Derbyshire girls to identify areas of struggle, challenge and success in their own lives, and express them through poetry. The film was supported by Made in Derbyshire and premiered at the Derbyshire Literature Festival 2015.