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A Mouthful of Air Podcast

Here’s a link to Mark McGuinness’s excellent series of podcasts in which he looks at single poems in depth. In this one I’m discussing my poem ‘Sentience’ from my new collection ‘The House Where Courage Lives’ (Waterloo Press).

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Sometimes the Sky’s Too Bright

I’ve only penned a few short stories but I’m most fond of this one written in the voice of a teenage arsonist. The title is from a Dylan Thomas poem and the photo was taken in Brittas Bay, County Wicklow, Ireland.

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Interviews: Where do you begin?

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Review: The House Where Courage Lives

Review: ‘The House Where Courage lives’ Maggie Sawkins

As we review only collections by poets we admire and whose work we think should be promoted, writing a review, though difficult, is generally easier and always a pleasure to do. But sometimes a collection is so striking that the difficulty is in ensuring that what you say about a poet’s work does it true justice. ‘The House Where Courage Lives’ is such a work. The fifth collection from Maggie Sawkins is (in my opinion) her best, it is certainly a stunning body of work. That the cover endorsements include John Agard says it all. It is a collection of deeply compassionate poems in which the reader is able to experience empathy with the people and situations each poem presents.

The brevity and light hand with which she writes enables Maggie’s poem to detail a situation concisely whilst hitting the core of her topic with ease and sympathy. The result can be breath-taking and many of the poems are tender and personal. As the title implies, exposing your personal trials and griefs is courageous. There are poems about her past, her mother and family where you can feel the pain and longing.

“I guess they loved me, their insular daughter.

My orphaned parents, you’ll never know

how I spent my childhood grieving.”

Maggie has a delicate way of exposing grief and sadness through a carefully chosen metaphor or story. ‘Zebra Finches (for Michael)’ tells of a child taken from a mother through the medium of caged birds and how birds might have featured in the lost child’s growing years. Several of the poems have been influenced by the work she has done with refugees and asylum seekers, prisoners, mental health and well-being. But do not think that these are just worthy causes. Maggie can take the tribulation of others and give it a voice, a cleverly understated voice that avoids proselytising and takes you to gently to the pain and suffering. ‘Striders’, another poem with a dedication, uses the image of someone kneeling on a bankside to drink, you are not told her situation, what the stories are that run through her head or those she has lost or how but it finishes

There’s a terrible thirst to be found

In everything”

Like others in the collection, that poem uses references to animals and nature to address issues and situations that would otherwise appear bombastic or heavy-handed. It is that light touch that elevates Maggie’s poems to a level of sympathy, understanding and poetic strength that is matchless. In ‘Albatross’ she re-works a line from Emily Dickinson with a deftness that is startling. ‘A Cage Went in Search of a Bird’ tells a story from the life of Kafka. ‘The Unfortunates’ relates a piece of Portsmouth history, the life of a girl forced into prostitution in the late C19th, “betrothed to sorrow”, the sadder for the way Maggie relates her story without an implication of judgement but from the girl’s naive perspective. Connecting disconnected narratives, images and sadness’s is subtle but powerful. ‘Sheep’ interweaves a story of a woman who finds a sheep she reared in a butcher’s doorway, with the dangers of homelessness and a suicide, related with delicate care, the impact is almost physical.

There are some lovely poems inspired by lockdown, which concentrate on what was to be gained from that drab period we all lived through. There is gentle humour – a story of a Dimplex Buddha, her first job at a local undertaker, and ‘The Basics’ which reimagines a guide to keeping rabbits to humans

“Humans should never be picked up by the scruff of the neck”

These poems are not drear, not heavy going, many are based in human suffering yes, but they are hymns to courage, to endurance and to the sympathy they gently invite you to feel.

Maggie Sawkins was chosen by the Poetry society for the T S Eliot Poetry Prize Tour and won the 2013 Ted Hughes Award for New Work. She founded the poetry and music club, Tongues&Grooves and has provided creative writing workshops for MIND, local schools, Erlestoke prison, the D-Day Museum, local theatres, refugees and asylum seekers, Cranstoun Community Drug Action and in Romania.

‘The House Where Courage Lives’ is published by Waterloo Press and supported by Arts Council England. It will be officially launched on October 11th at Groundlings Theatre.

Josh Brown

Portsmouth Poetry

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B Zine Teen Project at Sandown

My latest project creating words and pictures with young people on the Isle of Wight

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Tongue and Talk: The Dialect Poets

What I’ve been up to!

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Words that Work

Biblio-Poetry Therapy includes the practice of reading a poem and writing in response with a therapeutic intention, usually in a group setting. The emphasis is firmly on process rather than the product. I’ve been using poems as a form of bibliotherapy for over twenty years now, so you’d think I’d be able to tell which poems will resonate with a particular group and which ones will fall flat or backfire.

Among the groups I work with are people affected by addictions, people experiencing mental ill health and people living with dementia. I also work with mainstream groups, and although the same care goes into the choosing of poems, I feel more grounded. The poems I find interesting, challenging, and that can be used as a springboard for writing, are hopefully the poems others will engage with.

To illustrate the process, I’m going to reflect on a session I delivered for the Saturday Recovery Group in Portsmouth. The group, which has been running for several years now, is open to anyone battling with substance misuse, mental ill health and/or homelessness. The day before I was due to deliver the workshop, I spent an hour or two looking for a poem that might speak the same language to someone in, or has been in, active addiction. There are poems I’ve used before, that I know ‘work’. ‘Love after Love’ for example, by Derek Walcott, an unusual love poem which concentrates on loving the self after the breakdown of a relationship. In a previous session, one woman fighting a heroin addiction commented that listening to Mary Oliver’s ‘The Journey’, a poem that focuses on the need to leave behind what is harmful and start out on a new path, was better than acupuncture. Likewise, people are always moved by Louise Gluck’s poem ‘Snowdrops’ with its powerful last lines urging us to ‘risk joy in the raw wind of the new world’.

It would be easy to play safe, to use tried and tested poems, but I want every workshop to be as much as a discovery for me as it is for the participants. Surprisingly some poems that I thought would work haven’t always gone down well. William Blake’s ‘Poison Tree’ for example evoked a plethora of phallic interpretations from one participant in a writing for well-being group; and Carl Sandburg’s ‘Happiness’, a simple poem that I much admire, has elicited unfavourable comments on three occasions.

So here I am, the day before the workshop and still undecided on which poems to bring. The poem I’d really like to share with the group is one I’ve been trying to learn by heart:  Macbeth’s soliloquy: ‘Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow’.  I find a copy on PoemHunter and print off several copies.  However, I’m having second thoughts. I’m not sure how this poem could be used as a springboard for writing; I haven’t a clue who will be in the group and fear some participants might consider it beyond them, so I look for a safer choice. I discover Edip Cansever’s poem ‘Table’ on page 15 of Bloodaxe’s Staying Alive Trilogy.   I’m imagining how I might use it as a springboard to inspire the group to write their own poems. Something along the lines of: If there was a table as big as the world what would you put on it? I’m hoping people in the group will be able to tap into impossibilities, to bring the future poem beyond the realms of the pedestrian.

On the day of the workshop I go along to the third floor of Portsmouth Central Library. When I arrive there’s a group of people hanging around.   They’ve spent the morning practising Acceptance Commitment Therapy and have just finished a healthy buffet lunch. In the middle of the room there’s a table covered in flyers and posters. Someone asks if I’d like a drink. ‘Sorry it’s not whisky!’ they joke. ‘Just as well,’ I reply, ‘It’s a bit early for me.’

After a short wait I ask who’s here to join in with the creative writing. Slowly a group of seven gather around the table. One of the participants tells me that he hasn’t had a drink for five months after finding God; also he won’t be able to read or write because he’s forgotten his glasses, and oh, he’s dyslexic. I tell him not to worry as we’ll be writing a group poem and it’s OK just to listen.  I begin by asking everyone to introduce themselves and to say one thing that they’ve left behind today and one thing they’ve brought with them. Usually with an icebreaker like this I mention that the things can be either abstract or real (like fear or your wallet), but today I don’t need to explain. The group have immediately cottoned on. Some of the things they have brought with them are optimism and hope. Things they have left behind are confusion and a dirty sink. I tell them that I’ve left behind my dog and I’ve brought with me two poems.

Having tuned in to the needs and mood of the group, I decide to begin with Edip Candever’s more optimistic poem ‘Table’. I give out copies and read the poem aloud.  What follows is silence. For a moment I don’t know whether the poem has resonated or whether it’s fallen flat. I read it again. Sometimes when you read a poem, Derek Walcott’s ‘Love After Love’, as I mentioned before, where the narrator of the poem greets his younger self at his own front door, you know that everyone gets it, there’s no need to analyse. There’s often a universal ‘Wow’. The poem has touched the spot and the discussion begins. But today there’s a reticence. Understandably so. How on earth can you put ‘the sound of a bicycle’ on a table? I’m not giving in though. I think the poem deserves a bit more time. So I begin to go through the poem line by line. I explain how the person in the poem is filled with the gladness of living’ so he begins by putting ordinary things on the table, things that could easily fit: his keys, flowers, eggs and milk. The next thing he puts on the table is ‘the light that came in through the window.’ The group is interested now. By the time the man puts the ‘things that happened in his mind’ on the table, they begin to understand that this is not a real table. Someone suggests that the table is a metaphor for life and so you can put on it everything that you’ve ever experienced. I’m relieved. They seem to like the poem – it’s beginning to resonate. I ask which lines stand out and a few say the line ‘three times three make nine’. How can you put that on a table? I’m as intrigued as they are. Perhaps it’s memory I say, the things we remember, like learning the times table. Everyone agrees. Now they get the poem, and I do too.

The next stage I suggest is that we use this poem as a model for our own writing. ‘If you had an imaginary table what would you put on it?’  I ask. I offer them the option of writing a group poem or making a poem of their own. Everyone opts for the making of a group poem. It feels safer, so I offer to scribe. ‘You tell me what you want to put on the table and I’ll write it down.’ After a couple of suggestions, something surprising happens. Everyone in the group, apart from Paul who earlier declared himself a dyslexic, says they’d like to write their own poem. I hand out paper and pens and leave them to it.  While everyone is engaged in writing, Paul sits quietly staring at his copy of ‘The Table’. Two women have decided to work as a pair, and every now and again they get stuck. I invite them to look again at the poem to see how the poet uses his senses. Apart from things he can see, he puts in smell, sounds and things he can taste. One of the women puts on the table ‘the soft touch of my daughter’s cheek’, and the image brings a lump to my throat. Because of their history of substance misuse and chaotic lifestyles, I know that these women may have lost contact with their children. I wait until most people have come to the end of their writing and then I invite them to share what they have written.

I’m encouraged by the response. One of the women has put on her table ‘the soft sounds of the sea’. That’s a lovely example of alliteration I tell her.  I make the suggestion that their poems are worth saving. That typing them up and seeing them in print gives them authority. One of the women offers to type up all the poems. Someone suggests that a corner of the newly organised notice board could be designated a ‘Poetry Corner’. I really hope that it happens. Usually I’ve noticed people leave their work behind. Paul, the guy who says he can’t write, says he’s going to write his own poem when he goes home. Another says he’s taking his poem with him to work on.

And I say thank you to Edip Candever, for your poem, ‘The Table. It works, and I shall use it again. Shakespeare didn’t get the airing I’d hoped for. Sitting there with a group of people trying their hardest to ‘escape the way to dusty death’, the sentiments didn’t seem appropriate. But I’m happy to report that after much practice I can now recite ‘Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow’ by heart.

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Find Me – A close reading by John Haynes


by Maggie Sawkins

In the ring around a blackbird’s eyes, find me.

In a cup of ocean, a patch of sky, find me.

On this the shortest day of winter,

in the persistence of a seagull’s cry, find me.

In a blade of grass by a dusty roadside,

in the mating song of a harvest fly, find me.

In the huddle of trees outside your window,

in the moon’s gaze and the wind’s sigh, find me.

At the top of a sugar loaf mountain

imagine rainbow wings and fly, find me.

As you cast your breath, you’ll find the answer

in the place where dreams collide, find me.

I’m really getting into Maggie’s book Many Skies Have Fallen.   And I was particularly  affected by ‘Find Me’.   What I find so good, and moving, about this poem is the way it manages to convey feeling through rhythm, and make the simple  natural scenery feel simple because it is for the speaker a lost everyday easily taken for granted in life.   And yet what it evokes is anything but ‘simple’.    

The poem, formally, is a kind of ghazal, an Arabic, Persian, form originally, and a kind of poem/song.    Formally Find Me follows the ghazal rhyme scheme with the repeated word at the end of each first line, and  internal /ai/ rhymes –   ‘sky’, ‘cry’, ‘fly’, ‘sigh’  ‘fly’, collide’ and the repeated second-like rhyme of ‘find me’.   The first line rhyme is done rhythmically, with the stress-unstress of ‘find me’  taken up in ‘roadside’,  ‘window’, ‘mountain’ and ‘answer’.   There’s also a trace of a further trait of many ghazal’s, that is the rhyme of the ‘sky’, ‘cry’ sequence of rhymes with words in the line above them, such as ‘eyes’ in the first line,   ‘day’ half-rhyming with ‘cry’,  ‘fly’ half-rhyming with ‘dusty’, ‘sigh’ with ‘outside,  ‘collide’ with ‘find’.

The rhythm – and the form overall – are wonderfully suited to the overall ‘plea’ tone of the poem, expressed in ‘find me’,   which to me also draws finely on the tone of a kind of children’s playground rhyme.   Here the ‘find me’ is not a joking taunt as it might be in a children’s rhyme, but an at first mysterious plea,   command even, and corresponding with the listener’s longing.  How can we find him in these places when he’s left all of them behind?   But, of course, that’s the point.  He has left them, yes, but yet he hasn’t.  That’s what grief memory is all about.

The overall rhythm, and hence of the feeling expressed,  is produced by the way the poet starts each couplet with a clause about a place or time, leaving the ‘find me’ clause to the end the sentence.  That is, until the last stanza where a sort of ‘solution’ is mooted.   Where is ‘the place where dreams collide’?  How do dreams ‘collide’?   

Rhythmically the poem doesn’t follow any conventional scheme such as iambic pentameter, but does make very effective use of what Pound called ‘cadence’.   So in the first line there are two cadences,  one half-cadence (as we might call it) ending on ‘eyes’, then a pause, and then the final cadence of ‘find me’.   Throughout the cadences are like this and marked with comma and full stop respectively.   The half cadence ends of a stressed syllable which as a slightly-rising level tone, and the full cadence ends of a high fall. 

In the ring around the blackbird’s eyes,      find me

There are some more complex cadences, or so it seems to me, where she uses ‘and’, as in ‘the moon’s gaze and the wind’s sigh’,  or ‘as you cast your breath’.  Here the same half-rise occurs on both ‘gaze’ and ‘sigh’ ,  ‘cast’ and ‘breath’, and then the closing fall on ‘find’  and ‘answer’.  

The last couplet suggests an ‘answer’ rather than a place, as in all the other couplets, where the ghostly speaker might be found.   The the finding is connected to casting breath.  Casting  as opposed to drawing and releasing.    But casting has to do with finding, ‘casting about’ here and there in all the places mentioned,  all except for the sugar loaf mountain and rainbow wings, which perhaps anticipate in their supernatural imagery of wings flying to him.   And this last imaginary place seems to me to introduce a possible ‘answer’ to the conundrum of the last stanza.   Where dreams collide, perhaps, is in the being alive and breathing,  in the mind, the imagination, which in turn is so close to memory, in turn so close to self and the sense of being alive, including being alive as a memory and/or a spirit.

A further twist in reading would be to reconsider the whole poem as if it’s spoke not, as I’ve assumed, by the spirit of the dead person, but by the poet (in whom, in another sense it necessarily is,  as an act of empathy and imagination in writing in another’s voice).  We read the poem as if spoken by a spirit, but we know that it’s written by the poet who is imagination, is aware of, that spirit, and giving it voice.  

I hope I’ve not overegged the ‘analysis’.  It’s intended as appreciation.  Too much cold practical crit would be inappropriate in a poem which, though it contains its mysteries, is admirably plain and unostentatious in its presentation of the difficult-to-conceive.   But, liking it, I found myself going into it.    I read a comment recently by Wendy Cope who quotes with approval  a poet I don’t know, called RobWells:  “I find it uncanny how, the more a poem seems to reduce itself to the mere resolution of a technical problem, the more unerringly it homes in on the truth I didn’t know was there to tell.”   I think that’s true of reading in its own way, too.   Though, alas, these days I find so few poems I really want to delve into,   as I do Find Me.  

Strange that I’m reading W S Merwin’s translation of Dante’s Purgatorio, which has so many pictures of the ordinary and everyday gestures and sights of people beyond any finding, and yet ‘found’ by the poet who is allowed to go through the boundary of life and death, as if poetic imagination were personified in him.                          

John Haynes: Winner of the Costa Award for Poetry, 2006 and the Troubadour Poetry Prize 2007, shortlisted for T S Eliot Prize, 2010     

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Many Skies Have Fallen

Many Skies Have Fallen contains poems written as a response to the tragic death of my daughter’s partner, Janusz Jasicki,who drowned in the River Shannon in October 2017. Others, written while Janusz was still alive, are included because they relate to my Irish heritage or because they seem to contain a presentiment not apparent at the time of writing. Published by Wild Mouse Press.

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Masterclass in Bucharest – My Journal

Six of us British Poets, along with luggage, squash into the airport taxi and the driver delivers us to the plush Golden Tulip Hotel. I’m so pleased that my room on the eighth floor has a view across the rooftops. As I look out I notice an old mansion type house directly opposite that looks deserted. Over the next few days I will come across many such buildings in this intriguing city.

After freshening up, we meet in the hotel restaurant for an evening meal. I’m a fussy eater but the menu looks more than appetising. I order beetroot salad in horseradish sauce while the others order something heartier. We wash it down with a bottle of red Romanian wine. Tomorrow we will be delivering the first of our masterclasses at the Romanian Cultural Institute. Anne tells us that the students will be eager to get going. I’m not sure what to expect so I’m preparing to ‘play it by ear’. Fellow poet, Joan Michelson, is worried about having to sit in one place for too long and announces she is going to take her hot water bottle. I’m worried about not being able to sleep and have another glass of red wine. Wendy French has promised to ring me at 7 am—if she survives her night in ‘Room 101’. I go to sleep comforted by the sharing of human frailties with my fellow poets.

First Day

I wake while it’s still dark and look at my watch. It’s 5.30, which means (as Romania is two hours ahead) it’s really 3.30 am. I close my eyes, cross my fingers, and wait to drop off. A short while later the phone rings. It’s Wendy French with my wake-up call. I go down to the restaurant where a breakfast feast awaits: mozzarella cheese, grapes, ham, scrambled eggs, olives, rolls, tomatoes, and cucumber. I join the other five poets who are already there tucking in. Alongside Graham Mummery’s teacup I notice three large pills and a map of Bucharest.

We enjoy a meander through this new city, searching for the place where we are to meet our students for the first time. Wendy remarks that we must look a motley crew. After a while, trying to follow the map and searching for short cuts, we realise we are lost. We ask a passer-by for help. Eventually we arrive at the Romanian Cultural Institute where Prof. Lidia Vianu introduces us to a sea of student faces. We are then led to our allotted table.

My first translation workshop is about to begin and I’m worried that I won’t remember anyone’s name. The first text to be read aloud by the first student is an extract from a memoir written in the form of letters. The text’s title has been translated as ‘The Trader of Beginnings’ and the subject of the letters is Kafka, one of my favourite writers. The first thing I notice is that Romanian sentences tend to be longer than the English equivalent. However, I am impressed with this student’s translation.

An interesting part of the process is the unravelling of nuances, especially when it comes to figurative language. For example, in another of the prose pieces, I discover that what had been described as ‘a brown penny’ turns out to be a tobacco stain on the ceiling. This is the character in the text speaking:

‘And if I read, I smoke. Someone before me had the same habit, because otherwise there wouldn’t be a brown penny on the ceiling.’

Mmm. After this first session, us six British Poets are escorted to the impeccably swish Restaurant Doina by Bogdan, our brilliant student guide. On the way I ask him if he has ever seen a bear—I had been reading about Romanian wild life in my Lonely Planet Guide. Unfortunately, he tells me, he has only seen a bear once, and that was in a zoo.

In the evening another student, Stefan, escorts us to the restaurant of the national hero poet, Mircea Dinescu. When we arrive, the food is laid out on the table: a bean dip and a kind of ratatouille made with spinach, and olives and bread, and it is all delicious. The meal, which we discover, was only the starter, is accompanied by wine from Mircea’s vineyard, plus three musicians on accordion, fiddle and something else, who play American tunes, such as Sinatra’s ‘I Did it My Way’. Our Romanian host asks them if they can play more traditional music, which they do—but with much less gusto. When the main course arrives (lamb meatballs and salad) Wendy and myself wish we hadn’t gorged ourselves so much on the first course. There is little room for anything else.


After the meal we climb into a bright yellow taxi and meet up for a nightcap in the Golden Tulip restaurant. Discovering we had to get up in the morning to deliver workshops, the waiter does his best to discourage us from ordering a round of plum brandies. ‘You will need a clear head,’ he says. ‘You’re better off having orange juice.’ However, we are not deterred. Anne gets her plum brandy, Graham an ouzo, Peter an Irish Whisky. My Courvoisier, arrives in a brandy glass balanced over a glass of hot water, on top of which is a serviette containing coffee beans. Wendy, who is being virtuous, ends up drinking the hot water. Joan has wisely gone to bed. The waiter tells me that he has been to my home city of Portsmouth. He remarks on the number of people he’d seen there with tattoos, including a pregnant woman. Come to think of it, I haven’t noticed any Romanian people with tattoos since I’ve been here. It’s quite refreshing to see people’s skin ‘in the nude’.

Second Day

At breakfast the restaurant is full of young professional types attending a conference in the hotel. We arrive at the Romanian Cultural Institute 15 minutes early just as the staff are laying the tables with snacks for lunch. Some of the students tell me that their texts are ‘difficult’ to understand even in the original Romanian language. One extract, written from the viewpoint of a dog, for example, has us all baffled. I was glad I had taken it back to the hotel yesterday so I could become more acquainted with it. A paragraph, which describes the dog drifting in and out of a dream, reminds me of James Joyce’s stream of consciousness prose in Ulysses.

In the evening Ştefan and Bogdan escort us to the National Theatre. Along the way I ask Bogdan about the earthquake of 1977. I notice that many of the older, deserted buildings have a large red spot declaring them unfit for habitation. I try to imagine what it must be like to live with the threat of the earth disappearing from under your feet.

Ionuţ Mihai Corpaci, the artistic consultant of the National Theatre, is waiting to give us a guided tour. We learn much about the theatre’s history and about the architecture during the Ceausescu era. It’s refreshing to hear that the Romanian government supports the theatre so well. Seats, we are told, are a lot cheaper than in the UK. In the basement gallery, there is a statue of Toma Caragiu, one of Romania’s greatest actors, whose life was cut short in the 1977 earthquake.

After dinner at the University we return to The Golden Tulip for a nightcap. The waiter tells us that he is going to the Isle of Wight Pop Festival in the summer. I tell him that I was there when Jimi Hendrix played. I think he’s impressed.

Third Day

Today it’s cold and the students arrive in dribs and drabs for our workshop. Translation in some ways is not so unlike the process of workshopping poems in one’s own language. Entering the mindset of the writer is a slow and intimate process. Sometimes it seems there are endless possibilities, endless interpretations. The students ask me about poems that rhyme. They are interested to know whether, as a poet, I would prefer to lose the rhyme or the meaning.

On the way back to the Golden Tulip, we pass Revolutionary Square and the monument of Heroes and Martyrs that has been nicknamed ‘the baked potato’. I think how in English we would probably call it ‘the jacket potato’.

Fourth and Fifth Days (rolled into one)

Sunshine. Hurrah! At last I can wear the summer dress and flip flops I bought for the journey. During these last two sessions, I introduce the group to some creative writing exercises, including automatic writing and riddles. It is great to see the students so inspired and equally wonderful to hear them read their own creations. The imaginative quality and verve of their writing is impressive. We finish our last session with the writing of a group riddle poem.

Here it is:

What Am I?

I come in all shapes and sizes. I can open the door. I have more than one eye but I can’t see. I slip through holes but not in the ground. Sometimes I’m told to be quiet. I can be made of chocolate. I can be made of bone. I spend most of my life tied down but if you eat too much I might fly away. I’m there at the beginning. I am the last resort.

Sixth Day

In the afternoon, we take a yellow taxi to Elena Nistor’s home, where her mother has cooked us a traditional Romanian dinner. It’s a privilege to see where and how real people live. On the way, we come across a beggar dodging in and out of moving traffic. He is wearing hardly any clothes, his body is covered in burns, and his arm is a stump. The taxi driver dismisses my exclamation. I wonder about the plight of people who have lost everything and who have very little left to lose.

We return to the National Theatre that evening to see ‘The Fever’, a powerful one woman dramatic monologue and commentary on the divisions between affluence and poverty. During the performance, I find myself dreaming about bringing my own one woman play, ‘Zones of Avoidance’, to this beautiful theatre in Bucharest. In one of my sessions the students told me that issues like mental illness and addiction are not spoken about openly in Romania.

During the reception, the artistic consultant gives me his card and invites me to send him details of my play. Afterwards I speak to the English Ambassador. ‘What does an Ambassador do?’ I ask. He tells me that this morning he attended the funeral of a Romanian tourist who recently died after jumping from a bridge during the recent terrorist attack in London. Tomorrow we will be going home.

Post Script

I’m back in Portsmouth—the city of tattoos—and for the past two days I have been reading Ioana Ieronim’s, anthology, ‘House of the People’. Her words, written in poetry alongside the testimonies of others, are a truly powerful way of sharing history. I realise how little I know, and feel inspired to learn more about Romania.  I hope to return.

Romania’s Moment

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