In November of 2015, my partner, Alison Varndell, was selected to fly out to Bosnia as part of a delegation of teachers, lawyers, and other professionals to visit the site of the Srebrenica genocide and to meet with the mothers of the men and boys who lost their lives there. It was a harrowing experience for Alison and I was also greatly affected by what she told me and by the haunting photographs that she took. The idea of the visit was to encourage the delegates to return to Britain and educate others about the terrible atrocities that occurred during the Bosnian War, and to further the aims the charity, which works to promote understanding and tolerance among different ethnic and religious groups. You can find out more about the Bosnian War and the work of the charity at www.srebrenica.org.uk.
My small contribution to this important cause was to arrange a benefit reading for the charity, featuring the poets Jennifer Johnson and Kit Wright, both of whom very generously waived their fees.
It was a wonderful evening of poetry which began with an open mic session involving many local poets and a host of talent from London, the Home Counties and beyond, all reading to a room that was packed to the rafters.
It would be unfair to single out individual poets, as everyone made wonderful contributions, but I feel I should give a special mention to those poets who traveled long distances to be with us this evening, such as Simon Bowden from Ver Poets in St Albans, Frances Wilson from Ware poets (who read my favourite poem of hers ‘Thinking of Swans’), Diane Tang who fought valiantly against line closures and other problems to get here from the extremes of West London, and Trish Harewood of CB1 poets, who came all the way from Cambridge.
I should also mention those poets who were making their debut at the Dugdale Theatre tonight including Ken Bone and Richard Wright from my creative writing group, and the performance poet, Xordium.
Finally, I’d like to mention my friend and fellow poet, Carol DeVaughn, who was so generous and gracious about my failure to include her in the open mic session because I’d accidentally deleted her name from the list. Her beautiful poetry would have greatly added to the occasion, but we benefited, nonetheless, by her kind and gentle presence.
However, everyone who took part deserves my sincerest thanks and I include a full list of their names below.
Jennifer Johnson gave a spellbinding reading which included some very powerful and moving poems about her childhood, as well as a terrific, specially composed piece about the Srebrenica genocide, which was much talked about afterwards.
Kit Wright, too, was on top form. Funny, touching, and clever, sometimes all in the space of a single poem, Kit delivered a hugely enjoyable and memorable set, which was greeted with a storm of applause from an audience that could have happily gone on listening to him into the early hours of the morning.
The evening also featuring a compelling and moving presentation by Misba Sheikh who talked about the Bosnian War and the work of the charity. She also read a beautiful poem about Srebrenica. Her colleague, and Alison’s fellow delegate, Nausheen, offered a more personal perspective, sharing with us her reflections on the trip to Bosnia.
It was a great evening which raised just over £374 for the charity, and I offer my heartfelt thanks to all the poets who gave their time and talent to support the event; to Misba and Nausheen of Remembering Srebrenica; and also to Keith Lockwood, Mary Duggan, and Jayne Buckland who did so much behind the scenes to help make the evening possible. Bless you all.
The poets and friends who took part in this event were: Mo Gallaccio, Terry Jones, Richard Bridges, Fawzia Kane, Carol DeVaughn, Ken Bone, Derek Wood, Karina Vidler, Keith Lockwood, Irene Richards, Chris Hamilton, Timothy Ades, Trish Harewood, Allen Ashley, Frances Wilson, Sarah Doyle, Mary Duggan, Louis Cennamo, Diane Tang, Ruth Hanchett, Lynda How, Liba, Rabi, Cheryl Moscowitz, Patricia McFarland, John Snelling, Jayne Buckland, Alison Varndell, Hilary Smith, Alan Murray, Annabel Mills, Anthony Fisher, Valerie Darville, Gwen, Xordium, Sonia Jarema, Danielle Hope, David Perman, Simon Bowden, Peter Phillips, Misba Sheihk, Alison Varndell, Nausheen, Kathryn Braithwaite. If I have missed anyone out, please let me know.