Connecting Words

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Issue 313
March/April 2019
Regeneration

Reviews

Connecting Words
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Cover: Microchip synapses 18 - Fusion chamber by Leonardo Ulian www.leonardoulian.com

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Jini Reddy is moved by poetry written by schoolchildren. England: Poems from a School by Kate Clanchy (ed.). Picador, 2018. ISBN: 9781509886609

I stumbled upon England: Poems from a School in my local library – which in the current climate makes me happier than I can say. First, because the library is miraculously thriving in a time of drastic cuts to public services, and second, because the book celebrates poetry written by refugee and immigrant children. All attend a comprehensive school in a poverty-stricken corner of Oxford where 30 languages are spoken and poetry, unusually, is a specialism. Kate Clanchy, the anthology’s editor, is a prize-winning poet and the children’s mentor – the woman who has encouraged their gifts for self-expression. I dipped in at random, and was hooked from the word go. “Look ahead, jump, skip and hop. Hide the fact / you are alienated” writes Rukiya Khatun, 16, in ‘Homesick’. A sense of dislocation is palpable too in 14-year-old Ftoun Abou Kerech’s ‘The Doves of Damascus’: “I lost my country and everything I had before / and now / I cannot remember for sure / the soft of the snow in my country.”

There is an immediacy, an unflinching honesty, a warmth and a vibrancy in the poems gathered here – the last especially evident when cherished memories of home, or shards of them, in scents, colours and landscapes, are conjured. In exile, there is determination and resolve too, which leavens the mix. For the poets, writing is a way of making sense of ordeals and experiences that many in this country can barely conceive of and many more, tragically, have little empathy for. But hope lies here, in these voices. The students of Oxford Spires Academy have created something beautiful and affecting, and even if poetry isn’t your bag, it’s well worth buying the book for its compelling introduction and for the vignette-like biographies of the poets.

Jini Reddy is the author of Wild Times, published by Bradt Travel Guides.

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