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Poetry to welcome others.

Posted on March 15, 2019

Poetry to welcome others: Sheltering under the owl’s wings – Leeds Beckett University.

Karen Tobias-Green. Writer. Course Leader, Creative Writing, Leeds Arts Univarsity

For Leeds’ first Literature Festival – a collaboration between Leeds Irish Health and Homes, Leeds Beckett’s Dept of Cultural Studies and the Oluwale Charity has led to last night’s readings followed in the long and honourbale tradition of rabble rousing, intellectually provoactive and emotially charged poetry that Leeds writers have long been able to produce.

As a teenager I attended meetings of Rock And Agianst Racism anf the Anti Nazi League and heard speakers from the department of cultural studies rail against the National Front and their alarmingly visceral and visible presence on the streets of Leeds.

As a seven year bold I was unawre of the death of David Oluwale, a British Nigerian who, released from High Royds asylum, was hounded to death by racist police officers and drowned in the river Aire. Oluwale’s memory was kept alive last night with readings of work by Teresa O’Driscoll, Chérie Taylor Baptiste, Ian Duhig, Halima France-Mir, Sai Murray, Ian Harker and others, including LBU Creative Writing students.

The student poetry slammers nearly took the roof off with powerful and thought provoking word paintings of Belfast and Derry, and a bilingual Dutch poet showed the crassness of the binary, divisive rhetoric spewed out around the Brexit debacle.

Emily Zobel Marshall’s poem about walking beneath the dark arches over the swirling river Aire and trying to find some way of replying to her children’s question has anyone ever drowned in this river was poignant. She told them that yes they had, but that the river had been kind and taken them home. Home, though, is a disputed territory.

Teresa O’Driscoll spoke of the motorways that link Leeds to London, referring to the Irish workers who toiled on them – I know your roads, she said, because I built them. The long tradition of immigration to Leeds and the city’s complicated relationship with those who have enriched its culture, taught its children nursed its sick, fed its hungry and made its infrastructure was unfolded and examined last night.

One or two voices took the theme of home more lightly, but were no less welcome for this. Interesting reflections on white working class boys and how they respond to the disconnection with their roots that education and relocation often brings about were addressed with humour and warmth.

I’m from the seaside, one student poet introduced himself, for any of you that know Grimsby. I left Leeds in 1985 and returned in to a different city, a city of clean washed walls, brand spanking new shops and glittering arcades. In many but not all ways it has improved for the better but the old debates about class, belonging and culture are more relevant now than ever. And a city never completely sheds its past. The vigilance is still required, especially in these dangerous and troubled times.

To think that poetry can help do this, can alert, entertain, provoke and demand, gives us some hope.