Bilingual Poetry Reading at the Royal Brompton Hospital

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A bilingual poetry reading took place on November 6th in the main reception area of the Royal Brompton Hospital in South Kensington, London. The event was organised jointly with Victoria Hume of RB&H Arts and was opened by Dr Mark Rigby, one of the hospital staff. Then a large, appreciative and lively audience, mainly composed of hospital staff, heard poems read in Arabic, Hindi, Persian, Punjabi, Somali and Turkish.

Poets taking part included Debjani Chatterjee MBE, Mevlut Ceylan, Shadab Vajdi, Amarjit Chandan and Abdullahi Bootaan Hasan. Amjad Taha read a poem by Mourid Barghouti and an excerpt from a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, both Palestinian poets.

Each short poem was followed by its English version, read in several cases by hospital staff. Chris Meade and Stephen Watts also read. Chris Meade, ex-Director of the Poetry Society and of the Booktrust, is presently Director of if:book, a small think and do tank which he has founded. if:book seeks to explore the future of the book in the digital age and the potential of new media for readers and writers. Stephen Watts is a poet, editor and translator.

Chris read the English of Amarjit’s poem, Stephen the English original of Mevlut’s poem.

Dr Martin Orwin, who teaches at SOAS, read his own translation of Bootaan’s Somali poem.

There were readings of poems by hospital staff and by children patients of the hospital, inspiringly supported by Phillip Wells and colleagues from the Chelsea Children’s Hospital School; and good music was played by Les Boum !

The evening also launched a “calligraphy mural” of some of the poems, designed by Michelle Johnson. The mural has been put up in the hospital’s Bronchoscopy unit, on a wall which faces patients as they recover consciousness after their operations.

The project “Poems for” is managed by “Hyphen-21,” a small charity concerned with naming and strengthening the links that make community (see www.hyphen-21.org). After the reading, the charity held its AGM in the hospital’s staff canteen. There the following Trustees were re-instated in their positions : Mevlut Ceylan, Caite Doyle, David Morris, Pat Pegg-Jones, Graham Thorp, Jane Thorp and Mary Young.

Chris Meade and Debjani Chatterjee were voted in as Joint-Chairs of the charity.

Mary Young was thanked for paying for recent legal services which had proved necessary and appear so far to have been successful. It has been agreed that an action for libel and harassment will be taken out if necessary.

The theologian Martin Buber’s notion of “I-Thou” was considered – and led to the thought that good poetry is a concentrated enactment of community, vitalising connection between person and person, self and other. It was said as well that poetry will always be a voice from the margins.

The AGM ended with a joint-reading of the traditional Navajo chant – “In Beauty May I Walk.”