‘Lest we Forget’ – an evening to remember and honour all victims of racial, ethnic and religious hatred.

‘Celebration’ might be the wrong word for what a large audience took part in last night at the wonderful West Greenwich Library. And yet the word did crop up a few times. As well as deploring cruelty and crying for the victims, we must also celebrate the resilience, courage and selflessness of survivors and of the individuals and families who put their lives at grave risk to protect others.

Shivaun Woolfson presented ‘Surviving History: Portraits from Vilna’, a documentary made in 2008 (and still sadly relevant) by her and her sons Daniel and Jesse Quinones (Wolfcub Productions) in Lithuania, where their family originated from. A trip that was much more than ‘fact-finding’. Having recently lost both her parents, Shivaun felt the urge to find some meaningful family and cultural traces. What she found was a town where skinheads still marched chanting ‘Jews Out!’, where the remaining Jewish community had dwindled to a small number of elderly and very old people. The memory of what happened to the once thriving community would disappear with them, were it not for a small, tucked-away Jewish museum, dedicated to preserving those memories, to recovering the faces and names of those who were killed by their neighbours, as well as by the German SS.

Shivaun interviewed some of the survivors, who showed such humanity in the face of indescribable and still-fresh sorrow. All we could do at the end of the short film was to sit in silence for a short moment.

After some questions to Shivaun and an interval, we watched ‘Hidden Childhood: Vesna’s Story’. The documentary, produced and kindly supplied by the Zagreb Festival of Tolerance, charted, in Vesna Domany Hardy’s own words, the terrible events that affected her and her family during WW2, with the assassination of her Father, the Resistance work of her Mother – through to the post-war years and her Mother’s two year internment under Tito’s communist (but not Stalinist) regime on the notorious island of Goli Otok. This complicated, painful story is also populated by courageous, selfless people, by quiet heroism and startling resilience.

There were some questions, too, at the end of Vesna’s Story, and many heartfelt pleas for peace, tolerance (or, even better, a welcoming, open attitude to differences and diversity).

Just for one night, to coincide with this event, a few library shelves were devoted to a display of prints of very poignant poems and pictures written and drawn by Palestinian children in early 2023, as part of an English language project (www.handsupproject.org) and now collected in a book called Moon Tell me the Truth. This display, and its explanatory notes by Mick Delap, who promoted the display, added to the poignancy of the evening.

We all feel that oral histories and testimonies, in whatever form, are essential to our mutual understanding at this time of great global turmoil and appalling suffering.

A big thank you to Shivaun and Vesna (I feel privileged to be their friend).

I also wish to thank Natasa Popovic of the Zagreb Festival of Tolerance, Wolfcub Productions, Mick Delap and the amazing audience and, as always, Debra Sullivan and her staff at the Library for all their help and support over this important event.

Shivaun Woolfson is a writer and lecturer, with a special interest in life history writing, research and practice. She holds a PhD in history and has taught extensively in the US and the UK, most recently at Goldsmiths College, University of London, where she served as Senior Tutor in Community Studies and visiting lecturer in life writing. She has facilitated workshops, seminars, public readings, performances and writing residences in hospices, prisons and community centres. She has also developed numerous interdisciplinary arts projects based primarily on the life experiences of participants. In 2002, she published an autobiography, Home Fires (Atlantic Books). Between 2008 and 2009, Shivaun fielded a team and made numerous trips to Lithuania to conduct fieldwork research for the project ‘Surviving History – Portraits from Vilna’. The project ultimately culminated in the short documentary we have watched, and a travelling exhibition, which opened at the Tolerance Centre in Vilnius in September 2009. Between 2009 and 2011, the exhibition toured – among other locations – the Holocaust museums in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, University College Dublin, Shropshire Council’s Shire Hall, Central Synagogue in London, London Jewish Cultural Centre, and Biddenham Upper School, Bedfordshire. During that time, Shivaun also conducted several teachers’ seminars and public talks relating to Holocaust legacy in Lithuania.

Vesna Domany Hardy was born and educated in Zagreb, Croatia. She obtained a degree in Comparative Literature and English language and Literature at the University of Zagreb, and much later an MA in Art History from Goldsmiths College, London. In 1974 she left Yugoslavia to join her English husband in his British Council posting in Pakistan. That posting was followed by one in Paris and, after two years in Greenwich, by two in Italy, in Milan and Rome, before the family returned to London. Vesna made the most of these experiences by continuing to study, write, translate and work for radio, schools and cultural institutions. Vesna was one of ten women who founded the Croatian Peace Forum to counteract the lies about the causes of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, and to lobby for peace. After Croatian independence, she continued working with refugees from Bosnia, especially children, and coordinated a project, aiming to reunite war-dispersed families. She also worked as an interpreter on the ICTY investigation into the war crimes committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Vesna’s links with her country of origin and her own roots are deep and important: she is continuing to write and to collaborate with several newspapers in Croatia, contributing regularly to a Croatian Jewish cultural magazine and sitting on the board of the Jewish Festival of Tolerance in Zagreb. She is on the Holocaust Education Trust’s list of survivors and provides talks on the Holocaust to schools.   

‘A Life in Verse’ – the collected works of Patrick Early

A wonderful compilation of Patrick’s poems, published by Our Glass Publishing

The Early family treated a large audience to readings from this fabulous book on Thursday 7th at St Alfege Church Hall in Greenwich.

I was so happy to be asked to help organise and co-host the event. Patrick’s poetry is so accessible and yet so profound. He died almost exactly three years ago and is so missed… His wife Stephanie put together this collection, a true labour of love. And their children, grandchildren, other relatives and close friends took part by reading some of the thematically arranged poems.

Patrick remembering his childhood under the Raj, his father and grandfather, his later travels both for leisure and work. The latter in particular, taking him and family to different countries for the British Council. The conflict in the former Yugoslavia, his beloved Ireland, France… and eventually older age in Greenwich, where he and Stephanie lived for many years.

There was some beautiful singing by one of Patrick and Stephanie’s granddaughters, accompanied on the guitar by her father, her voice pitch perfect.

Despite the sadness inherent in the event, there was a lot of laughter (Patrick’s wry sense of humour surfacing often) and smiles, and palpable love and admiration for the man and the poet.

50!

Events

Tuesday March 5 at West Greenwich Library, 7-8.30pm

The Birth of a Book: Shakespeare in an Age of Anxiety plus A Taste of 154 – readings of some of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, and modern responses to them

Local author and scholar Neville Grant will talk about the writing of his new book, Shakespeare in an Age of Anxiety (Greenwich Exchange, 2023), about what inspired him to delve into this well-explored subject and to succeed in finding a plethora of unknown, intriguing (and some amusing) facts about the Bard, and many parallels with goings on in the 21st Century.

154 is a poetry collection published by Live Canon. Each one of 154 modern poets was asked to respond to one of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets (not counting the ones inside his plays). We shall hear some of these inspired pairings, by and with Nick Eisen, Gillie Robic, Lorraine Mariner, NJ Hynes, Rosie Johnston and Doreen Hinchliffe.

Unmissable….

Free as always, with plenty of refreshments – and food for thought!

Neville Grant, best known locally as former editor of the Westcombe News, is a professional author who has published many textbooks on language and literature used in countries around the world. His  latest book, Shakespeare in an Age  of Anxiety (Greenwich Exchange 2023), written for the general reader, celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio – the collection of his plays published seven years after his death. The book looks at how a grammar school boy made it in London’s theatreland, how he survived Tudor politics, and gives an appreciation of each of his works in the order in which they were written, so one can trace his development as a writer.

Nick Eisen is a writer and performer whose spoken word, poetry and plays have appeared at venues such as Battersea Arts Centre, the late, great Man In The Moon Theatre, Riverside Studios and Chocolate Poetry. His more recent spoken word performances and collaborations have been for Wansdworth’s contribution to the London Design Festival, Wandsworth’s Arts Fringe, London Metropolitan University and Arcus Pride in Canary Wharf and other venues.

Originally from Yorkshire, Doreen Hinchliffe is a retired teacher who has lived in London for many years. Her poems have appeared in a wide variety of poetry anthologies and magazines, and her sonnet sequence, The Pointing Star, was recorded by Live Canon on their Poems for Christmas CD in 2011.To date, she has published three poetry collections – Dark Italics (Indigo Dreams, 2017) Substantial Ghosts (Oversteps Books, 2020) and Marginalia (Stairwell Books, 2023). Her first novel, Sarabande in Blue, was recently published by Blossom Spring Publishing.

NJ Hynes is a South London based poet who enjoys flamenco, piano playing and climbing every hill in Greenwich Park. Her latest pamphlet Tracking Light, Stacking Time, was published by Live Canon in 2023 and launched at the Royal Observatory. Her collection The Department of Emotional Projections won Live Canon’s inaugural First Collection competitionIn between, she’s been longlisted, shortlisted and commended in numerous competitions, and in 2019 she won the Battered Moons poetry competition. In the same year a poem commissioned for the launch of Maritime Radio Greenwich resulted in an award-winning broadcast. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post as well as in literary journals, train stations, art galleries and Soho shop fronts. She is currently working on poems inspired by a month-long residency in the Atacama Desert, Chile.

Rosie Johnston’s writing spans journalism, drama, fiction and poetry, with novels published in Dublin and London and four books of poetry by Lapwing Publications in her native Belfast. Her most recent, Six-Count Jive (Lapwing, 2019), describes the inner landscape of her complex post-traumatic stress disorder and led to readings at Glasgow and Vigo universities and inclusion in Her Other Language (Arlen House, 2020). Rosie’s poetry also appears in the Northern Irish section of Places of Poetry (OneWorld, 2020), the Mary Evans Poems and Pictures blog and various magazines. Her first venture back into fiction in ten years, Laughing and Grief, was published in American Writers Review. Her fifth book of poetry, Safe Ground, will be published by Mica Press early next year. Rosie reviews poetry for London Grip and is a generous and inspirational teacher and mentor. rosiejohnstonwrites.com

Lorraine Mariner lives in Greenwich and works at the National Poetry Library, Southbank Centre. She has published two collections with Picador, Furniture (2009) and There Will Be No More Nonsense (2014) and has been shortlisted for the Forward Prize twice, for Best Single Poem and Best First Collection, and for the Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Prize. Her most recent publication is the poetry chapbook, Anchorage with Grey Suit Editions (2020). She edits regularly for Candlestick Press: Ten Poems About Libraries has just been published, following on from Ten Poems About Friendship, Ten Poems About Love and Ten Poems About Tea.

Gillie Robic was born in India, a place that remains her abiding passion. She is a puppeteer and her voice is used in film, theatre and television. Gillie’s poetry collections, Swimming Through Marble, Lightfalls, and her latest, I think I could be wrong, are all published by Live Canon, as is her pamphlet Open Skies, written and published in aid of Ukraine.