New Writing : PENning Courage

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

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


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

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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In The Garden Of The Unknown Soldier by Adnan Al-Sayegh translated by Stephen Watts and Marga Burgui-Artajo

Stephen Watts is a poet, editor and translator. His most recent books include Gramsci & Caruso (Periplum 2003), The Blue Bag (Aark Arts 2004) and Mountain Language/Lingua di montagna (Hearing Eye 2008). Recent co-translations include Modern Kurdish Poetry (Uppsala University 2006), A.N. Stencl's All My Young Years (Five Leaves 2007), Meta Kusar's Ljubljana (Arc 2009), Ziba Karbassi's Collage Poem and Adnan Al-Sayegh's The Deleted Part (both Exiled Writers Ink 2009) from which the poem reproduced here is taken. Stephen's next book of poems is due out from Enitharmon in 2012.

Marga Burgui-Artajo was born in Navarra in the north of Spain and began to study Arabic in 1981. Since 1994 she has lived in London and has worked at Paddington Library where she established a substantial holding of both classical and contemporary Arabic literature, and where she also came into closer contact with London-based Arabic writers and bookshops. At present she works with a diverse range of cultural groups across and beyond London.

Biographical details for Adnan Al-Sayegh can be found on the featured writer page.

In The Garden Of The Unknown Soldier

The soldier who that morning forgot
                                   to shave his hair
and was punished for it by his Sergeant,
the soldier left fallen in the dust of battle

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Zimmerman by Jim Aitken

Jim Aitken lives and works in Edinburgh, where he has been an English teacher for many years. His last collection of poems, Around the Time of Michael', published by SCND, came out at the end of 2010. This year he has had 3 poems featured in A Rose Loupt oot, an anthology of songs and poems on the famous UCS work-in of 40 years ago. He has also had a play performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006. Jim has been a member of Scottish PEN for a number of years.


I caught a glimpse of him the other day,
painstakingly he progressed the pavement
as he always did around the same time.
I thought back to the Thracians from the north
who raced on horse-back into ancient Greece

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Driven By Love by Tessa Ransford

Tessa Ransford

Short biog

Tessa Ransford ( is an established poet, translator, literary editor and cultural activist on many fronts over the last forty years, having also worked as founder and director of the Scottish Poetry Library. Tessa initiated the annual Callum Macdonald Memorial Award for publishers of pamphlet poetry in Scotland, now in itsng its eleventh year, with the attendant fairs and website: She has had Royal Literary Fund fellowships in recent years at the Centre for Human Ecology and Queen Margaret University. Tessa’s Not Just Moonshine, New and Selected Poems was published in 2008 by Luath Press, Edinburgh and a further book is due this year.

Tessa is also now working on a two-way translation project with Palestinian poet Iyad Hayatleh, who lives in Glasgow.

The Golden Thread series of poetry readings, arranged by Tessa at St John’s Episcopal Church’s Festival of Spirituality, will continue again in 2011 during August. See blogspot: Tessa will be reading on the last Sunday of August at Rosslyn Chapel with artist/poet/translator Jila Peacock.

Driven By Love

I'm in pain with every step
like the little mermaid
as I pull myself upstairs
who fell in helpless love
knee on hurting knee

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Aberdonian Winter by Rizwan Akhtar

Rizwan Akhtar divides his time between Aberdeen and Essex. He is currently a PhD student at the University of Essex. His poems have appeared in Poetry Salzburg Review, Poetry NZ, Wasafiri, Postcolonial Text, decanto, Poesia, PAK, Orbis, The Other Poetry, South Asian Review, tinfoildresses, and Poetry Forward Press, UK.

Aberdonian winter
Beneath a dark sky there are no shades
only a white web of black barks
the snowy morning is touch illuminated
by the surreal peripheries on the horizon
the city holds to its frozen centre

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War by Julian Colton

Julian Colton, born in Manchester and a SPEN member, has lived in Scotland for twenty years. He has had three collections of poetry published including Something for the Weekend (Scottish Borders Council, 2001) Two Che Guevaras (SBC, 2007) and Everyman Street (Smokestack Publishing, 2009) In 2008/9 he was CREATE Writer in Residence for Dumfries and Galloway. He teaches poetry in schools, most recently as part of the Natural Identity project for the Tolbooth Gallery in Stirling. In 2002 his poem pamphlet DH Lawrence was a shortlisted runner-up for the Callum MacDonald poetry pamphlet prize. He lives in Selkirk and co-edits The Eildon Tree.


On a loop Snow is falling all around

The credit crunch computer superstore

Amid artificial warmth

Over eager assistants keen to please

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Participation by Kusay Hussein

Kusay Hussain is from Baghdad, Iraq, and graduated as a Civil Engineer in 1985. On military service he refused rank and served in two Gulf wars. During the 1980s, his work was published in a variety of Iraqi magazines, but he gave up writing rather than be a horn of the dictatorial regime. He escaped to the UK in 2006 because of the bad security situation and currently lives in Scotland. One of his stories was read at the Scottish Parliament in 2008. He has been published in America and elsewhere. His work in English is in collaboration with Sue Reid Sexton.

The Participation

I looked upwards on the long walk to school. Grey clouds crowded the sky, pushing into each other, not leaving space for the sky to appear. My heart beat fast when I remembered the monthly physics examination. I was sure I'd made a serious mistake, but couldn't estimate how serious or how many marks I might lose.

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Swapping Stories by Anonymous, Sabapathy Balenthiran, Mehideen Mohamet, Rajan Ponnompalam, Saravanamutti Thanigasalam

Sabapathy Balenthiran (Bala) is from Sri Lanka and lives in Glasgow. He is a long-standing member of the Framework for Dialogue group and also attends the Swapping Stories writing group. He had help in writing this piece from an interpreter and Sue Reid Sexton

Originally from Sri Lanka, Mehideen Mohamet is a member of the Glasgow West Framework for Dialogue, Swapping Stories writing group. He wrote his piece in Tamil and was helped to put it into English by an interpreter and Sue Reid Sexton

Rajan Ponnompalam is originally from Sri Lanka but has lived here for a number of years. He is a long-standing member of the Framework for Dialogue and has never missed any of the Swapping Stories writing sessions. These poems were written in Tamil and put into English with help from an interpreter and Sue Reid Sexton.

Saravanamutti Thanigasalam wrote his piece in English although his first language is Tamil. He is from Sri Lanka and is a member of the Glasgow West Framework for dialogue Swapping Stories creative writing group facilitated by Sue Reid Sexton.

The following five pieces are all from the Swapping Stories group run by Framework for Dialogue, West Glasgow and facilitated by SPEN member, Sue Reid Sexton. They have been grouped together as witness to the courage needed by refugees to speak thorugh a language which is not their own and in a country which is not their own. One of the contributors wishes to remain anonymous.

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Spinal Evolution by Mary McCabe

Mary McCabe has published short stories and poems and feature articles in
Scots, English and Gaelic. Longer work includes a novel, Everwinding Times,
and an illustrated book on culture Streets Schemes and Stages. In
German translation she has published a children's book Die zauberhafte
, and her radio plays have gone out in Germany and Switzerland.

Through the Scottish Book Trust Writers in Schools scheme she gives talks
and readings. She is a member of Scottish PEN.

Spinal Evolution

To secretly agree with the minority
To be a secret minority of one
To openly vote with the minority
To be an open minority of one

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The Dreamer by Agata Maslowska

Agata Maslowska was born in Poland where she worked as an English teacher and translator before moving to Edinburgh in 2005. She has a Masters in English Philology from Jagiellonian University and a Masters in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. Her fiction has appeared in Edinburgh Review. 'The Dreamer' is an excerpt from her novel in progress The Music Sheet. Another excerpt of the novel will appear in New Writing Scotland in July 2011.

The Dreamer
Jan's head was hanging heavy on his chest. From time to time he would open his eyes, close his mouth and rest his head on the back of the seat. The sounds of the rustling newspaper, the occasional announcements were reaching him, but didn't stir his sleep. He was conscious of the fact he both asleep and awake. He was conscious of the fact that his life was changing. The voice of the air hostess faded away

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darkness by Tawona Sithole

I am a writer and musician from Zimbabwe, living in Glasgow. I am co-founder of Seeds of Thought – an arts collective that aims to promote sharing of cultures through the arts. I grew up with music and spoken word that celebrates the morals and lifestyles of my ancestral family, Moyo Chirandu. As a son of this family I am better known as Ganyamatope. I am inspired to share my heritage with others as it helps me remain grounded, and also helps increase awareness of lesser known perspectives of my experience.


i'm not afraid of the dark
i respect that night and day
each have to play their part
i'm not afraid of the dark

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Smeddum by Mary Smith

Mary Smith, a SPEN member, is a writer, freelance journalist and poet. She worked in Pakistan and Afghanistan for ten years and her experiences there inform much of her writing. Her debut novel No More Mulberries is set in Afghanistan. Her poetry has been published in magazines including Markings, Lallans, Poetry Scotland and in two pamphlets Voices from Glentrool & Merrick and Cairnsmore: The Big Hill following a collaboration with artists Silvana MacLean and sculptor Matt Baker. Her first full collection is to be published in 2012 by Indigo Dreams.

Mary's website is at



Whit they hud tae thole,
Afghan weemin,
doon-hauden, sair traitet.
Bit, dinnae think they taen it laen doon,
waitin fir a haun fae Bush's bombers.

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