Poets from 'city of sanctuary' launch timely anthology

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A poetry group launched an anthology of its work on Saturday night – and one of the overriding themes of the book was the plight of refugees. It was the day after Holocaust Memorial Day, and also the day after US president Donald Trump announced his infamous barring of refugees from Syria, as well as putting up barriers against Muslim travellers from other countries.

Cloudburst III by Cambridge Pub Poets was launched on Saturday evening at the local Labour Party HQ by Cambridge’s MP, Daniel Zeichner, who, while applauding his own “city of sanctuary’s” welcoming of 100 refugees from Syria, condemned the British government for “doing everything it can to slow the process [of admitting refugees] as much as possible.” He added: “I just think this country is better than that.” 

One of the most striking poems in the anthology is 'Silt Road’ by William Alderson, pictured above, which includes a wealth of details linking the Fens with the Romans and also the Silk Road of Samarkand. It also contains these lines: “The poor and refugees still flood, the stream of affluence is silting up, / and though they’ve raised the banks, the water rises still.”

Janet Wright’s ‘Travels: An African Odysseus’ compares tourists on Greek islands writing postcards home with an African migrant’s safe arrival on Europe’s shore after “a fearful, crowded, seasick voyage”, now selling his “timeless freight of contraband, / illegal toys and beaded trinkets”. Jacqueline Mulhallen pictures a little girl weeping at the Hungarian border, turned away by barbed wire, as “a long winter settles on Europe”.  

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Eleven poets read poems from the anthology on the night. Paul Sayles, pictured right, a former specialist social worker in mental health, delivered a remarkable, chilling poem, in the form of a rap, which he said was the almost verbatim testimony of a servicemen’s wife at a military drop-in centre:

 

     ‘Cos when he comes home he takes to his bed,

     He has nothing to say except ‘I’ve got a bad head’,

     And when he’s at home sudden noise makes him jump,

 

     And the kids won’t go near him for fear of a thump,

 

     I don’t care if he doesn’t come home,

 

     I don’t care if he comes back dead.

 

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There were also humorous poems about a breast scan and family cookery chaos by Anna Lindup, pictured left, and Paula Holt, pictured right; a villanelle of revenge on an ex-lover by Janet Wright; and a number of haiku by Dave Hall including ‘Silent Night’, described as “a Zen haiku for Christmas”, which kind of left you waiting for it it to get going.

MP Daniel Ziechner read ‘The Dinosaur’ by Colin Shaw, pictured below, a journalist and Anglican lay minister, who has been running Cambridge Pub Poets as a twice-yearly group for over 10 years. Now the Pub Poets meet quarterly, with William Alderson, a widely-published poet and letterpress printer, joining Colin as co-organiser, and also co-editor of this anthology.  

The final two poems of the evening were read by William Alderson and Jacqueline Mulhallen, pictured below, about Jacqueline’s mother who has recently died at the age of 104. Their moving poems described the recent years when it had appeared that the moment of saying a final goodbye had come, only for this remarkable old lady to rally once more. William’s poem described how she “chocolate-caked her way to 99 and Christmas … and now she winds down, in her own time.” Jacqueline responded with “towards the end, she comes to what she really wants to say.”

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It was a poignant way to end an evening of public and personal poetry. The Cambridge Pub Poets are an eclectic bunch, as revealed in the biographies in the back of the book. Paula Holt is an accountant with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and finds the train journey to London “an ideal space for writing poems”. Anna Lindup trained as an actress, performing on stage, film, radio and television; Janie Westbrook was once a goldsmith
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in Spain and Bristol; Mike Roe took early retirement as a chartered surveyor, to undertake years of solo travelling in America and Asia; Dave Hall, a technical translator, is influenced by the Liverpool Poets, Edward Thomas and Robert Frost, but has added: “None of which explains why he mostly writes haikus.” A collection on the night raised £120 for Syrian refugees. And if anyone is wondering what brought me to the back streets of Cambridge on this particular night, the fact is that the Pub Poets had generously included a couple of my poems in their collection, on the strength of my appearance at one of their gatherings 15 months ago. It was a privilege to find myself among such company, an honorary Cambridge Pub Poet. Greg Freeman

 

 

 

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