These Poems Don’t Need A Visa
By: Erica Jarnes
Last week the US president signed an executive order placing a ban on entry to citizens of Libya, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia/Somaliland and Yemen with immediate effect. The ban is being labelled a 'Muslim ban', for obvious reasons, and has sparked protest around the globe. Team PTC was outside Downing Street on Monday, adding our voices and homemade banners to the mighty swell.
The thing is, both the ban and the label reinforce the downright dodgy idea that what these seven rather different countries have in common (religion? instability?) is the most interesting thing about them. How many of us in the UK can honestly say we know much about any of them beyond the headlines? And this despite the fact that the UK is home to the largest Somali community in Europe, as well as long-established Arabic- and Persian-speaking communities... Being open isn't just about border controls. Yes, in these dark times we need mass protests and petitions. But we also need to get to know our immigrant neighbours - as individuals, as friends, and as a matter of urgency. And by God do we need to read more widely!
Poets are rock stars across the Muslim world; the cliche of one man and his wet dog at a reading just doesn't apply in Hargeisa or Shiraz. At the PTC we have had the privilege of translating literary heavyweights such as Azita Ghahreman, Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi and the late, great Gaarriye. We invite poets to the UK to meet new audiences as well as their supportive home-away-from-home crowd, and to collaborate with some of the UK's best poets writing in English.
Yes, we are proud to champion poets who hail from the countries on the USA's banned list - but we are even prouder when poetry-lovers who live in the same neighbourhood but in different cultural or linguistic worlds have a chance to meet each other at one of our events. Yes, it just so happens that our first three collections, commissioned in partnership with Bloodaxe Books, are by a Sudanese poet, a Somali poet and an Iranian poet - but this doesn't have anything to do with the impulses of an orange-faced bigot. We just believe that poetry is a meeting place, and that translation is the life-blood of poetry; we've stood by this since the PTC was founded in 2004.
If you have enjoyed this week's featured poems and podcast please let us know on Twitter or Facebook. And if you would like to join us in translating more great poets, banned or unbanned, we'd love to welcome you to one of our translation workshops.