See How I Land: Oxford Poets and Exiled Writers

Project start: January 2009

Project finish: December 2009

Funded by: Arts Council England, Refugee Resource, Asylum Welcome

About us

In recent years, the Poetry Centre has initiated a number of community projects such as See How I Land: Oxford Poets and Exiled Writers, which was supported by Arts Council England and the charities Asylum Welcome and Refugee Resource. This important project aimed to support the creation of new forms of artistic expression amongst established poets and those who had not written poetry before but wanted to find a way to reflect upon their experiences of migration or working with migrants.

In doing so, it brought fourteen established poets together with fourteen refugees and asylum seekers to work collaboratively on some new poetry. See How I Land gave a voice to those whose voices are seldom heard, and whose stories are often judged to be lacking in credibility by the UK asylum system. Through a series of public events, articles in the media, and the publication of an anthology by The Heaventree Press in 2009, the project contributed to a wider public understanding of issues around immigration, asylum, refugees, and writers in exile.

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“In See How I Land the intersection of arts and human rights is vividly demonstrated… It asks us to think again about what it is that we, as humans, value, what it is that we share, and what it is that we desire to protect and to celebrate: freedom, safety, family, and love.”

Shami Chakrabarti

The Anthology: See How I Land

The collection arising from these collaborations - See How I Land: Oxford Poets and Exiled Writers (Heaventree Press, 2009) - features a Foreword by Shami Chakrabarti, and includes a new sonnet sequence by John Fuller and the opening of a novel-in-progress by David Dabydeen.

The other writers whose work is featured in the collection are:

Sadia Abdu, Filda Abelkec-Lukonyomoi, Afam Akeh, Carole Angier, Ali Askari, Annemarie Austin, Amina Benturki, Anne Berkeley, Carmen Bugan, Vahni Capildeo, Normalisa Chasokela, Abraham Conneh, Dawood, Dheere, Eden Habtemichael, Siân Hughes, Maria Jastrzębska, Gregory Leadbetter, Jamie McKendrick, Lucy Newlyn, Nazra Niygena, Jean Louis N’Tadi, Chuma Nwokolo, Bernard O’Donoghue, Deji Ogundimu, Adepeju Olopade, Yousif Qasmiyeh.

“Asylum seekers and poets are both searching. Refugees are trying to find a haven for themselves and their families, writers a home for stories, dreams and ideas… When Oxford Brookes brings these two worlds together they give us ‘outsiders’ a place where all our words, and all our lives, are valued.”

Benjamin Zephaniah

The Poetry

The title of See How I Land comes from a line in Gregory Leadbetter’s poem, ‘ Translation’, which was written for the project.

From See How I Land: Oxford Poets and Exiled Writers, ed. Carole Angier, Rachel Buxton, Stephanie Kitchen, and Simon White, with a foreword by Shami Chakrabarti (Heaventree Press, 2009)

We’re delighted to begin the current series of Weekly Poems with a poem from See How I Land: Oxford Poets and Exiled Writers – indeed, with the poem which gives the anthology its title.

See How I Land is a collection which brings together the work resulting from the ‘Oxford Poets & Refugees Project’, an initiative of the Brookes Poetry Centre and Oxfordshire charity Asylum Welcome.

The project paired 14 established poets with 14 exiled writers, refugees, and asylum seekers. Greg Leadbetter was one of the poets involved; he worked with Dheere, who came to the UK from Somalia in 1999.

Translation

Take away the hands that held me,
the eyes in which I first saw
love, the mouths from which I learned
to speak.

Take away the house I played in,
the bed I slept in, knowing
they were near. Take their footsteps
from the earth.

Take the city and the sky with it,
the streets I walked looking
for them, take the plane from around me
in mid-air.

See how I land with what they gave me.

Hands that are ready to hold,
eyes in which you will see
love, a mouth that is learning
to speak.

by Gregory Leadbetter

You can get a sneak preview of two further poems from the anthology - Bernard O’Donoghue’s ‘Emigration’ and a passage from Yousif Qasmiyeh’s ‘Holes’.

‘Emigration’ and a passage from ‘Holes’

Emigration

for Yousif Qasmiyeh

Unhappy the man who keeps to the home place
and never finds time to escape to the city
where he can listen to the rain on the ceiling,
secure in the knowledge that it’s causing no damage
to roof-thatch or haystack or anything of his.

Unhappy the man who never got up
on a tragic May morning, to go to the station
dressed out for America where he might have stood
by the Statue of Liberty, or drunk in the light
that floods all the streets that converge on Times Square.

Unhappy the man who has lacked the occasion
to return to the village on a sun-struck May morning,
to shake the hands of the neighbours he’d left 
a lifetime ago and tell the world’s wonders,
before settling down by his hearth once again.

by Bernard O’Donoghue

from HOLES

3

I was born
On the seam of a dress, 
In the last hour
Of the sixth day,
Between clusters of stars
And the borders of a river.

I was neither
Adam reaching the ground,
Nor was I myself
In cities
Which share their water
With the agents of doom.

4

I lean on 
The footsteps of my past
As I slip towards
My shadow.

The shadow which I left
Lying
Outside our house
On the morning 
Of that funeral.

I am that dead person
But I don’t know
How 
He managed to escape.

by Yousif Qasmiyeh

Jean-Louis N’Tadi’s ‘Flight of the Writers’ - a poem inspired by the project, but not included in the anthology.

Flight of the Writers

How long have the poison-bards of power
Flayed our living souls
O men of words

How long have they pierced our hearts
And stabbed our pages full of holes
In vain

 

How long, despite the censor, did we speak
Clothed only in our blood
Surrounded by stupidity

How long must we leave the jungle
For this exiled wood, this distant war
Sad soldiers, on a cruel road

 

In spite of all we stand
Our pens like arrows in our hands
Sad singers, captive from afar

Calm or aflame, we tell the truth
From exile, we write reality
O poets, is flight our fate?

 

As a bird slips the fowler’s snare
And soars into the air
As a priest fleeing sin becomes a saint

So it is better that we be gone
Before we are undone
Writers! Any road is better than none

by Jean-Louis N'Tadi, trans. and abridged by Carole Angier

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