Featured Writers

Welcome to Scottish PEN's Featured Writers section. As part of our selection of new writing by refugees, exiles and Scottish PEN members, we will feature a different writer each quarter.


Home or Exile and other poems by Ghareeb Iskander

Featured Writer

Ghareeb Iskander

Ghareeb Iskander is an exiled Iraqi poet & writer who could find neither safety nor freedom in Iraq. His family were political opponents of Saddam Hussein’s regime. His brother Adil was arrested by Saddam’s regime in 1980. His body was never found. Four of his brothers were arrested in 1999, tortured before being released. The body of his brother Nassir was found in a mass grave in Baghdad after Saddam’s regime fell in 2003

Ghareeb studied Arabic literature at the University of Baghdad and Translation at the University of Westminster. Books include Sawad Basiq (High Darkness), collection of poems, Beirut 2001, (in Arabic); Semiotic Trends in the Critique of Arabic Poetry, Cairo 2002 & Baghdad 2009 (in Arabic); Mahafat Alwahm (A Chariot of Illusion), collection of poems, Beirut 2009, (in Arabic); and A Chariot of Illusion, selection of poems translated into English, London 2009; Al-Khitab (Discourse, by Sara Mills), 2012; Af’a Gilgamesh (Gilgamesh’s Snake), collection of poems, Beirut 2012, (in Arabic) which is now being translated into English by the Scottish poet John Glenday; Translating Sayyab into English, London 2013. He is working with the poet Chrys Salt on a bilingual poetry book. He has taken part in Festivals in Erbil, Edinburgh, Wigtown and Bath and was part of Reel Iraq which toured Scotland and other parts of the UK in 2013.

In his homeland, Ghareeb discovered the meaning of poetry, the meaning of being a poet under the hell of dictatorship, wars and later the exile. Poetry is his country now. While he lives in exile, aside from his mother, poetry is what binds him to Baghdad, because the first spark of poetry was lit there. His first poetry book The High Darkness was written in Baghdad, close to the Iraqi pains. The rest of his books, written in exile were inspired by his home town. The concept of the illusion in his second book A Chariot of Illusion was the thread of truth he has learned there, in those old alleyways. The hero of his third book is a modern Gilgamesh, i.e. any Iraqi victim who witnessed the fall of the dictatorship whose life is threatened every day. His dreams are about life, not eternity as King Gilgamesh believed.

Ghareeb has lived in London since 2002 and although he loves the cultural life of London he still gets lost in the city, which is good for a writer! Sometimes he feels neither in London nor in Baghdad. It is a state of suspension, but eventually he gets used to here/there.

Home or Exile

Home or exile,
to leave or to remain
both bleed in the same heart

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Family and First Time (I Met My Grandmother) by Ali Cobby Eckermann

Featured Writer

Ali Cobby Eckermann is a celebrated yankunytjatjara/kokatha poet and writer. Her remarkable memoir, Too Afraid to Cry, gives witness to the human cost of policies that created the Stolen Generations of Indigenous people in Australia.

Removed by the Welfare from her aboriginal family, a practice widespread for many decades, Ali was placed with a German family who gave her a comfortable upbringing but a very different one from the one she would have experienced with her natural birth parents. The sense of loss of identity and the desire to rediscover her natural roots has remained a firm commitment throughout her adult and writing life. She continues to live between contemporary city life and indigenous bush country life, motivated by a search for self as well as the desire to help her fellow aboriginal people become vocal and empowered.

Ali's first collection of poems little bit long time was published by the Australian Poetry Centre, in their New Poets series in 2009. The book sold out in months and is printed on demand by Picaro Press.

Her second collection Kami was published by Vagabond Press, in their Rare Objects series in 2010. Her first verse novel His Fathers Eyes was published by Oxford University Press in 2011, as part of the Yarning Strong educational resource kit.

All's poems and short stories have been published in various anthologies, journals and magazines. She has been featured on the Poetry International website. Some of her poems have been translated and published in Croatia, Indonesia, Greece and New Zealand.

She won the 2006 ATSI Survival Poetry Competition and the 2008 Dymocks Red Earth Northern Territory poetry Award and was highly commended for the Marion Eldridge Award in 2009. 'Ruby Moonlight' won an inaugural black&write! Kurildhagun Indigenous Writing Fellowship through the State Library of Queensland in 2011.

Ali Cobby Eckermann conjures a lyrical and unique imagining of the past.a powerful wordsmith and surgical factotum of the struggle to maintain indigenous voice in Australian writing. Samuel Wagan Watson.

This extract, from an interview available on www.poetryinternationalweb.net, sums up Ali’s current thoughts about her work.

‘I hope that audiences who hear my words will have a better understanding of Aboriginal life and the emotional impact of past and present (bad) policy, especially the Stolen Generations. If this can be achieved through my poetry and prose then I can die happy. This drive has prompted me to open Australia’s first Aboriginal Writers Retreat in my home at Koolunga in mid north South Australia, in the aim for more grassroots and heartfelt Aboriginal literature to be written and published’.

Ali’s language group, Yankunytjatjara, is a traditional Aboriginal language group of northwest South Australia, who have maintained their traditional cultural practices, and are a major language group of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands.

The following two poems beautifully sum up the return of the poet to her birth people and the longing to learn about her indigenous language and culture and ancestry. There is also the recognition that, as Elders pass away, learning might become more difficult.


Nana yells over the campfires
wiya wanti, whitefella wiya
this my family, they bin taken away
this my family, they bin come back now
we gotta teach them proper way

she laughs holds my hand
is right now she smiles

First Time (I Met My Grandmother)

Sit down in the dirt and brush away the flies
Sit down in the dirt and avoid the many eyes

I never done no wrong to you, so why you look at me?
But if you gotta check me out, well go ahead – feel free!

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A Song About Love by Eeva Kilpi

Featured Writer

The Finnish writer Eeva Kilpi (b. 1928) spent her childhood in Karelia, the part of Finland ceded to the Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War. She taught English before becoming a full-time writer in 1959. She has been Chair of Finnish PEN, and has received many prizes and honours. In recent years she has been a Nobel Literature Prize nominee.

Donald Adamson, who translated the two poems by Eeva Kilpi reproduced with kind permission here writes: 'Kilpi has seen her work as encompassing the evacuation from Karelia, human relationships and nature. Her commitment to the poetic possibilities of everyday language allows her to include bawdy humour, sexual comedy and the absurdities of old age, as well as delicate expressions of love and loss. She frequently deals in irony, not to destroy or mock, but to achieve compassion. To know more is to forgive more.

‘A Song About Love’ is a poem of compassionate realism about the journey towards age and frailty. It contains interpolations from a popular Finnish wedding song. ‘A landscape blossoms’ portrays a sacramental melding of one’s own mortal life course with the world of nature, ending with a joyous affirmation of human time becoming irrelevant. The imagery draws on the abandoned homes left behind in Karelia.'

More information about Eeva Kilpi at http://bit.ly/198f7uN


A Song about Love

And one day
we’ll be hooked round each other
locked fast so nothing can prise us apart
with your stiff joints wrapped round my gout,
my stomach ulcer snuggled against your dicky heart
and your rheumatism next to my lumbago,
    – I am thine, thou art mine for ever.

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The wind wanders in the moonlight by Ak Welsapar

Featured Writer

Ak Welsapar was born in 1956 in the former Soviet Republic of Turkmenistan. After six years of membership, he was excluded from the Soviet Writers’ Association following his publication of investigative articles about major ecological problems in Turkmenistan. He left his home country in 1993 and now lives in Sweden, where he is a member of the Swedish Writers’ Association. He has also been an honorary member of the International PEN-Club since 1993. He has published 19 books and received many national and international awards. He writes in Russian, Turkmen and Swedish. His works have been published in a number of languages including Turkmen, Russian, Ukrainian, English, French, Swedish, Spanish, Turkish, Mongolian and a few languages from the former USSR.

He was invited to represent Turkmenistan in the Poetry Parnassus event held at the South Bank in London this summer as part of the Cultural Olympiad and the poem we reproduce is the one he read on that occasion. It was translated into English by Hamid Ismnailov.

The wind wanders in the moonlight

All of our lives revolve around meetings and separations.
Everything is ephemeral. The wind is eternal.
Even in the rain and hail, in the snow and heat
The wind wanders in the moonlight.

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Of North and light by Kätlin Kaldmaa

Featured Writer

Kätlin Kaldmaa is an Estonian poet, writer, translator and literary critic. She has published four collections of poetry Larii-laree (1996), One is None (2008) and Worlds, Unseen (2009), Alphabet of Love (2012), and a children’s book Four Children and Murka (2010). She has written extensively on literature, mostly literature in translation, and has translated more than 30 works of world’s best literature from the British Isles to Latin America. Amongst authors translated by her are Jeanette Winterson, Aphra Behn, Michael Ondaatje, James Meek, Ali Smith, Meg Rosoff, Madeleine Thien, Goran Simic and Gabriel García Márquez. Her own poems have been translated into Arabic, German, Latin, Japanese, Russian, English, Spanish, Finnish, Slovenian and Korean. In 2012 she won the annual Friedebert Tuglas short story award with her short story When the Boys Came. Kätlin Kaldmaa is the President of Estonian PEN. She is currently working on her first novel.

Of North and light

There are things Northern people get about light. First, it’s the complete lack of it, second, it’s the complete presence of it. Having grown up in a place where a summer day lasts thirty days and nights, and, at the heart of winter, a day can be anything up to three to five hours of subdued dimness, I must confess to being genuinely afraid when plans to spend the Christmas season in Iceland turned into a solo trip into boreal polar night. Night for 24 hours, for 48 hours, for 96 hours, for days and days and days and nights and nights and nights.

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A sad thought that can be danced by Kapka Kassabova

Featured Writer

Kapka Kassabova was born and raised in Communist Bulgaria and emigrated to New Zealand with her family as a teenager in the early 1990s. She graduated from Sofia’s French College and two New Zealand universities, and in 2005 she moved to Scotland. Kapka is the author of the childhood memoir Street Without a Name (Portobello 2008) and the poetry collections Someone else’s life and Geography for the Lost (Bloodaxe). She was twice the recipient of the Cathay Pacific Travel Writer of the Year award in New Zealand for travel journalism, and has penned the odd travel guide. Her novel Villa Pacifica (Alma Books, 2011) is set in South America, and her new travel memoir Twelve Minutes of Love (Portobello, 2011) is about the Argentine tango as a way of life. She lives between Edinburgh and the Highlands, teaches at Strathclyde University, and writes for The Guardian, The Sunday Times, the Scottish Review of Books, and Vogue.

A sad thought that can be danced

Ten years ago, I was a young East European émigré living in New Zealand and caught between cultures, Old and New Worlds, two passports and four languages, the end of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the 21st century. One night, I walked into a bar and saw a couple embracing on the dance floor, to what sounded like a violent accordion. Their feet were taking small steps, their chests were glued together, their hips were rigid, and their faces lost in some fantasy of a better world. They were, of course, doing the tango, and that fantasy soon became mine.


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Poems from 'Pages From The Biography Of An Exile' by Adnan Al-Sayegh

Featured Writer

Adnan Al-Sayegh was born in al-Kufa, Iraq in 1955. In the 1980s he was conscripted in the Iran-Iraq war and in 1993 his uncompromising criticism of oppression and injustice led to exile in Jordan and the Lebanon. In 1996 he published Uruk's Anthem - a book-length poem, one of the longest in Arabic literature - in which he articulated deep despair at the Iraqi experience. On its publication he was sentenced to death in Iraq and took refuge in Sweden. Since 2004 he has been living in exile in London.

Ten collections of his poetry in Arabic, among them Formations, Uruk's Anthem and Carrying his Exile under his Arm have been published and a further one is in press. He has said that in poetry he 'found a motherland, a refuge, a friend and a journey-companion' as well as a form of resistance.

Adnan has received several international awards, including the Hellman-Hammet International Poetry Award (New York 1996), the Rotterdam International Poetry Award (1997) and the Swedish Writers Association Award (2005).

This year he read at the StAnza poetry festival alongside his English translator, Stephen Watts. We are most grateful to him and to Stephen for permission to publish the poems on-line.

The poems which follow are all taken from Pages From The Biography Of An Exile translated by Stephen Watts and Marga Burgui-Artajo and published in Long Poem Magazine Issue 5, 2010/2011. We also include a poem from his recent pamphlet in English, The Deleted Part (Exiled Writers Ink 2009) in the PENning Courage magazine along with biographies of his translators.
You can find more information about Adnan and more of his poems at http://www.exiledwriters.co.uk/writers.shtml#Sayegh

Poems from Pages From The Biography Of An Exile


I'll kick my socks toward the sky
in solidarity with those who don't have shoes
and I'll walk barefoot
feeling the muds of the street under my feet
staring at the faces of the glutted inside their
glass offices ...

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Love Stories by Aminatta Forna

Featured Writer

Aminatta Forna was born in Scotland and raised in West Africa. Her first book The Devil that Danced on the Water was runner-up for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2003. Her novel Ancestor Stones was winner of the 2008 Hurston Wright Legacy Award, the Liberaturpreis in Germany, was nominated for the International IMPAC Award and selected by the Washington Post as one of the most important books of 2006. In 2007 Vanity Fair named Aminatta as one of Africa's most promising new writers. Her latest book is The Memory of Love. Aminatta has also written for magazines and newspapers, radio and television, and presented television documentaries on Africa's history and art. Aminatta Forna lives in London with her husband. www.aminattaforna.com

Love Stories

In the year 2000, two years before the end of the war, I went home to Sierra Leone. When the war was finally over I returned twice a year, and it was during those trips that I began to teach creative writing to anybody who was interested. The British Council lent me a space in their building and Rajiv Bendre, the energetic head of the Council set about attracting potential participants. We advertised the event in the British Council, at the university and through the auspices of PEN.

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An Island In A Sea of Snow by Chiew-Siah Tei

Featured Writer

Chiew-Siah Tei, a member of Scottish PEN, is a Malaysian born writer. Her first collection of prose, It's Snowing (Chinese) was published in 1998. This was followed by a collection of arts and film reviews in 2000, Secrets and Lies (Chinese). She has won awards for her Chinese prose, including the Hua Zong International Chinese Fiction Award and the National Prose Writing Competition. In 2002, she enrolled on the PhD in Creative Writing and Film Studies at Glasgow University. Her play Three Thousand Troubled Threads was staged at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2005. Her first novel, Little Hut of Leaping Fishes (Picador, 2008), was long-listed for the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize in 2007 and short-listed for the 2008 Best Scottish Fiction Prize.

An Island in a Sea of Snow

My appointment as Jessie Kesson Writer-in-residence, a position created in honour of the Inverness-born author (1916-94), at the Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre commenced on 1 March. The car that picked me up from Inverness Train Station stopped at the top of where the driveway was supposed to be, now covered in knee-deep snow. In fact, snow was all I could see.

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The Americas Campaign: Perils and Potential by Tony Cohan

Featured Writer

Tony Cohan is the Chair of San Miguel PEN's Freedom to Write Committee. We are delighted to welcome him to our featured writer spot for this issue of New Writing, as a contribution to International PEN's Americas campaign. A parallel article by Lucy Popescu on the dangers to journalists in Mexico is featured on the Writers in Prison home page.

The Americas Campaign: Perils and Potential

In 2008, at a PEN conference in Bogota, Colombia, a campaign was planned and launched, focusing on the difficult situation many writers face in the Latin American countries. For those of us in Mexico, the situation bore great urgency, as drug wars, alongside endemic corruption and lawlessness in some quarters, has turned Mexico into one of the most dangerous countries in the world to work as a journalist.

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PEN Kenya – where we are in 2009 by Philo Ikonya

Featured Writer

Philo Ikonya is an author, human rights activist and President of Kenyan PEN. She was recently arrested and subsequently released for taking part in a peaceful protest about hyperinflation. To read an extract from her piece 'Ringing On My Mind' go to our New Writing page.

PEN Kenya – where we are in 2009

In April 2008, we got working vigorously on the re-birth of a vibrant PEN. Kenya had gone through an election fiasco in 2007 and the country was burning. Many writers in Kenya realised that they did not have a common voice and they needed one. Some of us had been writing but also participating in public life with faith that we could help our country grow. Suddenly, as it happens with politics here and in other parts of the world, we found ourselves helpless and voiceless as the media, churches and other platforms of self-expression had been swept into the confusion.

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Exile House by Tenzin Tsundue

Featured Writer

We are delighted to open our featured writer page with poems by Tenzin Tsundue, a Tibetan refugee living in India, who already has links with Scottish PEN, having met Tessa Ransford at the Scottish PEN office on a visit to Edinburgh in 2006.

Tenzin Tsundue's writings have been published by International PEN, Indian PEN, and in Sahitya Akademi's Indian Literature, The Little Magazine, Outlook, The Times of India, The Indian Express, Hindustan Times, Better Photography, The Economic Times, Tehelka, The Daily Star (Bangladesh), Today (Singapore), Tibetan Review and Gandhi Marg.

As a poet he represented Tibet in the Second South Asian Literary Conference in New Delhi in January 2005 organized by Sahitya Akademi, Poetry Africa 2005 in Durban and KATHA Asia International Utsav 2006, New Delhi. Both as an activist and a writer, Tsundue fights tooth and nail for the freedom of his country. His writings are published online at www.friendsoftibet.org/tenzin.


-Tenzin Tsundue

Our tiled roof dripped
and the four walls threatened to fall apart
but we were to go home soon.

We grew papayas
in front of our house
chillies in our garden
and changmas for our fences,
then pumpkins rolled down the cowshed thatch
calves trotted out of the manger.

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