Poetry as Protest: Poems by George Szirtes and Josh Ekroy



by George Szirtes

Consider the drowned
packing the sea and rising
like a dank mountain.

Crowding the water,
packed close like cargo, the drowned
vanish unlisted.

How deep the sea is,
how fierce and cold, untroubled
by its history.

We have history
in which we drown our sorrows
as in saltwater.

We don’t understand
death in the way the sea does
We set out in hope.

Now we lie, piled up,
as if we were intended
to be together.

But nothing is meant.
The sea does not bear meaning.
It is just a throat.

We too have our throats
but they are filled with water
and grief and money.

Those who ferry us
betray us. We can’t trust them
but rely on them.

You will recall us
in your private drowned moments.
You will recall us.

© George Szirtes, 2015

This is the first publication of Cargo. George Szirtes also wrote a special dispatch ‘Poetry as Dance’ for PEN Atlas ahead of the opening of Ledbury Poetry Festival.


Lord Hutton Reports

by Josh Ekroy

I am satisfied that this is not a case
in which the Crown could have had any knowledge
that a notoriously unstable egg would hurl itself
from the wall it was ill-advised enough to sit on.

I am further satisfied that subconsciously
the King’s horses and indeed the King’s men
may have wished to reassure the Crown
that the position of Mr Dumpty was perfectly safe,

but there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever
to suggest that the so-called ‘Dumpty Dossier’,
now in the public domain, overstressed
the stability of the egg’s position in any particular.

Turning now to Miss Liddell,
who obtained an interview with Mr Dumpty,
which he was not authorised to give, just prior
to his fall: the vast bulk of the evidence

laid before me states categorically that it was
this very interview that destabilised him. For years
a loyal servant of the royal household,
this extremely able ovoid was put under intolerable pressure,

in particular by Miss Liddell’s persistent and intrusive
line of questioning. Clearly, much needs to be done
in refining procedures for press interviews with leaking eggs.

In conclusion, the cavalry is to be commended
for its efforts, which went well beyond its duty of care,
to reassemble Mr Dumpty.

© Josh Ekroy, 2014

Lord Hutton Reports appears in Josh Ekroy’s debut poetry collection Ways to Build a Roadblock (Nine Arches Press)



George Szirtes

George Szirtes was born in Budapest in 1948 and came to England as a refugee in 1956. He was brought up in London and studied Fine Art in London and Leeds. His poems began appearing in national magazines in 1973 and his first book, The Slant Door, was published in 1979. After the publication of his second book, November and May, he was invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Since then he has published several books and won various other prizes including the T S Eliot Prize for Reel in 2005. He has also worked extensively as a translator of poems, novels, plays and essays, whilst own work has been translated into numerous languages.

George wrote the introduction to the award-winning Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot, an anthology of over 100 poems written in support of the imprisoned members of the group and published by English PEN. http://www.georgeszirtes.co.uk/

Josh Ekroy

Josh Ekroy was born in Essex, brought up in Surrey and educated in Sussex and Kentish Town. In another life he wrote novels for which the world was not yet ready as well as humorous articles which appeared in magazines including Punch. He now lives next to a lot of building sites in the City of London. He taught English for some years mainly in FE Colleges and for two years in Kiribati in the Pacific, which was then and is now disappearing beneath the waves as ocean levels rise. His poems appear in magazines, anthologies and webzines. Ways to Build a Roadblock (Nine Arches Press, May 2014) is his first collection of poetry. It explores the legacy of more than a decade of wars on terror, disastrous foreign poliies and brutality, and has been described by Greta Stoddard as ‘sharp-eyed, sharp-tongued’.

The Ledbury Poetry Festival

The Ledbury Poetry Festival, the UK’s biggest poetry festival, takes place over ten days each July ( 3 – 12 July 2015). Throughout this year’s festival, we are running ‘Poetry as Protest’, a joint initiative to highlight the many poets currently at risk around the world. Poets including Simon Armitage, Dr Rowan Williams, and Shazea Quraishi are reading the work of persecuted writers including Enoh Meyomesse, Liu Xia, and Mahvash Sabet. By pairing these writers with poets speaking at Ledbury we seek to build solidarity for poets at risk and to give a voice to those whom others have sought to silence. #PoetryasProtest http://www.poetry-festival.co.uk/

‘In A Parallel Universe’ free e-book now available

English PEN is delighted to publish the e-Book versions of In A Parallel Universe and other stories, the anthology of winning poetry and prose from our fourth annual prison writing competion.

The e-book is available in Kindle or EPUB formats and features a foreword by award-winning author Meg Rosoff, who judged the competition.

In A Parallel Universe was launched earlier this year with an evening of debate and poetry with leading writers, prisoners’ rights advocates, and current and former prison staff.

[WINNER: Poetry] In A Parallel Universe by Gareth Kerr

In a parallel universe:
I found the chimps that typed out the complete works of Shakespeare,
it was infinitely strange.
Gave Schrodinger’s cat a saucer of milk, it drank the lot and ignored it.
Flew from a black hole, eyes shielded from the glare.
Met myself and argued.

Download the book now

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Bahrain: Join the campaign for Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace

Nine Bahraini and international NGOs and the University College Union launched a campaign this week marking the 100th day of detained human rights defender, Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace’s hunger strike.

Take Action

English PEN has joined the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), PEN International, Index on Censorship, Scholars at Risk, Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association and the University College Union to express our solidarity with the imprisoned activist.

On 21 March 2015, Dr Al-Singace began a hunger strike in protest of the ill-treatment of inmates and the poor, unsanitary conditions at Jaw Prison.

Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace is a prominent academic and blogger who promoted human rights in Bahrain throughout the 2000s. Police arrested Dr Al-Singace for his participation in the peaceful Arab Spring protests in 2011. During his initial detention, security officials subjected Dr Al-Singace to torture and ill-treatment, including forced standing, verbal and sexual assault, beatings, and prolonged solitary confinement. He was tried by a military court in June 2011 and sentenced to life in prison for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government.

Dr Al-Singace suffers from post-polio syndrome, heart, eye, and sinus problems, and requires urgent nasal and ear surgery. Prison authorities have denied Dr Al-Singace specialist medical treatment. He is detained in solitary confinement at Al-Qalaa Hospital and is not permitted to go outdoors. He is denied access to novels, television, radio, and even pen and paper. He is also not allowed access to religious books and prayer beads, and was not permitted a condolence visit when his nephew died.

We, the aforementioned NGOs, call for the immediate and unconditional release of Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace in addition to all human rights defenders and activists in Bahrain who are detained in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a state party. We demand that Dr Al-Singace receives full access to specialized medical attention as a matter of urgency. We remind Bahrain of its obligations to comply with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. We also call on Bahrain to fully investigate the allegations of ill treatment and torture at Jaw Prison, in line with its obligations under the Convention against Torture.

Take Action

We also invite you to join our social media campaign and to tweet using the hashtag #SingaceHungerStrike.

Blog: July – a month of poetry

By some happy coincidence, all of our events this July are of the poetic kind. It therefore seems appropriate to declare this our unofficial month of poetry! So without further ado, here’s what we’re getting up to and where you’ll find us:

1. Poetry as Protest @ Ledbury Poetry Festival – Sabrina Mahfouz & George Szirtes

Sunday 5 July, 4:15pm – 5:15pm

MahfouzzGeorge Szirtes
English PEN is venturing outside London this month and heading to Herefordshire for the biggest poetry festival in the UK: Ledbury Poetry Festival. Join Sabrina Mahfouz, George Szirtes and English PEN director Jo Glanville in a discussion about poetry and politics.

This event is just one aspect of our festival-wide campaign Poetry as Protest – formed in partnership with Ledbury Poetry Festival. It seeks to raise awareness of poets who have been persecuted, through imprisonment or otherwise, for their poetry. You’ll find Poetry as Protest woven into the fabric of the ten-day festival with poets such as Simon Armitage and Jo Bell reading a poem written by one of English PEN’s writers at risk.

Book your ticket HERE


2. Speaking Truth to Power @ Shubbak Festival, Free Word Centre

Thursday 23 July, 6:30pm – 8:00pm

Back in London we’ll be at Shubbak Festival, the premier festival of contemporary Arab culture. Three leading writers from the Middle East will be debating the contentious issue of freedom of expression in the region and beyond. Censorship is a rising concern around the world and this is great opportunity to hear from remarkable individuals who have had to contend with it. They are:

Sinan Antoon – an Iraqi author living in New York
Choman Hardi – a Kurdish poet whose family have been forced to leave Iraq several times
Samar Yazbek – a Syrian writer and journalist now living in exile and recipient of 2012 PEN/Pinter Writer of Courage award.

Book your FREE ticket


3. Modern War Poetry @ Poetry International, Southbank Centre

Saturday 25 July, 12:00pm – 1:15pm

We’re all familiar with the Western rhetoric and stance on modern war, most notably, the ‘war on terror’. Syria, Iraq and the Middle East in general have made up a significant portion of our news stories and this event presents us with the opportunity to hear personal accounts of conflict from a Middle Eastern perspective.

Syrian-Kurdish poet Golan Haji and Iraqi poet Adnan al-Sayegh are modern war poets, recording their experiences at great expense to themselves.

This talk is chaired by BBC broadcaster Harriett Gilbert and presented in partnership with Poetry International.

Book your ticket HERE

4. Faber Social and English PEN presents: Secrets

Monday 27 July, 7:30pm

Faber and PENSecrets – we all have them. In fact, we know six writers with a whole night’s worth of them! Join Sadie Jones, Ben Markovits, Max Porter, Polly Samson, Jack Underwood and Emma Jane Unsworth as they explore the theme of secrets through stories, music and performance.

In the words of Roald Dahl, come and ‘watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’

Book your ticket HERE


So there you go, enough poetry to keep you inspired for the whole of July! We hope to see you there.

You can find our full listing of events at: www.englishpen.org/events


PEN Atlas Q&A: Roberto Saviano

In 2006 Roberto Saviano wrote Gomorrah, the book exposing the Neapolitan Mafia that became an international bestseller – and would change his life forever. Forced into a life under armed guard, he was the recipient of the 2011 PEN Pinter Writer of Courage award. In Zero Zero Zero, his latest book, he investigates the global cocaine trade. Here, he talks to PEN Atlas about drugs, money, neo-liberal capitalism, and the personal cost of speaking the truth.

Read ‘PEN Atlas Q&A: Roberto Saviano‘ here.

Zero Zero Zero is translated by Virginia Jewiss and published today by Penguin Press. Read more about the book on the Penguin Press website and buy it from our book partner Foyles.

On Wednesday 1 July, intelligence2 hosted Roberto Saviano in conversation with BBC reporter Fergal Keane about the war on organised crime. Full video footage and a podcast of the event will be made available here soon.