Sunday 27 March 2011

Big Writing for a Small World

On Thursday March 24th we launched the fifth anthology of poetry by participants in writing workshops funded and run by English PEN. It was an electrifying evening of work by participants from all over the world.

In my group we had people from the Ukraine, Gambia, DRC, Cameroon, Pakistan, Uganda, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Jamaica and the Phillipines. Few of them had written poetry before and many were struggling with English as a second language. All of our participants were migrants, refugees, asylum seekers or undocumented, trying to establish a foothold in London and make a new life for themselves. Many people came with very difficult stories of why they had left their homes, families, children, farms and businesses behind. Some people have been here for many years with still no hope of being granted the right to stay. But everyone said that they had come to the workshop to write down their stories, to improve their English and to meet other people.

Today is a glorious day
today is me on the rota
today is a lovely breakfast 
today is Crust Day.
by Maggie

When I sit in my garden
and see the flower
beautiful to see
they take my worries away.
by Nanette

Our students bravely stood up and read their poetry out at the launch, telling us how they had never ever dreamed that one day they would see their writing published and have a chance to read it to an audience. The atmosphere in the room veered from laughter to tears as the writers read us their amazing work.

Yaya Yosof attended a PEN workshop with me over a year ago, he has continued to attend our workshops and one run by the Poetry School, sponsored by PEN. Yosof writes, What a delight it is/
To walk on the rain/ Clouds are your umbrellas/......

Lizzie Mendy-Thomas came to my workshop clearly already an experienced and committed writer.
Here is the opening of her poem about water :-

The PEN Readers and Writers Committee is chaired by Lindsey Mackie

Philip Cowell is responsible for administering the programme, raising funds, finding projects to work with and then liaising with tutors.

On this set of workshops the tutors were myself, Malika Booker, Nii Parkes and Shazea Quraishi. We each ran an 8 week course. My workshops took place at PRAXIS a project based in the East End to support migrants and asylum seekers all over London. I was also lucky to have a volunteer, Pat Hicks, who was invaluable to all of us each week on the sessions.

I read a poem by Tesfu, who sadly did not continue with the sessions. Here is the opening of his poem about food.

I hungered for plenty
you were little and never enough.
Drought and war made you scarce.
You appeared for lunch
then disappeared for a day or two,
you made me cry and happy,
your lack made me slim.
your plenty made me fat and miserable.

At the end of our 8 week sessions Jacqueline said to me, "You have taken us from sad to positive!" It was a very powerful moment. Everyone took photos and went home with their folder of work and a certificate of attendance, sad that we were not continuing but positive and happy with everything they had achieved. Their words had been heard, written down and affirmed, they had made new friends and extended their English.

I do hope that many of our participants continue with their writing and attend more courses. Philip is currently raising further funds and planning to extend this fantastic programme even further. We all wish him every success and look forward to taking part again. All our words resonate across the world.


  1. Dear Miriyam,
    It is wonderfull like this waw , I love it.
    Many thanks,
    See you soon,

  2. Glad you liked the post Yosof. Good luck with your writing.

  3. Lizzie Mendy-Thomas1 April 2011 at 10:12

    You are such an inspitation Miriam. You made me believe in something I thought I could do but did not have the nerve to believe. Thanks so much and I wish you all the best in everything you do. I also join you in wishing Philip the very best in his future enddeavours. Thanks Miriam.

  4. It was wonderful working with you Elizabeth and also to see your reading at the launch. All the best with all your work.

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