With Refugee Week coming up next month and the current upheavals in the Middle East highlighting the problems of those who seek to escape dangerous situations, our May issue of New Writing, PENning Courage (which borrows the Refugee Week theme), is timely. We have decided to invite a guest member to the editorial panel for each online magazine issue and we were delighted to welcome Morelle Smith for this issue. You can read more about Morelle at http://rivertrain.blogspot.com
Though we had fewer submissions than for the last issue we were pleased by the variety of approaches to the theme - from the grit needed to survive an Aberdonian winter to the stoicism needed to cope with pain and disability. We were still more pleased that over half the submissions were from immigrant writers, most of them refugees.
A key reason for this is the work done by SPEN member Sue Reid Sexton with refugee groups in Scotstoun. While we judge submissions from professional writers by professional standards, we view in a rather different light submissions from those who are struggling to articulate their often painful experiences in an unfamiliar language. In the case of the Scotstoun group we feel that these voices need to be heard and will gain in potency from being grouped in one entry. For the other submissions we have reverted to putting them online in alphabetical order, with the exception of the poems by Jim Aitken and Tessa Ransford, which complement each other.
In this year of the Arab Spring we are privileged to feature a writer from the Middle East, the Iraqi poet Adnan Al-Sayeh. He and his English translator, Stephen Watts, gave a memorable reading at the StAnza Poetry Festival this year, and we are most grateful to them for permission to feature the poems published here. We have started the collection off with a poem by Adnan, as well as including several of his poems on the Featured Writer page.
All contributors have been invited to take part in the launch of this issue of the magazine in Refugee Week (7-9 pm, 23 June, CCA Sauchiehall Street Glasgow) and we hope to see some of our readers there too. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy this rich and diverse mix of voices and themes.
Anne Clarke, Linda Cracknell, Lindsey Fraser, Fiona Graham, Morelle Smith
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.