Sunday, 14 October 2018

Typewritten Tales: Call for Volunteers

By Divya Ghelani 

Become an oral historian and learn the hidden story of Leicester's historic Typewriter Strike!

Typewritten Tales is an Arts Council supported Oral History Project about the 1974 Typewriter Strike at Imperial Co. on East Park Road. Participants will learn to conduct interviews with former factory workers. These oral histories will form the inspiration for a dynamic series of local flash fiction events called Typewritten Tales and will culminate in a chapbook publication in partnership with the Centre for New Writing at the University of Leicester. 

The project kicks off with an Oral History Collection training session led by the University of Leicester’s Oral Historian Colin Hyde. Colin runs the East Midlands Oral Histories Archive and will be training brand new oral historians on October 17th, 1-4pm in The Seminar Room, 3-5 Salisbury Road. You’ll learn about life on the factory floor, race relations in 1970s Leicester, and how the strike affected workers from the city’s settled working-class community and newly-arrived immigrant workers. We welcome a diverse pool of applicants!

PRE-BOOK this FREE Oral History training with Colin Hyde by emailing typewrittentalesproject (at) gmail (dot) com. 

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

"After I Bumped My Head on a Children's Slide," by Meng Wang

Meng Wang (Chinese pen name: Pear Du) is a bilingual writer and poet, born in 1992, from Beijing, China, who enjoys writing love poems. She loves animals, and at home has two injured azure-winged magpies, a lovely squirrel, a chubby cat, a little turtle, and is engaged in fighting for animal rights. She gained her Master's degree in Modern Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. You can find her Chinese short novels and stories in various magazines and anthologies, including Hua Cheng, Shan Ye, China Southern Airlines, Shanxi Literature, Changjiang Literature and 2017 Youth Literature. Her first short story collection is To Our Favorite Little Butter Biscuits (published 2018).

In the following short memoir piece, Meng Wang reflects on her recent art residency in Spain, and the strange effects and side-effects of a head injury, in relation to creativity. 

After I Bumped My Head on a Children's Slide, by Meng Wang

If you don’t come to Barcelona now, it will be too late, and the water will get colder ....

In late August 2018, I came to Spain for my art residency at Can Serrat International Art Centre, El Bruc - first re-visiting Barcelona for a few days. 

During those amazing and difficult five days, I had endless quarrels with my boyfriend. He wanted to sleep in the airport on the last night, which was totally insane. The rows epitomised our relationship in the first half of 2018. It exhausted both of us, and I even developed an arrhythmia because of it. 

Therefore, the residency in Spain was like a escape for me, where I thought I would have a rest, some head space to focus on my art work and writings. So after we said goodbye, he went back to Beijing to his work, and I left for El Bruc for my art residency.

September! Finally! I had a great time with different artists and writers from all over the world and made some good friends. We celebrated my birthday on Mexico's official independence day (what a coincidence), and Australian writer Laura and Canadian writer Marin made me a flower chocolate cake. A talented Hongkong visual artist called Antoine had become my soulmate, and asked me to fry spicy potato slices every day; and a French visual artist ChloƩ and I were designing an experimental literature art book in our respective languages.

Apart from social activities, I also wrote three short stories discussing urban anxiety in China and drew a series of paintings relating the human nude and the animal. I also picked up my childhood hobby, carving and sculptures. I did some print making by using a mechanical machine. 

It was all going so well. Happy times are always short. A turning point came …

"Wake me up when September ends" is no joke - for, on the penultimate day of September, I bumped my head heavily on a bar above a children's slide. It sent me into a kind of sleep, and a kind of waking. 

Dizziness accompanies me all the time since the accident. I feel like I’m drunk every day. This reminds me of one of our ancient celebrities - Ran Ji, who drank for sixty days to avoid his Emperor's call. 

I went to two hospitals - the first was a clinic in Esparreguera, where the doctor sent me away without a brain scan, telling me to drink Coca Cola and take Betahistina every eight hours. After a few days, however, I got even worse, so our Columbian female writer Paola took me to Accident and Emergency in  De Igualada hospital. There, the automatic coffee machine dispensed - like a present just for me - a beautiful cartoon paper coffee cup, which had a Chinese girl in a red dress with a cute panda. This somehow provided me a little relief - a kitsch reminder of home. The doctor I saw afterwards didn’t scan my brain either; after a basic examination, he just said that the first doctor had given me the wrong medicine, which was hardly a big surprise. Then he sent me away: "Ta ta!". 

Now I take Ibuprofen and gelocatil every eight hours. I'm preparing to have a full brain examination and MRI when I return to Beijing at end of this month. 

As we left the hospital and waited on the bench for the car to get us back to Can Serrat, Paola suddenly started crying on my shoulder. There was some family trauma, which made me feel sorry for her, and she wrote something in Spanish to memoralise that moment:

Nothing comes back to me dijo ella mientras yo lloraba en su hombre. Vinimos a urgencias por ella y ahora soy yo quien necesita cuidado. Nothing comes back y justo por eso estoy llorando ella no sabe que hacer, me muestra memes en chino y me dice que traducen. Ya estamos afuera ella solo tiene mareos que le van a durar dos semanas a lo sumo. A mi esta pena de que nada vuelve me va a durar mucho mas.

The story is a bitter-sweet symphony, though: strangely enough, since I got injured and started taking painkillers, I've become really productive, artistically speaking. In all my dizziness, I write and create even faster than before. There's good and also bad news: I can’t drink anymore, because it can make my brain feel like it's exploding, and I have to write by hand to avoid the discomfort of a computer screen. Funnily enough, handwriting seems to work even faster than typing - very old school.

Anyway, now I have at least five different projects on the go: a series of paintings of human nudes and animals; a new full-length novel Beijing Wave, so far written on discarded bits of paper; experimental art books, including carvings and print-making, written in various languages; a new short story collection; memoir writing about my Can Serrat residency and experiences (like this piece!) ....

These ideas force themselves out of my mind every day - so much so that all the artists in our Centre thought that I had made a trade with the devil. Perhaps the devil is my head injury. Now I keep working from the moment I wake up till midnight - only stopping occasionally to contact my boyfriend, who always used to hurt me with his moody attitude, but whose moodiness now compels me to return to my work. 

I've also learned my lesson that perhaps I'm a bit too old for children's playgrounds. I’m not a child anymore.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Leicester 2084 AD: New Poems about the City

Ambrose Musiyiwa has just edited and published a new anthology, Leicester 2084 AD: New Poems about The City. Here, below, is his introduction to the book

Introduction, by Ambrose Musiyiwa

In 2016, poet, book reviewer and literary activist, Emma Lee and I set up the Facebook group, Welcome to Leicester, as part of the process of putting together a poetry anthology exploring Leicester’s past, present and future and what the city means to different people.

The result was Welcome to Leicester: Poems about the City, which Emma and I co-edited and which was released from Dahlia Publishing in the same year.

Leicester 2084 AD: New Poems about the City (CivicLeicester, 2018) picks up from the conversation that started with Welcome to Leicester, the Facebook group and the poetry anthology. The new poems ask readers and writers to imagine what Leicester will be like in the year 2084, how the city will get there, and what it will mean to its citizens, residents and the rest of the world.

In line with the approach that informs Welcome to Leicester, invitations to submit poems and microfiction for possible inclusion in the anthology were sent through word of mouth, social media, emails and letters to individual writers, local and regional writing groups, schools and media outlets. 

Invitations were also sent to the seven towns that are called Leicester, namely: Leicester, Sierra Leone; Leicester, North Carolina; Leicester, Massachusetts; Leicester, Vermont; Leicester, New York; Leicester (village), New York; and Leicester Township, Clay County, Nebraska.

All in all, 73 poems and items of short fiction were received from 42 writers. 40 of the submissions were selected for inclusion in Leicester 2084 AD because of how they responded to the theme, how they came across when read silently and out loud, and how they spoke to other poems and pieces of short fiction in the anthology. 

Some of the writers whose work is featured in the anthology have many publications to their names. For others, Leicester 2084 AD is the first time they have been published. 

I hope the poems in this anthology will encourage you to imagine what Leicester will be like in the future and to think about some of the things that need to be done in order to build that future Leicester.

I hope you will enjoy reading these poems as much as I did.

And I look forward to seeing what, in terms of overtly Leicester-centric poetry anthologies, the next few years will bring. This is because, although there are many poems by writers from the East Midlands and elsewhere that are influenced by or which respond to the city of Leicester, there are very few poetry anthologies that focus exclusively on the city. The ones that I am aware of that do so are: Ned Newitt’s Anthology of Leicester Chartist Song, Poetry and Verse (Leicester Pioneer Press, 2006), Welcome to Leicester (Dahlia Publishing, 2016), and now Leicester 2084 AD.  

Leicester 2084 AD: New Poems about the City is available here

Sunday, 23 September 2018

I.M. Steffi Schwarcz-Birnbaum, 1928-2018

By Jonathan Taylor

On Tuesday 18th September 2018, beloved poet, activist and academic Steffi Schwarcz-Birnbaum died after a long illness. A Kindertransport evacuee to England from Nazi Germany, Steffi spent most of her adult life in Israel. I want to pay tribute to her here. 

Steffi was born in 1928, to Jewish parents Georg Mortiz Birnbaum, publisher and diplomat, and Hertha Erna Birnbaum, nee Steinfeld. Steffi and her younger sister Reni spent their early childhood in Berlin, part of a loving and tight-knit family. 

In 1933, the Nazis came to power, and Georg subsequently lost his job. Over the next few years, he developed Parkinson's disease, and eventually died in October 1939. 

In March 1939, Steffi and Reni left Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport, sponsored by Dr. Bernard and Mrs Winifred Schlesinger (parents of the famous film director, John Schlesinger). On arrival in London, Steffi and Reni stayed for some time at a Jewish hostel in Highgate. Eventually, they were evacuated from London to a small village in Hertfordshire. 

There, they were billeted with Albert and Margaret Kelly, who cared for the homesick refugees, and treated them with love and kindness. Like foster parents, they helped the sisters settle into English life and customs, without ever trying to change their beliefs. 

Unfortunately, the sisters did not stay long with the Kellys, but were sent to a boarding school in Cornwall, where the conditions were harsh, and the headmistress attempted to convert all Jewish children. During this time, Steffi was also continuously afraid for the family members she'd left behind in Germany. The fear and uncertainty continued till after the war ended. 

Steffi's mother and grandmother had managed to communicate with their daughters, via Red Cross telegrams from Berlin, until 1942. Then the communications stopped. Hertha had worked in a munitions factory in Berlin until the end of 1942; but in January 1943 she was deported to Auschwitz, where she died. Steffi's grandmother, Jenny Steinfeld, committed suicide just before deportation. Steffi discovered all this following the end of the war. 

In the 1960s, Steffi moved from England to Israel, where she worked for many years at the Hebrew University. She published a book of poetry, Poems, 1989-1993. She had a daughter, Raya, and four grandchildren. She believed passionately in peace and reconciliation, and worked tirelessly for it throughout her life: "Be merciful to the poor, proud to the rich, and act humanely towards everyone."

Steffi telling a joke at our wedding in 2005

As a postscript, I want to add that I am one of Albert and Margaret Kelly's grandchildren, and I grew up thinking of Steffi and Reni as much-loved aunties. Reni is godmother for our twins. In 2002-3, I had the pleasure of setting one of Steffi's poems to music, and the song was performed in concert and on the radio. Here is that poem. 

Ghetto Child

Ragged clothing, terrified eyes
a frame of bone
lacking flesh
haunt us throughout the ages,
black and white photographs
display the despair
the post-war prosperity
makes us stare
   in disbelief!

Hunger, terror
family decimation
burning synagogues - eventual cremation
terror, fear of the day ahead
comprehension of persecution widespread. 

Ghetto child, ghetto child
your bones do not lie in hallowed ground
you did not reach the gate of freedom
your bones are dust, there is no sound. 

Yet where masses of Jewish youth
from all over the globe
tread the Polish earth
when the "March of the Living" takes place each year
to honour the dead - and remember. 
Then, Ghetto child, you can 
rest in peace, for Israel Lives. 

Friday, 21 September 2018

Two Poems by Michael W. Thomas

Michael W. Thomas’s most recent novel is Pilgrims at the White Horizon.  His poetry collections include Batman’s Hill, South Staffs (Flipped Eye, 2013) and Come to Pass (Oversteps, 2015).  His work has appeared in The Antioch Review, Critical Survey and the TLS.  In 2015, his novella, ‘Esp,’ was shortlisted for the UK Novella Award.  His latest titles are Early and Late: Poems and Images (with Ted Eames, Cairn Time Press), and The Portswick Imp: Collected Stories, 2001-2016 (Black Pear).  He is currently working on Nowherian, the memoir of a Grenadian traveller. 


And there were times
when he was someone’s someone.
The air then was clean upon the days,
showed faithfully the smoke of whispers.

The pavements were as wide
as a hope on waking,
each evening struck the sun to its reddest
as chimney and tree grew against it.
Later, the moon would raise a brow
as if in surprise at its ancient blessing.

He was someone’s someone,
excess to name and date of birth,
never going lost in the Sunday lands – 
at least for some improvised while.

Over is longer to say than happen.
Each time it came for him
he was back as in a rental
a moment before the expiry of terms,
nothing only a phone on a shelf
by a book of codes for strangers.

Now he is no-one’s,
lives within his own breath
and makes discoveries for one.
No matter.  He has known otherwise,
could still call up a daystar or two
for chase-and-tag behind his gaze.

Instead he looks upon a Monday world
with a middling cast of sky,
sees all the unshaped forms that hurry there – 
shrugs, makes a silence of himself, 
steps in.  

Housemaid on Fire

‘Thank God, he’s still breathing.  Get water!’
The girl works her lips,
repoints her urgency: ‘Now, idiot!’
Her words set the housemaid on fire,
hurl her from the room. In the kitchen
Cook’s jug leaps in a slop at her frontage.

A bad go.  But in time, as always, 
the demons loose the baronet
so, in the far forest of his mind,
he can stumble-slither back through no man’s land,
flop into the trench and live again.

‘I’ve no doubt, my lady,’ says the doctor,
just arrived, ‘that you handled all with eclat.’
She gives him a proper dimple
as he dips about his gladstone bag,
notices the soaked and trembling maid:
‘More water here, girlie – at the double!’ 

Soon the baronet will be right as rain,
will again venture a hand below stairs,
know the worth of a chortle, a horse, 
a discreet consultation in Jermyn Street.

And the housemaid, still damp,
will sit in The Feathers, watch the clock-hands
as they work into the evening nick by nick,

will hope that Gerry won’t be late,
though she knows it depends 
which broken bits of him have charge 
of the light in his eyes,

will write steerage in the table slops
and dream of the day she sees
another fire-maker, sightless and tall                        
on Bedloe’s Island, torch high
over a snake of faces tired to the death,

will pray she won’t herself 
look poor and huddled when they dock, 
having already selected that best blue
of Auntie Vi’s, and Mum’s locket also,

will pray too that Gerry hasn’t told a soul,
as she has not, and is right about the milk train
stopping at the halt tomorrow dawn.

Note: By Act of US Congress, Bedloe’s Island was renamed Liberty Island in 1956.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Invitation to Joint Book Launch

You are cordially invited to a joint book launch on Wednesday 17 October 2018, from 6.30pm at the Exchange Bar in Leicester, LE1 1RD. Everyone is welcome, and the event is free. 

The event will celebrate the launch of two new books, both published this year by Shoestring Press, and both by lecturers at the University of Leicester - Sue Dymoke and Jonathan Taylor

What They Left Behind is Sue Dymoke’s third Shoestring Press collection after Moon at the Park and Ride (2012) and The New Girls – New and Selected Poems (2004). Sue is a Reader in Education at the University of Leicester. 

Jonathan Taylor's Cassandra Complex is a collection of poems, found poems, found translations, mis-translations, prophecies, pseudo-prophecies, apocalyptic visions and moments of retroactive clairvoyance. Jonathan directs the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.

If you are on Facebook, you can see the Facebook event here. If you would like further details about the event, please email Jonathan at the address shown on the poster above.

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Two Poems By Michael Caines

Michael Caines works for the Times Literary Supplement, and is the author of Shakespeare and the Eighteenth Century (Oxford University Press, 2013). Earlier this year he founded a free literary quarterly, called the Brixton Review of Books, that focuses on the work of indie presses.

Noise pollution, 1853

The Carlyles are trying to breakfast at Ramsgate, despite the cacophony:
Female fiddlers; a bagpiping soloist; others, including
A bilious barrel-organ. And at home, back at Chelsea,

A “troop of incarnate devils” ascends to the top of the building,
Tasked with constructing an attic-long refuge – an apex of silence.
Now bricklayers bash up the staircases, laden with bawdry. A ceiling

Caves in when a whistling workman, mistaking his balance,
Decants himself into the essayist’s bedroom. Sagacity suffers
While whitewashers clatter on ladders; and, dismally, Thomas’s science,

His progress through history, Jane’s correspondence and every office
Are set on their heads, like the tables and armchairs, “their legs in the air
As if in convulsions”. (A “lost” book, however, is found to be just where it was.)

At last the great work is accomplished. Carlyle retires to his lair –
And that’s when the learner next door settles down at her pianoforte.

A macaw’s interjections augment a traditional Scottish air ....

A tangerine man, right after struggling his way through Kristen Roupenian’s momentous New Yorker short story “Cat Person”, speaks

Now is the time to virtue-signal. So:
I’ve read “Caught Person”. I just know it’s great.
I really do. I love the way that – wait,
did I just read a story?!?!?!?!? How’d it go,

exactly? HUH??!!?!? I mean, just – let me know?!?!
Because: this guy’s fantastic. Just equate
his getting-what-I-want way with his date
with how I roll. Because – it’s just ... hero-

ic. In my view. At least. (I’m rich. I’m right.)
They’re FAKING IT! They’re – “Rocket Man” – so wrong!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Like Crooked Hillary, OK? What more
could any woman want? It’s just one night!
Romantic! Stormy!!!!!!!!!!! (Weird that, all along,

she doesn’t get why she’s the whore.) The WHORE!