POETRY FOR REFUGEES
An audience comprising teachers, pupils, parents and well-wishers as well as poets of all ages from around the region and the UK enjoyed a feast of poetry in the Great Hall of the University of Leeds on 23 November. It was the AwardsCeremony of the 12th Leeds Peace Poetry Competition which this year had the theme of ‘Refugees’. Many had responded to the call for poems, from Leeds school children to adult writers from around the country – and with one entry even from as far afield as Dubai. Pupils from fourteen schools were represented at the event. The evening was introduced by John Whale, professor in the School of English at the University of Leeds, and compered by the Chief Judge Malika Booker, the current Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow at the University and herself a poet. She selected and awarded the winners in each of the three age categories – adult, secondary, primary – as well as the two prizes for the best secondary and primary school entries to the competition, these last two being won by Ralph Thoresby and Westerton Primary Academy. There were powerful readings by the three winning poets: Moira Garland, Aimie Baxter, and Anna Turton. Malika spoke of her admiration for all the poets who had entered the competition, both for the quality of their verse and for the way they had engaged her with their empathy for refugees around the world.
Sleman Shwaish, Refugee Service Coordinator for the British Red Cross, spoke movingly about the current plight of refugees and of his own difficult journey to the UK as an asylum-seeker from his home-town Aleppo in Syria, while entertainment was provided by Larsade Richardson from Leeds City Academy who danced to ‘Who Will Remember Me?’, a song composed by Rob Green and Stella Litras in response to the recent tragic death of Yorkshire MP Jo Cox.
Chair of Leeds Peace Poetry, Rehana Minhas, herself once a refugee from Idi Amin’s Uganda, ended the evening by thanking all involved, including the supporting partners (Leeds Children’s Service, Leeds Library and Information Service, Leeds University, Together for Peace and Yorkshire Evening Post) and the members of organization’s steering group. She encouraged all those present –in the city of Leeds and beyond – to take up the challenge of responding with humanity and imagination to the current plight of refugees from around the world.
Photos below left to right- Malika Booker, John Whale, Sleman Shwaish, Larsade Anderson, Rehana Minhas