Live and online all-day Poem-a-Thon raises over £25,000 to aid Ukraine

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The Poem-a-Thon, a fundraising project to aid people in Ukraine, took place on Mothers Day, and involved 50 poets reading for five minutes each between 11am and 5pm, at JW3, a Jewish arts and community centre in north London, either in-person or via Zoom. In the evening there was a “gala event”, with high-profile poets lending their voices to the cause, which raised more than £25,000.

Alasdair Paterson, who said he went to Russia a lot in the 1990s, added: “My remaining Russian friends are now horrified, ashamed, or silent.”

Tim Dwyer read three poems which he’d written recently, based on Ukraine news stories, including one about the bread queue killings, another about the beleaguered city of Mariupol, and another taken from the diary of an anonymous journalist: “Everyone hugs everyone all day long.”

Pam Zinnemann-Hope told of her German parents who eloped to Stalin’s Soviet Union in the 1930s, and were later both imprisoned in Kyiv. Jennifer Langer, the daughter of German Jewish refugees who fled Nazi Germany for Britain, said in one poem of Putin: “He sits at his table as long as a fable.”

Graham Buchan provided a history lesson from the last century, with a poem called ‘Wheat’ about fields “steeped in blood”, and another about the Holodomor, a famine in the 1930s engineered by Stalin that killed millions of Ukrainians, a previous act of genocide.  

Amy Neilson Smith read a poem about a maternity hospital in Mariupol with this devastating line: “Fresh eggs are cracked, cooked and served on Putin’s cold plate.”

Roger Wilson, of Hope and Aid Direct, one of the two charities to receive funds raised by Poets For Ukraine, spoke of seeing “a sea of humanity” on the move at Poland’s Krakow station, a “heartbreaking scene”. He added: “What you’ve done here is amazing … but don’t forget them [Ukrainian refugees] when the media stop reporting on them, when the next crisis happens.”

Lisa Kelly read a remarkable poem called ‘Writing a poem bursting into tears having misheard deforestation for defenestration’. Jonathan Wonham’s contemporary poems included ‘Heart’ (“Put their mothers in cages as an example of how terribly small your heart is”); ‘It’s Not a War’ (“It’s not a war … it’s a party of blood and shit”); ‘The gas’ (“It’s me that built you up, and I will bring down down”); and ‘No words’ (“And the dead lying in the streets, say ‘We have no words’ ”).

Some of the Zoom readings were seriously disrupted by sub-titles that appeared to have been put together by a Putin cyber-warrior; we could really have done without them altogether. But the dedication of those Zooming in was undeniable, with Suzanne Batty delivering her reading from a Morrison’s car park somewhere in north Wales. On the other hand, we heard of one potential participant with relatives in Russia who had pulled out of Poets for Ukraine, after hearing of another poet blacklisted by Russia for taking part in a similar event.   

One of the organisers, Jacqueline Saphra, said poets had previously organised poem-a-thons for Syrian refugees, women’s aid, and for the planet. She said: “I’m very proud of the work we’ve put in, in creating this event … but this is not about us, it’s about the people who need the funds we are raising.” Another key organiser, Caroline Davies, appeared draped in a Ukraine flag at the end of the evening.

By the end of the night over £25,000 had been raised for humanitarian aid for Ukraine. Sometimes poetry can make a difference – or at least, play its part.

Poets for Ukraine was in partnership with the Society of Authors, the Poetry Society, the Poetry School and JW3. All proceeds will go to the charities Goods for Good and Hope and Aid Direct. 


See Poem-a-Thon pictures 


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