Thursday, 21 June 2018

Looking Back, Looking Forward

I wouldn't call today Midsummer - summer started officially yesterday - but it does feel like mid-year.

What do we have to show for it? Children separated from their parents and locked in cages, protesters and medical personnel gunned down on a putative border, more land grabs, more money grabs, more migrations and drownings. 

Remember Alan Kurdi? Where is the world's compassion now after all those Facebook hits? 

It was World Refugee Day yesterday. The Independent newspaper tells us that 2.9 million people became asylum seekers in 2017. That figure is the biggest single-year rise in the history of the UN refugee agency. And yet we are still closing our doors. And our minds. And our hearts. 

I say our, but of course, not everyone feels the same. I have absolutely no doubt that  the vast majority of people would try to pull someone back from stepping out into the path of an oncoming car. Generally speaking, people don't like to see another human being being injured. Why, then, do we refuse to admit people fleeing from the most unbearable situations? How do we let acts of brutality and inhumanity happen in our name?

This was going to be a post about wonderful poetry readings - and there have been, believe me, with some very committed poets and an equally vociferous and active audience: Poems for Grenfell in Oxford, Songs for the Unsung in Kenilworth last night and a welcome and generous return to Derby Poetry Society. Equally nourishing are the Creative Future workshops up and down the country with writers who are under-represented, writers who have much to say and say it well. 

It has been pure joy for me to work with speakers of different languages. My ears have grown old and fluffy of late. They've been needing a good pulling. We lose our bearings if we belong to ourselves too much. That's the trouble with the world. We seem to be adopting a siege mentality. Feeling under siege makes us prone to rumour and speculation. No wonder fake news is flourishing. If we'd only look around us and see what's really there. If we'd only speak to each other and find out what other lives are really like, then we'd realise how much nonsense we're being fed.

I am heartened by young activists and I am sorry that so many feel let down by my generation too. Many young people feel disenfranchised. 

I have written on these pages before about the hope young people inspire in me - Syrian refugees, most recently, and children in some of the schools I've been working with.

Next week I shall be enjoying the privilege of meeting young people from up and down the country at the Orwell Youth Prize Celebration Day at Pembroke College. It promises to be a very full and eventful day.

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