Written and Spoken Word
Jane Wymark has worked extensively as an actor on stage, screen and television. After five years abroad (in Dhaka and Copenhagen), Jane returned to acting and is possibly best known for playing Joyce Barnaby in Midsomer Murders. She has also run school drama workshops for the National Theatre, worked as a continuity announcer for BBC Television and Radio 4, and tutored at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Currently, Jane is a Facilitator at The London Literary Salon: www.litsalon.co.uk/. See Jane's offerings at www.litsalon.co.uk/drama-studies/.
Jane interprets three poems, chosen for their resonance to the war being waged on Ukraine. They are W. H. Aunden's September 1, 1939; Sigfried Sassoon's Everyone Sang, and UK poet laureate Simon Armitage's Resistance, written March 2022.
by Katrina Hicks
In November 2016, The Grenfell Action Group (GAG) issued the following haunting statement:
“Only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of KCTMO (Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, formally known as TMO). We predict that it won’t be long before the words of this blog come back to haunt KCTMO management, and we will do everything in our power to ensure that those in authority know how long and how appallingly our landlord has ignored their responsibility to ensure the health and safety of their tenants and leaseholders. They can’t say that they haven’t been warned.”
I have resided in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) for a large portion of my life; becoming a North Kensington resident in the summer of 2015. Grenfell Tower stood as a central pillar to the community and those of the Lancaster West Estate. Standing strong since 1974, many of the residents have a history going back for generations.
When I moved to the area, work was being carried out on the tower. I later discovered that renovations were approved to commence from 2015, completing in 2016. These included a water-based heating system, works to the windows of flats, and Aluminium Composite Rainscreen Cladding (ACM) fitting. Application for fitting the ACM was granted on the grounds of the cladding improving heating and energy efficiency, and enhancing the tower’s external appearance. However, the main consensus amongst residents is that the cladding was used to make a 'run-down building look nice in an affluent area'.
I remember the evening of the 13th June 2017 well. The weather had been hot and humid, and I was returning home from work. I took my usual route on foot once I exited the tube at Latimer Road Station, which entailed walking past Grenfell Tower. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Young children played in the small playground next to the tower, closely watched by their parents or carers. Locals were scattered on various surrounding benches. And people were frequently exiting the often busy Kensington Leisure Centre.
I remember watching a group of people embrace next to a car parked outside Grenfell Tower. Part of this group then entered the building. To my regret, I never did catch a clear enough glimpse of their faces. Not well enough to identify whether or not those people survived what was to follow. I have often asked myself, “Who were they?” and “Did they get out?”
At approximately 00.54 am the next day, Behailu Kebede, a resident from Flat 16 Grenfell Tower (located on the 4th floor), made a 999 call to the London Fire Brigade (LFB), stating that there was a fire in his kitchen. It was later found to have been caused due to an electrical fault in his refrigerator.
The first responders arrived to what they believed was a contained fire. Residents were advised to adhere to the policy, which was to 'stay put'. The essence of this policy is that in buildings when residents are not directly in an area impacted by a fire, they should remain inside their flats with their windows and doors closed. Unbeknownst to them all, however, the fire had caught on to the flammable cladding exterior of the building.
By 1.27 am (33 minutes after the initial 999 call), the fire had spread up the 24-storey building, and at this point, had reached the roof. This part I find particularly difficult to recite. This was the approximate time that I awoke to an unusual commotion. There was a distinct mixture of voices yelling over cries. Grenfell Tower consisted of 129 flats, and individual fire alarms were simultaneously ringing on a constant loop. I also heard the ongoing sound of wailing sirens both nearby and distant.
The cries I heard still haunt me years on. Two voices, in particular, will forever stand out. One from a man desperately pleading for help from within his flat and one from a child separately crying out for their mum.
At the time, I continuously scoured the building with my eyes, and I found myself looking into separate windows with countless figures behind them. I’m not a religious person, but I felt helpless and found myself praying, “If there is someone out there, please find a way to get these people out of that building”.
By 2 am, the flames had spread around the tower’s 'crown' and had begun to expand diagonally. At this point, the LFB declared the scene to be a 'major incident'. The count of people gathering around the building grew as the minutes ticked on. The majority of them were distressed, and there were various cries for loved ones trapped within the tower. I can’t recall a time frame, but I remember a ring of cheers amongst the cries: “She’s out!”
As refreshing as that was to hear, the fire was still furiously ravaging Grenfell Tower, and the figures behind the windows were becoming increasingly more desperate. Every time I find myself looking up to the tower as I pass by, I envisage ‘the lady with string lights’. She was on one of the higher levels of the building. She never got out. As was later confirmed, only two people had survived from the highest two floors of the building. Even now, I struggle with that. Watching helplessly whilst people awaited their demise – that will forever fill me with guilt. “I should have tried to do more!” I often tell myself.
At 2.47 am (1 hour and 53 minutes after the initial 999 call), the LFB revoked the ‘stay put’ policy, advising surrounding neighbours, relatives and friends to contact anybody they could reach within the tower and urge them to try and find a way to escape. With one central staircase (which was now filled with toxic black smoke) and one exit, it was an almost impossible feat.
Through the early hours and morning, 70 fire engines had arrived on the scene. 250 firefighters were involved in tackling the blaze. I’d walked past the tower almost daily since moving to the area, yet I hadn’t ever been inside. I naively recall thinking at the time, “I’m sure that they have some sprinkler system inside, that’ll surely help?” Unfortunately, I later discovered that Grenfell Tower, like the majority of tower blocks in the UK, had no functional sprinkler system. By 4.44 am (3 hours and 50 minutes after the initial call), Grenfell Tower was entirely engulfed in flames.
The skies were a shade of light blue, yet before me was this orange glow. I can still visualise it clearly. I wept as I mentally pictured the figures behind each window. Each window had now disappeared behind the flames and smoke. At around 5 or 5.30 am, I sent my mum a message on WhatsApp. I informed her that she would wake up to some bad news, but that we were okay. To this day, if there is one thing from that night that I am thankful for, it is that my child slept the night away, blissfully unaware. I can’t allow myself to become too consumed in that gratitude, as I think back to the children who lost parents; the parents who lost children; and the children who, unlike my child, witnessed it all unfold.
From approximately 6.00 am, I had Sky News on the television. They were covering the fire, and I was desperate to know who had made it out. I also needed confirmation of the fatalities. As strange as it feels to admit, a part of me thought that I needed confirmation to mourn those gone, even if I didn’t know them personally.
The final resident of Grenfell Tower to be rescued from the building came out at 8.07 am. My son had woken up an hour earlier and struggled to comprehend what was unfolding as the fire was still raging furiously nearby. Despite this, he insisted that I take him to school, which I did. My biggest regret is that I too went to work afterwards. Looking back, I wish I’d called off work that day and stayed home to help my community. All day in the office, I refreshed news pages, desperate for more information. I felt a glimmer of hope when I witnessed the community come together so quickly. I felt an instant sense of pride for my area and the people I resided with.
In the immediate hours after the fire, online platforms were awash with the earlier Grenfell Action Group (GAG) blog posts. Residents had repeatedly expressed concerns regarding fire safety in Grenfell Tower. In 2013, GAG blogged a 2012 report written following an assessment by a KCTMO health and safety officer. They, too, had recorded multiple fire safety concerns, such as condemned fire extinguishers and firefighting equipment that hadn’t been checked for around four years. The building didn’t even have a centrally activated fire alarm.
In June 2016 (1 year before the fire), the Grenfell Tower Leaseholders Association carried out an independent assessment, I later found out. Their assessor raised 40 serious fire safety issues and recommended further action being taken in a matter of weeks. In October 2016, KCTMO was questioned why half of the issues raised prior had still not been resolved. In November 2016, the London Fire and Planning Authority served KCTMO with a fire efficiency notice for Grenfell Tower. It ordered that works to fix issues including lack of fire-safe doors and repairs to the smoke venting system, be completed by May 2017 – one month before the fire.
In total, 223 people escaped the tower alive, although 74 of those sustained various injuries. It is widely believed that because it was the holy month of Ramadan, many who survived did so because they were awake in the early hours enjoying ‘Suhar’, a pre-dawn meal.
It had initially been confirmed that 71 people lost their lives due to the fire at Grenfell Tower. Still, this toll officially rose to 72 when Maria Del Pilar Burton, who also suffered serious long-term health issues, died in hospital in January 2018 – seven months after the fire.
The youngest of victims of the blaze included a six-month-old baby, Leena Belkadi, who died in her mother’s arms. The mother also died whilst she tried to escape. And baby Logan Gomes was stillborn in hospital. Even though his mother survived. Eyewitnesses reported to various news outlets at the time having seen people jump from the tower to escape. I didn’t witness this myself. It was later confirmed that four of the deceased victims had sustained injuries consistent with falling from height.
It has been previously speculated in the community that the official death toll could be higher. Grenfell Tower had no formal register for residents, and there were claims of there being undocumented migrants and asylum seekers who lived there through sub-letting.
In total, the fire burnt for over 60 hours and was officially declared extinguished on the evening of 16th June 2017. In the immediate aftermath of the fire, the London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said this: “In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never seen anything of this scale”. She later admitted to receiving counselling following a decline in her mental health, alongside 80 fire crew and metropolitan police officers (present during the fire) who also subsequently suffered from mental health issues.
The fire at Grenfell Tower has since been declared the worst UK residential fire since the Second World War. Online figures show that 67% of bereaved relatives, friends and survivors of Grenfell Tower have had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 26%-48% of residents who witnessed the blaze have also been diagnosed with PTSD. I’ve been told by those closest to me that I may have developed some stress disorders from that night, but I’ve always felt too guilty to seek help; “who am I in comparison to those who suffered worse?”
In July 2017, a month after the fire, a local volunteer reported to a Grenfell Response Team meeting that 20 locals had attempted suicide. Four years on, I wonder if any did continue with their attempts and if they succeeded? I hope it is not the case, but we should include their names in the official death toll if that did happen.
Walking around Latimer Road today, one is met with various murals to commemorate those lost and to celebrate all those within the community. The community spirit I felt when I moved there has certainly not been dampened alongside the fire. For it was the community that came together to offer aid, love, and hope. Groups such as ‘Grenfell United’ and ‘Justice For Grenfell’ continue to tirelessly campaign for justice – for those at fault to be held accountable.
In the fire’s aftermath, the government commissioned an urgent independent review into building regulations and fire safety. It also commissioned urgent reviews on buildings across the UK with similar cladding types. It pledged £200 million to have replace cladding on residential tower blocks in England.
However, upon recent research, I have discovered omissions. ‘Inside Housing’ published a report in April 2021 highlighting that material identical to Aluminium Composite (that was used on Grenfell and subsequently declared as the ‘primary’ cause of the fire) was still on 233 other buildings across the UK. And remedial works had still not been done.
The report goes on to say that 44 of those buildings were yet to start work. This is despite the government threatening ‘enforcement action’ on building owners who did not comply. Names of such companies can be found on the government’s monthly building safety data, but what more could be done to enforce actions?
In 2018, during the lead up to the first anniversary of the fire, Theresa May (Prime Minister at the time, later replaced by Boris Johnson in the summer of 2019) acknowledged the failings: “It was a tragedy unparalleled in recent history, and although many people did incredible work during and after the fire, it has long been clear that the initial response was not good enough. I include myself in that.”
Theresa May was slammed by the survivors, the bereaved and the local community for not seeing them during her initial visit to the tower. The lack of empathy felt like a massive slap in the face to the community. After facing heavy criticism in the press, she later did return and was subsequently heckled by locals. She then said of accusations of her not caring, that it “never was the case”.
It had been exposed previously that the council’s cabinet member ignored the previous pleas from the Grenfell Action Group over the building’s lack of fire safety and the aftermath of the fire saw council officials and councillors forced to resign due to their ‘poor handlings’.
In January 2020, Mohamed Ragab, who lost his nephew Hesham Rahman in the fire, spoke to Boris Johnson during a meeting about his own time working for TMO (KCTMO). He went on to reveal that Boris Johnson had questioned what TMO was. It would appear that ‘ignorance’ amongst the conservative party is still too big a factor. Even more concerning is that in the fire’s immediate aftermath, a government task force took over parts of the RBKC’s functions.
From September 2017, public inquiry hearings opened. An inquest has also been opened and is pending further police investigations and enquiries. The hearings have often been met with criticism. Grenfell justice groups claim that biases present amongst some chair members. And there have been situations where relatives and the bereaved have been prevented from attending some meetings.
It has been over 1,600 days since the Grenfell Tower fire. Only six arrests have been made, with no convictions. By June 2018, 5 individuals were arrested for fraud, some of whom had even made false claims of losing loved ones in the fire. Rydon, the leading contractors in charge of works carried out on the building, came under intense scrutiny, both at the public inquiry and in the media. Artella (administration), Max Fordham (specialist mechanical and electrical consultants), and Harley Facades (cladding) also found themselves in the firing line.
The companies that worked alongside the council were massively criticised for their ‘penny pinching’ tactics. It was revealed that RBKC had ditched plans to proceed with their original works contractor, Leadbitter, due to costs estimated at £1.6 million higher than the proposed budget. RBKC, in turn, decided to hire Rydon, whose refurbishment works had been estimated at £2.5 million less than Leadbitter.
Acronis Reynobond PE and Reynolux Aluminium Sheets were the two proposed cladding types fitted on Grenfell Tower. RBKC decided to use the cheaper composite material. Celotex RS500 Pirthermal was used for insulation beneath the cladding, being fitted to the exterior walls of each flat. RBKC had refused an alternative option with better fire resistance, again due to cost. I often find myself asking, “What drove the officials from the wealthiest borough in Britain to penny pinch so carelessly when it came to the health and safety of the residents within the borough?” I then find myself stumbling across the same answer every time, which is simple. It came down to class, and it came down to race. Many of the residents within Grenfell Tower were from either lower or working-class backgrounds. Many also didn’t originally hail from the UK. Their needs, their concerns and their voices didn’t appear to matter enough to those they relied upon to house them in safe conditions.
The LFB also faced heavy criticism, both at the public inquiry and in the press. It was stated that they should have discarded the implemented ‘stay put’ policy 1 hour and 20 minutes before it was actually revoked. It was also reported that the LFB had broken protocol during their rescue efforts by entering a building without knowing if it was structurally safe.
I clearly remember, at regular times, witnessing burning debris fall from Grenfell. I did have my concerns at the time if the tower was going to collapse. I often compare the scene to that of the Twin Towers during the 9/11 collapse. “If they could come down, couldn’t Grenfell?” Frequent explosions were also heard coming from within the building. It was later revealed that up to 100 firefighters entered Grenfell Tower at once. I’ll never forget their smoke-stained faces, lined up against the wall of the leisure centre, their eyes red and tear-filled.
Come to think of it, I can’t recall receiving a visit from council officials in the aftermath of the fire or even in the months to follow. Volunteers, yes. Local charities, plenty. Not RBKC members.
To my family and I, the LFB were absolute heroes. For it was them who risked their own lives attempting to save those trapped in Grenfell Tower. Mariem Elgwahry, 27, and Nadia Choucaur, 33, had also previously campaigned regarding fire and health and safety concerns at the tower.
Mariem and Nadia, alongside other GAG bloggers, had been threatened with legal action by RBKC in the years before the fire on the grounds of ‘character defamation’ and ‘harassment’. Mariem, Nadia and 70 others lost their lives in the early hours of 14th June 2017 in the fire at Grenfell Tower. It would appear that the ‘suits’ behind the councils’ decision-making are the ones who defamed their characters. As Grenfell Action Group once protested, ‘they can’t say that they weren’t warned.’
Katrina Hicks is a freelance writer with particular interests in reportage, using interviews as a basis for commentary. She is also drawn to poetry. Residing in North Kensington with her family, Katrina frequently advocates for justice towards her community. Her social justice commitments were further strengthened after the tragedy at Grenfell Tower in the spring of 2017. Katrina is also founder of creative writing website Katrina's Kreations, which launched in 2021.
Three poems read by Amy Allen, north London actor, writer, storyteller.
Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night: Dylan Thomas
Making a Fist: Naomi Shihab Nye
Try to Praise the Mutilated World: Adam Zagajewski
THE HOUSES I DID NOT BUILD
by Gülce Tulçalı
“I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.” - The Poetics of the Space,
I do not remember the first house I lived in. I have had many houses that touched me. And I touched them. But the first house I would have seen, where I would have learned to walk and talk, is a lost memory. It’s a metaphor for the houses awaiting me ahead.
I do recall many other houses; stable memories of my upbringing. I remember touching rough walls and them touching me back. I remember the taste of an afternoon nap at my grandmother’s. I was left alone to dream, in a garden with chickens or by the sea, always watched by my family.
During adolescence, there was a naive period where you were too old to stay in your own home all the time but too young to go to a nightclub. I loved going away to other people’s houses during this period. Everyone had distinct objects for decoration, and the light struck differently in every house. Each dwelling smelled unique, spices in the ones where cooking was done frequently. Other places had the ambiguous smell of old furniture, undertones of bleach, odors in a space empty all day, waiting for their humans.
After moving abroad, around eight years ago now, the most stable existence I had was a flat I stayed in for almost two years. Sometimes I had no choice about leaving; sometimes I had the chance to stay but chose to leave. I laughed, grew, grieved, observed, and dreamed in many different houses throughout these years in Milan, Turin, Izmir, Istanbul, Berlin, and different parts of London.
But the one I am trying to get out of right now is not just the first house I refuse to be in, but the first one my body itself rejects. I cannot stay in it, even for a couple of minutes. The scent of the house is not only old but also sharp. So many could-have-beens linger in the air. The smells not only go through my nose but through my whole body. The shape of the house is the same. My frame, which I barely hold together within the space, is not what it was before the loss.
Many lives were intercepted here, living under the ‘sponsorship’ of two landlords. After all, this is London. There is little space to waste and many formalities come with living in strangers’ houses.
This is not the first house I decided to leave before the end of the contract. Contracts, automated messages, online forms, and office hours are made for those who have a regular day, so this is not easy for me. London makes me want to find a decent house without much history, and see what happens if I just start living in it. Here I am between Aldgate East and Tower Hill, and I am asking myself how long I can go on pretending I’m fully adjusted to this constantly changing urban world.
It’s as if we humans are waiting for the tube to move again. We’re waiting for a signal from someone, somewhere. But we are stuck within an anxious self. Whenever something breaks down, or some terrible disorder happens, I contrast it in my head with sunset on an endless coast. I keep thinking that being able to travel very fast throughout a city doesn’t sit right with me. My body was not made for this. The older I get, the more upset I am that I’m missing everyday sunsets as I’m waiting on that signal which will unlock and move me in a truer direction.
Living fully is linked to spending time in nature with noble habits for most of us. We need more days that we can say, “I have lived in harmony with the earth today.”
Illustration by Gülce Tulçalı
A Lament for Afghanistan
Produced by Tess O'Hara
I Still Have Time
ORIGINAL POEM BY
Yama Yari WITH Sarah Maguire
It's well past midnight
I should get up to pray
The mirrors of my honesty
have long been filmed with dust
I should get up
I still have time
My hands can yet discern
a jug of water from a jug of wine
as time's wheeled chariot
hurtles down the slope of my life
the poisonous arrows aimed at me
will hunt down my eyes
two speckled birds startled into flight
will grow old
awaiting my return
I Will Become a Traveller
ORIGINAL POEM BY
Mohammad Bagher Kolahi Ahari
Alireza Abiz WITH The Poetry Translation Workshop
I will become a traveller again.
My boots laced up,
I will let my nails go uncut
I will let my chin sprout a bush of hair –
like the immensity of these mornings
that stand between me and a beautiful death.
As I near my beautiful death
I will wander among faces
like a homesick pilgrim,
like a bird falling from the nth tree of the world
as the last star sets
in a basket of apples –
there, early one morning.
Spring 2021 Features
for Ahmad Almallah
so that these words shall not be written to no-one : go ahead into the city of al kuds what the ancestors called jebus & when you come to the first gate wait 9 weeks in meditation fast, & drink no water
& when we approached the first gate i remember a bloody larynx hung at the threshold a sign by which we shd not go on & by which you cd not so that we swept our feet across the entry-floor as a sign to the guards we wd not leave
then in dusty corners of entry we assembled groups of students & teachers poets & craftspeople wherever & whenever our words were exchanged the first thoughts we immediately grasped for
each after the whole matter at hand from it & from its meaning as in
numerable keys popping up in thoughts as words joined up & at last we saw the first who also sat as teachers & students dressed-up like us in shatnez coats
they immediately asked after you at which point we have come but have not the strength to say what they asked for the ancestors who took that burden on their backs who packed themselves tightly in exile tho dispersed
[sliced from the stairs & w/ all the stairs]
translated from the Hebrew of Avot Yeshurun
one day a door sliced the second-story
& the whole sand-loam-concrete floor rose & shifted & moved
& spilled & fled & was thrown from the stairs & w/ the stairs.
the room on the second-story remained lit in the sun as before in wood’s supports naked
from whence was this taken?
from where does it derive?
what’s it called?
what’s it say?
[approaching the black sea]
for Rachel Blau DuPlessis
approaching the black sea hidden in light & on the other side of the sea a valley whose height they say reaches the sky at what we shouted be what may so we began to walk on a slant through the air across diagonal crevices until we reached the bottom what they said where having felt the ground we stopped walking in the dark instead a cliff of mountain air & seeing that because of steep smoothness forced to clamber with hands & nails teeth & tongues for sheer violent strength to reach some top & as soon as we stopped an extraordinary silence: & there were many failed believers there seized by joy & we did not want to walk on the mountain with our whole bodies, saying to ourselves: we must protect ourselves
for Gabriel Levin
in whatever shape or form it takes what breaks drills the body wakes into “a land not promised you.” on archipelagos of sound, a silence rains, maimed & claimed as one of those who knew you well. whomever sounds the sound resounds & sorts the mounds & bodies left 4 dead. when the sun sets over a different place. the place is not the place but the face, she says. moment-to-moment, mouth-to-mouth, in the cave of the shark in the body of a bird. i'm in bed by 10 a.m. with my earplugs in & still the drilling persists. neurotic mists conjure valleys of erotic shit - valleys of the wretched myth of persistence. subsistence consists of existing conditions. a fist in the shape of a rose. in the valley of resurrection. morning re-covers strangled birds on all sides by blinding light we can’t see. it is the light before dark. it is the darkness probed in light. if I am the site give me sight. to hold & behold, the cold not the cold, our hunger not our hunger. w poems btwn our teeth, feasting on the least & starving on the bones. in the beginning we cut stone. in the beginning we roamed & combed ticks from our sheep. sites & excursions excavate our lines. find & do not find, in mine & not in mind. the yellow berries that followed me thru sleep. corrupting my distracting by the wheat of the week & saying we are those who have gone crazy. mark yrself in ash above the temple. sort what cannot be sorted the mortuaries mountains below above the summer snow. to know, no never to know, to go after what cannot be—
On Ariel Resnikoff’s Unnatural Bird Migrator (The Operating System, 2020)
Notes from Daniel Viragh
Yiddish, Hebrew, Aramaic and Akkadian all make regular appearances in the infinite mosaic of Ariel Resnikoff’s Unnatural Bird Migrator. What holds this collection together is the author’s steadfast dedication to a translingual Jewish poetics. Resnikoff has taken on the cosmic-cultural Jewish symbolic world, reframing that world’s wisdom and complexity in a way only a poet can. This book makes us re-evaluate the different strands of our own identities, whatever our backgrounds and traditions, no matter our individual or collective hangups.
Take, for example, the following from the book’s first section entitled “Yinglossia”. The poet excoriates the reader to go “spill yr guts against the synagogue” and then adds, helpfully (!): “[lit. house-of-entry]”. Of course, those who have some familiarity with Hebrew, or with Jewish customs and traditions more generally, will immediately recognize in “house-of-entry” the Hebrew word for “synagogue”. And that is precisely the beauty of Resnikoff’s work: it comes at you from the side without your being aware of it. And then the translation (or mistranslation) suddenly hits, and you’ve somehow bypassed or sidestepped your usual interpretive mechanism.
Positing himself as the “chew-among-chews,” Resnikoff tackles many facets of what might be called ‘the Jewish experience of otherness.’ He writes of the Ashkenazic devotion to the old-world palate, noting that “you can shake-stammer in impending fire” -- does he mean pogroms? -- “from stuffed cabbage to stuffed cabbage,” adding that those cabbages are also called “stuffed (holebshes/holishkes/ holubtshe)” depending on which side of what border you might be having your meal.
There’s a reference in those words -- “shake-stammer” -- to the seemingly endless Jewish path of exile, diaspora and never really belonging. But there is also space for love, worry and care: “sweetheart darling child in me -- sweet little soul in me -- what difference does it make whether we live or die? the inf(l)ected tongue -- may it keep its distance! & the impure food [slang, lit. pig feed] doesn’t do a thing.”
Unnatural Bird Migrator is not an easy read, and sometimes the “practice of translingual- poetic deformance” and “interlingual punning & fusion-slangs” which Resnikoff proffers can be daunting, even to the most initiated. But when the poet cries out, a bit like Tevye, “o, god in heaven, master of the universe,” only to catch himself and add, a bit slyly, with the twinkle of his eye: “who knows if he’s the real mccoy”... you know you’re in for the ride of your life.
The words of Ariel Resnikoff’s Unnatural Bird Migrator mix, morph, transmogrify and transplant themselves from language to second language and through half-first and half-last languages. This is a book that bridges the unbridgeable and enjambs the (seemingly) unenjambable.
Daniel Viragh website:
Extracts of Ariel interviewed by Rose on; A Poem Blows Through Us, Diaspora: Responses to Exile, Perpetual Departure, Imagined Space, Infiltration, and Directed Wandering.
Ariel Resnikoff is the author of Unnatural Bird Migrator (The Operating System 2020); the chapbooks Ten-Four: Poems, Translations, Variations (Operating System 2015), with Jerome Rothenberg; and Between Shades (Materialist Press 2014). His writing has been translated into Russian, French, Spanish, German and Hebrew, and has appeared or is forthcoming in Golden Handcuffs Review, Dibur Journal, Protocols, The Wolf Magazine for Poetry, Schreibheft, Zeitschrift für Literatur and Boundary 2. With Stephen Ross, he is at work on the first critical bilingual edition of Mikhl Likht’s modernist Yiddish long poem, Processions. With Lilach Lachman and Gabriel Levin, he is translating into English the collected writings of the translingual- Hebrew poet, Avot Yeshurun. Ariel has taught courses on multilingual diasporic literatures at the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing (UPenn) and at BINA: The Jewish Movement for Social Change. In 2019, he completed his PhD in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Pennsylvania, and is currently a Fulbright Postdoctoral US Scholar.
for Ariel's PennSound Page
for the latest interview with the publisher; The Operating System
Black Lives Matter Features, Summer 2020
Click on image to hear individual features
Spoken Words Feature, Summer 2020
Jekwu Anyaegbuna graduated from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, with an MA in Creative Writing.
Jewku reads Nigerian poet Wole Soyinka’s Night.
Wole Soyinka, Nigerian playwright, novelist and poet, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2019. The Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange is based in Nigeria, and honoured the Nobel Laureate with a celebration of his 86th birthday last year.
Mazvitashe Ngoma and Loveness Sola
Spoken Word Feature, Summer 2020
Loveness Sola and Mazvitashe Ngoma read the poem Dry by Edwell Zihonye. Follow him on Twitter at Edwell Zihonye (@ZihonyeEdwell) | Twitter and on Facebook.
They also read Londoners, by Zimbabwean poet Kristina Rungano, Zimbabwe’s first published female poet. See another of her works: https://www.poetryinternational.org/pi/poem/5900/auto/0/0/Kristina-Rungano/The-Woman/en/nocache
Spoken Words Feature, Summer 2020
Tadiwanashe Chirongoma, born in Zimbabwe, was brought up in South Africa. He moved with his professor mother and counselor father to California in 2013. He remained after his parents’ return to Zimbabwe. After receiving his undergraduate degree in 2021, he will attend medical school.
Written Word Feature, Spring 2020
Jade Amoli-Jackson was born in northern Uganda, studied journalism and worked as a sports reporter on television and radio, and on national and local papers. After her husband, sister and father were killed during a period of internal conflict, and with her own life in danger, she sought refuge in England in July 2001. Jade has read her poetry across the UK and is a volunteer at the Refugee Council.
‘The big man wants to see you.’
Our hearts stopped pumping blood
We could not eat or swallow the food in our mouths
Our children’s eyes were wide with suspicion.
In my mind I knew what might happen
I had already been through it.
My friend’s husbands
Brothers, even sisters
Were picked the same way.
He put on his shoes
Looked at me and smiled
I knew he did not want
To be shot in front of me and the kids.
At home, I tried to cheer them up
But the dreams were fading away very fast.
I sat down with our children and told them
‘Mum is going to find out where dad is.’
We said our goodbyes, all in tears.
‘I have come to take my husband home.’
‘We have no idea what you’re talking about!’
Then, a young soldier beckoned me towards the gate.
‘I know where he is
Wait for me near the market.’
I walked like a zombie to the square
‘He was killed the same day he was brought here,’
The young man in civilian clothes told me
The man who was in uniform earlier.
‘Can you show me where his body is?’
‘For a price, the boss wants money.’
‘How much do you want?’
I had only three hundred pounds on me.
I was bargaining for my husband’s body
Which might already have started to collect maggots.
Finally, he accepted what I had.
He came out still dressed in his suit, headless
I am at peace now
He seemed to say.
Look after the kids and yourself.
I could not touch him
However hard I tried
The dreams faded away
Leaving only tears and heartache.
Moving a Country
Move the evergreen trees
Lakes and seas
Wild and domestic animals
Birds of all sizes
Pack them all up
In the suitcase of my brain.
Leave behind the soldiers
Covered in old sacks
Or place them on the tip of
I’ll kick them into the deep blue sea
So my head can’t remember
And my heart can’t bleed
And the dark memories
Can fade slowly away…
I ran out of the house
Without packing anything
Even my sanity
How can a country I called home
Became a butcher’s den
And my bed a foreigner’s heaven!
I walk through fire
And find no water to cool
My burning heart
Only distant recollections
Fond memories of my youth
And the good old days
I search my head and heart
But the huge dark memories
Planted in my brain remain
I will treasure the good ones
And loathe the bad ones.
You have accepted thousands of different people
To live here with their own traditions.
You encourage us all to respect others’ culture and religion
Even colour, because you have accepted all of us.
I have to learn your language so as to know you better.
I can’t speak my language
You will not understand me.
I have travelled a long way from my land
Of fighting, killing and poverty.
I want to learn your language so that I can shop
To buy the things I like
To go to the cinema
And understand what is said.
I want to say hello to my neighbours
English, Russian, Polish, Somali and from Pakistan
They do not know my language.
My next door neighbours
Kenyan, Italian, Kosovan
Have started an English course.
I want to learn ESOL
I will study until I get it right
I want to get a job and pay taxes, like everybody else
I want to help other people
But I cannot do that hiding in my room.