World’s Words – Civilisations Festival

It was a privilege for me to be asked by the Library to organise an event during this week-long, nation-wide celebration of human creativity in all its forms. Thanks to the generous suggestions by my now extensive network of poets and authors, and the even more generous participation of eight supremely talented poets, I and the large audience enjoyed a terrific and moving evening. Although the event was all about ‘words’, it is hard to convey in words the emotions elicited by the music, rhythms and meanings of the many poems read in Arabic, Bangla, Greek and English. There may be a recording of it and shall post it if I’m able to… The theme of ‘words’ stretched to migration, war, asylum, identity. But it is words that people take with them as they move from place to place, and their translation allow us entry into their lives and experiences. As someone said, translation is the essence of hospitality. And as we all know, hospitality is the essence of civilisation.

Adnan Al-Sayegh reading with (l-r) Milton, Stephen, Farah and Mick

Me getting the session started, with (l-r) Fiona, Kostya, Mick and Lorraine

Mick Delap reading, with Milton, Stephen, Adnan and Farah

Stephen reading. As well as a fantastic poet in his own right, Stephen performed his translations of Adnan’s poems. He also compiled, and read from, a bilingual anthology of Bangladeshi poetry.

Left to right: Lorraine Mariner, Kostya Tsolakis, Milton Rahman, Stephen Watts, Adnan Al-Sayegh, Farah Naz, Fiona Moore and Mick Delap


And, as part of the same project, on Wednesday March 7, storytellers Farah Naz and Rich Sylvester ran three sessions with year 4 pupils of James Wolfe Primary School in Royal Hill. I sat in on one of the sessions and learnt all about the origin of sunlight, the first sandals ever made and how to make a lazy young man into one with a decent work ethic… Here are a couple of images from the session. Thank you Rich and Farah, and the Head and Deputy head of the school (Steve Harris and Taniya Ahmed) for being so enthusiastic about this project.

Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere

It was standing room only for the talks by Ann Dingsdale and Jane Grant on the birth of the women’s suffrage movement in Greenwich and Blackheath. A fascinating account from Ann of how ‘ordinary’ women (admittedly mostly middle class) living in the area were instrumental in creating the critical mass necessary for a change of such magnitude and the passing of the 1918 Act. Ann, a textile artist as well as historian, displayed her magnificent silk-embroidered hanging featuring all the names of the 1499 women who signed the 1866 petition. Millicent Fawcett, whose statue will be unveiled near Parliament in April, was the main focus of Jane’s talk on the struggle led by Suffragists and Suffragettes that led to the 1928 Act. Anecdotes and slides added to the interest and kept us all spellbound. To top it all, Halstow Community Choir sang three rousing Suffragette songs with audience participation and Claire Eustance of Greenwich University brought in, on their very first outing, some very informative banners “Celebrating women and men’s contribution to gender equality in Royal Greenwich from the 1860’s to the present”. The consensus, after a Q&A session, from both men and women in the audience was that there’s still some way to go to achieve true equality. So, onwards….

Bright Scarf Poets

Last night a small but very appreciative audience delighted in the readings (and musings and a bit of coughing…) by Rosie Johnston, Quentin Cowdry (l) and Dominic James (r), three members of Bright Scarf Poets. Sadly, health reasons prevented Peter Pegnall, one of its founders, from joining them. His quirky and profound work, taken from his published collections, was read by the others, but we did miss him and we wish him well. Perhaps the words ‘quirky’ and ‘profound’ apply to all three poets despite their very distinctive voices, their choices of form and focus. They had decided to make ‘love’ (yes, why not?) the theme of the second set, and what surprising, different takes on it we were treated to!

If you wish to read their work, Dominic’s collection is published by Sentinel Poetry Group. Rosie’s and Peter’s by Lapwing (Belfast). Quentin is working up his first collection, definitely something to look forward to.

Chrissie Gittins

Chrissie reading from one of her collections of poetry for children

With her gentle but economical, unsentimental and often surprising language, her humour, irony and acute power of observation (and memorable titles) Chrissie has rightly gained a high profile in the literary world, especially for her poems for children. The audience at West Greenwich Library were enchanted and entertained – and also moved when in the second half Chrissie read from her semi-autobiographical short-story collection Between Here and Knitwear about her father’s dementia. Her books were snatched up by the parents and grandparents in the audience. And if you missed out, they are available in bookshops and, of course, on Amazon.

A big thank you to Chrissie, the audience and, as always, to Debra and staff at the Library for making us so welcome and comfortable.

Cinnamon Press Book Launch

On Tuesday evening Jan Fortune of Cinnamon Press introduced two talented and original authors and their newly published works of fiction.

Stephanie Percival (and husband Adrian) read from The Kim’s Game. The non-linear narrative follows Hal’s life, marked by many losses – and the reading left us in suspense about his fate: will all those losses lead to some gains? How will all the ‘minor’ characters fare in later life (we got to know them so well as children…)? The Kim’s game is a memory game, where objects laid out on a tray are taken away one by one. Dark, tense, and beautifully written.

Jennifer Young read from her Cold War thriller Cold Crash in which Max, the female heroine, a marine archaeologist, becomes embroiled in a complex and dangerous espionage ‘adventure’. Even a theatre outing with her genteel parents is tinged with intrigue and suspense… Moving between London and Mull, this is a real page turner, with rigorously researched period elements giving it an authentic 1950s feel.

Jan introducing Stephanie and Jennifer.


WH Auden with Graham Fawcett

Oh I did it again… Or rather I didn’t do it again! No photos of this exciting, stimulating and illuminating event at St Margaret’s crypt in Blackheath.

And, of course, Graham Fawcett did it again… I mean he had the large audience spellbound from beginning to end with his wit and erudition, weaving together all the facets of this twinkling, chain-smoking, complex, wordsmithing and, above all, loving poet. He conveyed the joy of hearing Auden live five times, and being so awestruck once when in a small crowd gathered Auden in a pub that later he couldn’t even remember being there, let alone what had been said.

I wish I could remember everything Graham said. After his talks I am always left with a desire to learn more. If you want to see Graham’s programme of lectures and events, go to

Many thanks to Guy, Jenny and Cilla from St Margaret’s church for all their help.

Poems and Pictures

Two years ago almost to the day, Gill Stoker of the Mary Evans Picture Library in Blackheath had the brilliant idea of combining her love of the spoken word with the fascinating collection of images stored at the Library. With the help of local poets Mick Delap and Lorraine Mariner she began to invite other local poets to submit poems inspired by or seeming to illustrate one or more images from the Library. The ‘Poems and Pictures’ blog was born, and in two years it has attracted poets from all over the world and more and more poems are being posted on it, all of fantastic quality. Its second birthday was definitely something worth celebrating.

The evening was a wonderful mixture of voices and styles and the projected images were intriguing, funny, surprising… and so much more. The central rotunda of West Greenwich Library was full beyond capacity, with many extra chairs being carted in by the ever-helpful staff to accommodate everyone. Those who took part were: Mick Delap (who also MCd), Harvey Duke (read by Gill Stoker), Ken Evans (read by Mick Delap), Robin Houghton, Sarah Lawson, Lorraine Mariner, Gabriel Moreno (with and without guitar..), Emma Simon, Fiona Sinclair (read by Gill Stoker), Peter Wallis, Richard Westcott and Sarah Westcott. Poets also chose and read works by others, which they selected out of the hundred plus poems on the blog.

I think the blog’s third birthday will call for another celebration, so watch this space!

Gill Stoker introducing the work of the Mary Evans Picture Library to the packed audience

Below: Mick Delap reading ‘Lady with an Ermine’ by Maja Trochimczyk, Gabriel Moreno reading his own ‘Ode to Hull’, Sarah Lawson reading Rowland Hill’s ‘Gin Slings in Singapore’ and Gill Stoker reading ‘If I was Not’ by Jeni Braund. All photographs © Paul Brown.

Visit for the entire collection of poems and related pictures.

Cinnamon Toast!

What better way to celebrate National Poetry day (September 28) than to listen to five talented, amazing and entertaining poets published by Cinnamon Press ( Alex Josephy, Louise Warren, Jeremy Worman, Tamsin Hopkins and Jane McLaughlin (left to right in the photographs) read from their books and pamphlets, taking us to real, surreal and often unexpected worlds and bringing people, creatures and memories to life through their unique voices. THANK YOU poets, publishers, audience and West Greenwich Library staff, as always.

Tiger and Clay – book launch from Istanbul

Last night was a first for in-words, the audience and the wonderful West Greenwich Library and its staff: on a clear skype connection, author Rana Abdulfattah read four extracts form her book of memoir and poetry as her London launch. Her publisher, Camilla Reeve from Palewell Press, co-hosted the event in the central rotunda filled to capacity. There was also a small photographic exhibition by Rayan Azhari and a great meze spread by the Damascus Chef, as well as a presentation by the Chief Executive of the Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network.

Rana lives in Istanbul after leaving her native Syria. Her writing is a moving mixture of nostalgia, sorrow, hope and positive determination. The book is available on Amazon and from Palewell Press

Central rotunda filling up…. Other photographs from top: listening to Rana; Alaa the techie man smiling at the camera, Camilla the publisher and myself before the start of this amazing evening. At the back, Jane getting the bookstall organised and Abdullah the Damascus Chef setting up the meze spread.

DH Lawrence, Poet – with Graham Fawcett

I was so lost in the beauty of Graham’s and Lawrence’s words (it’s often hard to spot the boundary between Graham’s own words and the poems he reads…) and the lovely stillness of St Margaret’s Crypt, that I forgot all about modern technology and didn’t take any pictures… I’ll try to remember next time, on November 1st when the mood will change with the poetry of WH Auden.

I will also try to make online booking easier – apologies to those who found it difficult and unsatisfactory (irritating? infuriating?)

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