Blackout Anthology

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This anthology is dedicated to a Keats House Poet who hoped to contribute but was unable to do so due to this individual’s current work and fears for safety.

Welcome NOTE Welcome to ‘Writing in the Blackout’- an online anthology dedicated to shining a light on arts censorship, brought to you by Keats House Poets Stephanie Turner and Laila Sumpton and supported by ideastap. This anthology is a snapshot of some of the issues surrounding free speech. It shares the stories of some of the artists facing censorship and those playing their part in being vigilant - aware of the censorship, and exploring what it means. The physical global barriers that existed in the arts world are melting away due to our increased interconnectivity, and if we are part of a global arts community then we need look out for those in danger for the sake of all our art. Free artists push boundaries not only through pioneering new techniques but through their subject matter. Just what these boundaries are is constantly being redefined. Debates, however uncomfortable, around hate speech, blasphemy and obscenity need to take place and need to be shared conversations- not just for those in power. Free speech is vital to the arts, some would say that political art without free speech is propaganda. Internationally renowned artist Ai Weiwei was imprisoned for 81 days for producing art that spoke out against the Chinese government, but said there was no way for him to be an artist and censor himself- the two were incompatible. In an interview with the BBC he said ‘questioning facts becomes a political act... it is not possible for intellectuals and artists not to ask questions.’ If artists reflect the world they see around them, then we cannot ignore violations of free speech. This anthology is dedicated to all those who have, and are ‘Writing in the Blackout’.

Laila and Stephanie




1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16.

Introduction @KHPoets #BlackoutWriters #RespondingToCensoredArtists MOCA Censored Street Artist BLU Who Speaks? Who is Silenced?, Stephanie Turner Malaysia Vs Singapore Dance Theatre The Dance of Solitude, Anthony Hett Aron Atabek’s Imprisonment Walls, Words and Water, Deanna Rodger In Solidarity With Iranian Poets The Poets Have Gone Underground. In Iran. Hush, Laila Sumpton Gambian Speech Regulations A Conversation With a Gambian Refugee, Raymond Antrobus Imagine John Lennon Censored Song for a Censored Singer. Imagine There’s no Music, Stephanie Turner Resisting Theatre Censorship The Belarus Free Theatre, Laila Sumpton

17. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34.

@Ideastap #SPA #WritingInTheBlackout Just Try to Learn the Truth…, Sam Dodds You Cannot Say…, Emerald Young I am Creating…, Michaela Sisti When the Sun is Out of Your Sight…, Dizz Tate You Choose to be Controlled by..., Sonority Continue Asking Questions…, Mediah Ahmed In Berlin, Vicky Ellis Two Years a Sinner, Emerald Young Class Portrait, Samantha Harvey Missing, Sally Barton Knitted Knowledge, Reiss Hesson Brain Braiding, Emily Zinkin 23-76, Renato Marciano Burnt Man, Mediah Ahmed Vulture, Matthew Dickerson Vultures, Carmina Masoliver

35. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 45. 46.

#HumanRight @EnglishPEN #TakeAction #PoemsInProtest Interview with Rob Sharp from English PEN Poets In Protest 150 Poems For Human Rights In the Tradition of the Star, Linda Cosgriff Willesden Bookshop, Vincent Berquez Banned UK Search Terms, Ken Evens Parsing, Richard Tyrone Jones Take Action Acknowledgements Credits iii

Introduction We live in a world where some artists who challenge their governments are suppressed, and the audiences who support them are punished. Sometimes specific groups will take the role of censor into their own hands to police the art in our society and sometimes censorship lies with the funders, curators and educational institutions that choose the art we see. States argue that censorship is necessary to protect public morality, prevent blasphemy, tackle hate speech or is for the sake of national security. However, all too often we see the parameters of our free speech laws being abused. When a state begins to censor artists, writers, musicians, dancers, dramatists and journalists- it shows their vulnerability, not their strength. During this years International World Poetry Day, March 21st, NonGovernment Organisation (NGO) PEN International called for action for poets being punished for writing about their State’s violations: poets such as Liu Xia from China who is under house arrest, Aron Atabek from Kazakhstan who is imprisoned and Susana Chavez Castillo from Mexico who was recently murdered. In the theatre world British producer David Cecil was nominated by free speech NGO Index on Censorship for their ‘Freedom of Expression Award.’ They said ‘Cecil brought worldwide attention to Uganda’s homophobic criminal code after he was arrested and charged for producing a “pro-gay” play in the country.’ 2013 also saw 200 heavy metal fans in Iran arrested for being at a ‘satanic’ concert, the imprisonment then release of young Tunisian rapper Weld El 15 for singing songs deemed insulting to the police and the eventual release of Russian activist punk band Pussy Riot. This anthology celebrates the artists who are standing up to censorship all around the world, and provides a platform for UK based poets to stand with them in solidarity. One young poet who also joined the movement in his time for free speech was John Keats, his work was first published by the radical magazine edited by Leigh Hunt called ‘The Examiner.’ After publishing work which satirised and criticised the monarch’s inability to govern, the editor was imprisoned for sedition. 197 years on the Keats House Poets are exploring arts censorship and working with poets and artists to explore the value of free speech.



@ KHPoets # RespondingToCensoredArt Founded in 2010, the Keats House Poets are a collective of eight poets who regularly meet to share new work and support each others’ poetry careers. As a group the Keats House Poets have organised poetry workshops and performance events at The Keats House Museum in Hampstead, heritage sites, festivals and at the 2012 and 2013 Bloomsbury Festivals. Supported by the Keats House Museum and London’s writer’s development agency- Spread the Word, this collective individually and collectively run successful poetry projects across the country- inspiring audiences to engage in poetry in new and exciting ways, and love the art form as much as they do! This first section features new work by Keats House Poets protesting against the current censorship of individuals and groups from across the arts. Our second section showcases specially commissioned artwork by IdeasTap members and the poetry responses from the IdeasTap Spa we facilitated on the theme of censorship. Our third section explores the issues behind censorship, what we can do as artists to take action and specially selected work from ‘In Protest- 150 poems for human rights.’ Keats wrote that ‘beauty is truth, truth beauty’ and this search for truth can come at a terrible price. Despite this, courageous artists continue to ‘Write in the Blackout’ and people continue to fight for their right to do so. We hope you enjoy reading this anthology.

Left to right: Laila Sumpton, Anthony Hett, Ray Antrobus, Stephanie Turner and Deanna Roger


M.O.C.A Censored Street Artist Blu

In 2010 the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) commissioned Italian street artist BLU to paint a mural on the external wall of their gallery for the ‘Arts in the Streets’ exhibition. BLU accepted and painted an anti war mural of dollar draped coffins, within hours the museum had the mural whitewashed. MOCA’s director Jeffrey Deitch told The Times that the mural was “insensitive” to the local community and that he intended ‘to be a responsible, respectful neighbour in this historic community’ referring to the adjacent war memorial and veterans hospital. Some street artists use ‘smart vandalism’ to raise awareness of social and political issues. There is a strong current of activism and subversion and it can be a form of political expression for the oppressed and people with little resources to create change. This poem was born out of my recent exploration into street art through my window project ‘LookoutForHope’, it depicts an imagined public conversation between the museum, street artists, advertisements and myself. 3


Stephanie Turner

Who Speaks? Who Is Silenced? BUY ME I’LL CHANGE YOUR LIFE screams the city landscape with its bulging billboard eyes, its blinking neon lights Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing shouts Banksy, he’s Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall What is the difference between a Blackout and a Whitewash? without colour we are all blind, street artists spray rainbows in alleyways BUY ME I’LL CHANGE YOUR LIFE screams the bold bus stops, the sharp shop windows, the silhouetted skyline BLU hears the screaming, paints a man adjusting his tie Rolex watches chain his wrists together; time-cuffed in Berlin BUY ME I’LL CHANGE YOUR LIFE screams the grey newspaper, the crowded underground posters, your smart mobile phone BLU doesn’t scream back, paints soldiers having their heads shaved brains removed and replaced with hollow helmets; brainless in Italy A museum invites BLU to paint a mural for ‘Arts in the Streets’ exhibition If Hip Hop is dead then maybe graffiti belongs in the museums BLU hears screaming from the wars of the world, so he paints dollar draped coffins sprawled three stories high, a football pitch wide If he painted a dollar for ever casualty of war he would be filthy and there wouldn’t be enough paint or enough walls in the world to spray. The museum buried the coffins, white washed the mural said it might offend the neighbouring veterans memorial What is the difference between censorship and sensitivity? Curation is something that happens before art goes public Censorship is something that happens after art goes public


Singapore Dance Theatre denied

Dance is one of the most beautiful forms of self-expression and from my research I found that there are several examples of dance being censored on the grounds of indecency. The Malaysian authorities banned the Singapore Dance Theatre’s planned ballet performances in Kuala-Lumpur because the troupe’s costumes were considered too revealing for the Islamic state. It is incredibly complex when you have two laws competing against each other- on the one hand you laws protecting freedom of expression, and then also have laws that protect freedom to practice your religion. Here the two collide. I imagined the idea of dance censorship through the image of a man dancing in a small cell- and this lead to my question: if you take away their audience, does an artist still create art? I captured the movement of dance through the villanelle form- as well as feeling that the repetitious structure would help to give the poem the appearance of restriction, movement and rhythm. I also knew that writing a villanelle would present me with an interesting challenge because it is a very different form to the free verse style I normally choose to write in.




The dance of solitude Four walls and darkness is all that surrounds He owns no future, of freedom no chance To this tiny cell his adult life bound Identity lost, never to be found His years the only mass free to advance Four walls and darkness is all that surrounds Collecting his thoughts on the cold, hard ground Mind, body, soul harmonised ready to dance To this tiny cell his adult life bound The echo of his breath the only sound In the dark he stands correcting his stance Four walls and darkness is all that surrounds Gently spinning around, around, around As though dancing through a great wild expanse To this tiny cell his adult life bound Crashing to the floor a fighter plane downed Bleak reality wakes him from his trance Four walls and darkness is all that surrounds To this tiny cell his adult life bound


Aron Atabeks imprisonment

I was inspired to write in solidarity with Aron Atabek an imprisoned Kazakh poet. He was arrested for protesting against the demolition of a shanty town by local authorities, and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment. He refused to let prison stop him campaigning for land and housing rights, and secretly wrote poetry and prose about what really happened at the protest. When authorities saw his poems had been uploaded and had escaped their censorship, they sentenced him to two years solitary confinement, then a further two years were added when he refused to wear his prison uniform. When writing this poem I was thinking about the bulldozers as people and the fear that they might feel from something that they cannot maim. I was thinking about the prison officers and what thoughts they might be having- especially if the poets’ words were escaping.




Walls Words and Water Pictures hang from the painted walls A glass of water occupies a chest of drawers. The outlines are strong the guard remarks Facing captured dark, But ours are heavy and powerful Causing visible change And change that is not visible can not exist, surely.. Power is seen so we destroy the books, Take away ink, leave no sticks around The ground shall know no words We’ll destroy paper trees from the root. The poet is locked in brick The buildings are on our side They are loyal And if they fall we will not mourn their pitiful structure We will rebuild thicker No, nothing that can’t be seen can evoke change We are safe. The wall in front is an inch away The paint blurs into a whole. The young man sits in chains He is too big for the space He must make himself proportional He lies The ceiling from his back is far from his reach The bed is single Not made for sleep He doesn’t His words have escaped They have changed face Who knows what disguise they’ll take. Walls shake, paint breaks away The pictures that were hanging fall to the damp ground The glass holds water an inch from its base It has been slowly escaping Changing form becoming as subtle as air.


In Solidarity with Iranian Poets

These poems were written in response to themes of censorship- the first poem ‘Hush’ takes the voice of the regime who enforces censorship by ensuring information is guarded. Both ‘In Iran’ and ‘The poets have gone underground’ were inspired by a workshop I attended with the Poetry Translation Centre- where we were working with the translator of an Iranian poet called Fariba Shadloo to produce an English version that could be as faithful to the original as possible. In this workshop I learnt about the restrictions poets faced in Iran due to the censorship boards who check publications, and how they fight and keep fighting to overcome these. Translating poets who cannot be officially published in their home countries is vital to breaking down the boundaries between writers- sharing stories and ensuring international poetry voices are part of our understanding of poetry.




Poets Have Gone Underground They claw through dirt with pens, use ink to light their lamps. Garbed in deep velvet thoughts they tunnel through roots, float in wells, find what you tried to bury. People forget who they were, some say they are blind or that they do not need to see when they have so much in their minds. You sense they are there when the earth rumbles but crowds arrive too late, only find a little pile or freshly dug words scattered on the grass.

In Iran They slow the internet as elections approach just to slow the news give police more time to get to your door. Egg timers herald rallies an electronic cramp dislodges the downloads clotting the fibre-optic veins that pulse dissidence through the night, scattering thoughts like static, away from the party line.

Hush I am going to break the party line, The Silence Party rarely speaks out loud; our intuitive telepathy sings louder than the primary fanfare bleaters that flock to the power shepherdess of change. We brew, like Darjeeling smiles, offering apples of monotony, no strings attached, that unlike in genesis turn you back. Un-knowledge has the sweetest hue, and you guzzle back to blush-free cheeksextinct question marks can tweeze your brows, pluck away your needless frowns, let the party frown. Silently sewing the days you live in, cross stitching you in with buckle belts. So, tend your roses, child, and love in loveless love, play a one string mandolin, happily grey, with no memory of the night before day, For we’ll light your dark ages with our neon lights, because history is a four letter word. We intend to see it knee-capped, then gagged. We’ll build a shiny gherkin on its corpse, reminding you to garden, silently, of course

The censors always miss satire but a kiss is always erased, a touch is shrouded in black. ‘Male and female poets are the samethis country sees them differently.’ There are three different camps writing underground. 10

Gambian speech regulations

See footnotes...




Conversation with a Gambian Refugee People look at the sky and want God. I look at the sky and want water and sun or whatever that shit is. Back home I DJ’ed, spun music into money, made enough dalasi to walk different. But in Gambia, when the government wants to murder you, your walk is with death. My brother was a journalist. His words had spikes, took truth like a baton and ran. Unseen seven years. His wanted face plastered Banjul. With his exile blood, too free to move, Police forced me to jail, where they carve toothbrushes into blades. Speak too sharp and they open your neck. Luckily, I knew the prison guard; we’d shared drinks and beach bar dance floors, so he turned the key in my cell. I left for London, a city where Asylum was behind doors of toilet cubicles in public hospitals. They called me “illegal” and my uncut throat couldn’t change the law. Deport Refugees into lines of fire and you stripe blood across the map. The British can’t understand the grave gravity of a Gambian, speaking against Government.

The components of Article 173 prohibit any criticism of government in Gambia. Disobeying these laws can lead to fifteen years imprisonment or a three million Dalasi fine. Even being affiliated with outspoken individuals is a risk in Gambia. President Jammeh also detained and prosecuted journalists, photographers and bloggers. He has said, “I will kill you, and nothing will come out of it. We are not going to condone people posing as human rights defenders to the detriment of the country.” Gambia is a popular tourist destination for Europeans, I myself used to go on a yearly basis with my mother. We were conveniently unaware Gambia had a dictatorship and enjoyed our free time on the beaches. Hearing stories from Gambian Refugees reminded me of a poem by Joshua Idehen – “there are people dying to go the places you want to go”. Writing this prose poem is a meaningful way for me to exercise my own privilege. I wanted to find a tone that wasn’t solely a victimised voice, rather one that was determined but realistic. 12

Imagine John Lennon Censored

In most democratic societies only profanities in music are cencored and bleeped out or packaging is just labelled with explicit content stickers. However much stronger music censorship has been implemented by authoritarian governments, religions, the military, educational systems, TV stations, retailers and other authorities. In countries without a well established free press, popular music is one of the few avenues to express and share ideas. Those ideas can be explicit or are sometimes encoded in seemingly harmless song lyrics as a safety precaution. I’m a big John Lennon fan, this poem was inspired after discovering that music artist Cee-Lo green had sung a rendition of John Lennon’s ‘imagine’ on NBC’s 2012 New Year’s Eve broadcast and replaced the lyrics from “and no religion too” to “and all religion’s true.” which is the complete opposite of what Lennon originally wrote. I then explored countless accounts of censored songs and musicians and attempted to fuse the overall feeling into this poem. 13


Stephanie Turner

Imagine there's no music Nothing to count steps, to tap toes, to nod heads to Nothing to sway hips, to wave arms, to get low to Imagine no soundtrack to your adolescence or at your wedding, to praise to your God, to rave, to celebrate, to pass over the dead. People in power are scared of music because music will make us stand up faster than the TV can make us sit down and when it hits your heart beats in time We sing because we are happy we sing because we are not free Imagine there’s no music, nothing to feel or dance for The Taliban banned instruments in Afghanistan Hung them from trees Like brown wooden bodies swaying in the sun African slaves sung in code on their walk to freedom We sing because we can’t read We sing because we can’t write Imagine there’s no music, its quite hard to do No way to sing and express your feelings No way to spread the news Islamic militants banned music in North Mali Imagine there’s no Ali Farka Toure, no Rokia Traore, Life without music is a book without ink blank - with no lines to keep time.

SOng FOr a Censored Singer oh I hope, yes I hope that one day we’ll be free So I sing, yes I sing and I pray it will save me One way or another I’m gonna change things One way or another I’m gonna change things oh I hope, yes I hope that one day we’ll be free So I sing, yes I sing and I pray it will save we One way or another We’re gonna change things One way or another We’re gonna change things they can cage, cage a bird they can even, clip its wings they can ban, all they will they can silence, they can kill one way or another, they’re gonna hear us one way of another, they’re gonna hear us 14

Resisting theatre censorship

The Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) was founded in 2005 by Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin who were joined Shortly after by Vladimir Shcherban. Between the three of them they developed the artistic aesthetic of the company- dedicated to highlighting injustice and challenging social and political issues. Part of the company sought political asylum in the UK when producing their art began to endanger their lives. They produce plays in the UK and internationally, whilst continuing the work of their permanent core ensemble in Minsk, where plays are secretly performed despite the restrictions in small private apartments or houses. The story of this incredible company inspired the following poem presented in three Acts- seeking to use theatricality and comedy to show how artistic determination can overcome censors.




The Free Belarus Theatre ACT I [Enter: A director and actors, Gate 3, Heathrow] The scene is set: cleaners shine the floor, surveillance wait for actionarrival behaviour is drilled to perfection whilst Boarder Controllers pick at hangnails in-between scanning, STAMPING, clicking, waving people through to act out lives. Then the drama: the no-return-ticket fleeing actors with excellent projection declaring themselves real artists(a particular social group prone to persecution when portraying State villains convincingly). They have no costume, no role to return to, no exit until their audience believes, applauds their leave to remain actors. ACT II [Enter: an audience, in disguise as dinner party guests, Minsk] They talk loudly about the hostess, their hope that the wine will do. The audience hang their performance in the hall read programs they’ll flush away: a reality more real than news will come alive in the attic. The secret police should have noticed the drove of ‘plumbers’ arriving earlier at ten minute intervalsnot even a diva boiler would call for that. Our hostess draws the curtains, the actors get out of overalls. ACT III [Enter: the actors no longer acting as plumbers act as actors and mime the following] Hem velvet with a chain to keep our set a secret we have moved to black box theatre: the kind inside your headnow our lighting man is in a cell along with costumiers combing their inmates’ hair, roughing their cheeks with dust and listening, as they used to, whilst we devise an impossible dialogue to perform before twelve empty chairs. Meanwhile, actors at our theatre become props outnumbered by prompts who line the wings, ration applause, hold whip like scripts, grease pulleys ready to close the scene at the slightest nod from vodka sipping officials up in the gilded box, waiting for the final act.’ 16

@ IdeasTap # spa # WritingintheBlackout

The Keats House Poets commissioned five ideastap members to produce artworks on the theme of censorship, they then facilitated an Ideastap Spa and invited a group of young writers to respond to the artworks and experiment with a new form of poetry; ‘Writing in the Blackout’. When a document holds classified information it’s common for an institution to put that document through a process of sanitization or redaction. This process removes sensitive or classified information so that the document can be distributed to a broader audience. The removal process works by editing or blacking out the text to allow the selective disclosure of information whilst keeping other parts of the document secret. All kinds of institutions sanitize documents from government departments to local, police, health and education authorities. This censoring happens for a number of reasons and National Archives (UK) have even published a document, Redaction Toolkit, Guidelines for the Editing of Exempt Information from Documents Prior to Release, “to provide guidance on the editing of exempt material from information held by public bodies.” Artists have seized this form of censorship and made an art out of it, such as the work of Dutch artist Martijn Hendriks, who removed any mention of the word “art” in Rosalind Krauss’s essay, “Sculpture in the Field”. Someguy, a San Franciscobased artist and aesthetic troublemaker took on the task of redacting vintage bibles leaving only the word “unicorn” which is mentioned multiple times and in his controversial piece 212 Slaves he blacked-out all the text in Huckleberry Finn except for the n-word as a response to the recent move to replace the offending word with “slave” in contemporary editions. There is also Austin Kleon who popularised the redaction form of Blackout Poetry with his book ‘Newspaper Blackout’ when it was released in 2010. Kleon was experiencing a ‘writers block’ when he picked up a newspaper and a black marker pen and started blacking out text leaving behind select words to form poems. The Keats House Poets flipped this form on its head by inviting a group of writers to write over blacked out text and create poems on the theme of self-censorship using redacted pages from a book on self enlightenment. They call it ‘Writing in the Blackout’.















Emerald Young

Two Years a Sinner You had been with your boyfriend for two years now. And he still called you a faggot if you walked past him and his friends. He patched you up after they broke your nose, but both of you knew they would do it again. It is summer the last time you let him love you. Waiting until he is asleep, you grab your toothbrush and leave, pulling the door shut as quietly as you can. Years later, you see a photograph in a book of poetry, and you can tell it’s him by the tone of the skin you used to kiss and the coat you’d pull off. He is wearing a wedding ring, and shielding his face. The backdrop is a painting of two men kissing, and you hope he knows how happy you would have been to hold hands with him and walk past that image. You smile as you turn to your bed, and see your husband asleep. No more black nights, or black eyes or black outs.

In Berlin by Vicky Ellis 26



Sally Barton

Missing A dog ran into school, breaching the rules By scampering around reception and not Washing his paws first. Mandy Alpine cried. Best day ever, you said. Later, he was shot. I didn’t have the heart to say, as crossed-legged, You chattered, excitedly, and, and, and, He ran into assembly, scaled the gym horse! During afternoon prayers, he met an untimely end. Good afternoon everybody, lines of puppy dog eyes Searched hopefully in that wood varnished church, Scrubbed, stripped, rubber plimsoll prints Swiped from the knobbly bench on which you perch. Even the apple for the teacher was Dettol-ed. The break time cacophony of a maggot at the core Cordoned off the cafe by dinner lady mafia. You didn’t hear a sound in the cocoon you wore. Disinfected, you’re living in small doses, Clean as a white board, questions erased, With no accidental permanent marker allowed. But some dirt is good for you, some say, To build immunity for a world of impurity, Not sanitarium sanitation for a child. As we jump through wire thin skipping rope loops You may be clean, but I miss your smile.

Class Portrait by samantha harvey 28



Emily Zinkin

Brain Braiding Brain braiding begins as a babe Sucking all knowledge from Mummy’s breast, Minds form around words water-falling from cooing mouths Spreading wider and wider chuckles becoming cackles Become radio stutter, It enters, a little bit of disease spreading Through your body like the sickness it is ‘Darling don’t be scared, everyone gets it It makes you safe’ as the doctor approaches With the needle telling you to look away, They say it because it was braided so tightly into them And now it must be braided into you, when you Question golden afternoons and the 9 o’clock news Though the first knot was tied umbilical cord tight Remaining ever present in your brain and body and mind Until you in turn pour it through your breast and braid it Into your own baby’s brain. Darling it won’t hurt, we swear. Look away.

Knitted KNowledge by Reiss Hesson 30



mediah ahmed

Burnt man Blurred. Modern city lights, car horns and swear words. Now focus. On a burnt man. In his 40’s. Holding on to an unburnt book. Tightly Knowledge is Power. He can’t read or write. But revolution is one for all and all for one? I can smell this man’s pain Blood, sweat and tears. His scars tell a story. Linearly His mind and tongue Are not enough.


by renato marciano 32



carmina masoliver

vultures Ask the vulture for the truth; through its wings are threads of proof, you pull them and they unravel like a scroll, ancient as papyrus, but these threads are cut off like a sacrifice for God, all in vain. Ask the vulture for the truth and he will paint a picture of sunshine streams and rolling hills and skewed statistics of progression, machines that make riots mindless mills and miss the objective of the lesson. The vulture speaks: “There’s nothing to see, it’s all necessity. Everything is as it should be. It was an unprovoked attack pre-emptive strike – we can’t disclose information about Apple, Nestlé or Nike – we need torture an enhanced interrogation – it’s human nature – fight or flight – just keep to your station and you’ll be alright.” We’re running out of space for all our used up waste. We never learn the lesson. We are not vultures: we are the human race. And we sweep shame under the carpet of the earth.

vulture by matthew dickerson 34

# HumanRight @ Englishpen

# poetsinprotest # Takeaction

Laila Sumpton interviewed Rob SharpCampaigns Manager at English PEN- a Non Government Organisation who ‘campaign to defend writers and readers in the UK and around the world whose human right to freedom of expression is at risk.’

Rob: The impact of arts censorship is fundamental and all encompassing- for through art and culture we see the development of society and politics. You see political change through changes in arts and culture- only when art happens and people talk about social change can we see change in our society. --If the arts are censored they become monolithic, having dissent and different views in society is crucial. Censorship means that they don’t emerge- this does not produce a good environment for human functioning. Laila: And how can artists and their work be protected? Rob: Firstly, through the international human rights laws that protect free expression which the UK has incorporated into our national laws. These place an obligation on the government to protect free speech, the right to assembly and the right to life- all crucial to arts, politics and human flourishing. The UK has a healthy respect for human rights- though there is currently some worrying talk about the need for us to pull out of the UK Human Rights Act and the European human rights treaties. Laws should also ensure governments provide redress when an artist’s freedoms are not respected, but these laws are useless if they only exist on paper. The spirit of the law needs to be infused in the hearts of the people, so they can hold the government to account. Secondly, artists can be protected through the vigilance of other artists; who make sure that the rights of fellow artists are protected. PEN believes that if you protect the free expression of one artist, you protect the free expression of all. If artists value their own free expression, they 35


Artists Must Be Vigilant!

Laila: What is the impact of censorship on the arts and society? Why does it matter to you?

have a moral obligation to fight for others. Laila: Is arts censorship an issue in the UK? Rob: Yes, mostly through self-censorship and nervousness around topics not considered appropriate for art. People are cautious of tackling religious and social issues, and sometimes funders and venues fear criticism and pull out. Religious groups have tried to shut down plays seen to be blasphemous such as ‘Behzti’, ‘Jerry Springer- the Opera’ and even the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s ‘The BibleThe Complete Word of God.’ This call for censorship often comes from a narrow perspective on how things should be, and this often harms their wider group. Laila: So is ‘deep censorship’ the hardest to monitor or influence- the point where groups or artists self-censor and turn down a controversial idea for fear of the repercussions? Rob: Yes, sometimes people do not think they are censoring artists through their prejudice of a type of arts or artist. We need to have diversity in commissioning, publishing and curating- if you only employ people like yourself with your values then you end up closing off the arts community to others. Protecting the artist’s right to question in the UK is so important, and PEN’s ‘Free Speech is No Offence’ campaign was successful in ensuring that artists would not get criminalised for exploring racial and religious issues. We ensured that a clause was added to the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 so that nothing in the Act can be used to stop artistic expression. Laila: What can artists here in the UK do to support and stand in solidarity with the censored artists you campaign for? Rob: Join PEN! You can continue talking about censorship, and also support literary translation and artists who are excluded from publishing in their home countries. Artists should be mindful of the artistic ecosystem and take responsibility for making the art scene as rich and diverse as possible. Try to take literature to new groups of people and either support and take on controversial, niche or radical topics. It is important to be vigilant as artists. In fact, if an artist is not standing up for other artists and not proactively trying to make the art scene better for all, then they are not really artists.


Poets In protest In 2013 Keats House poets LAila Sumpton & Anthony Hett worked with the University of London’s Human Rights Consortium on collating and editing an anthology of human rights poetry titled: ‘In Protest- 150 poems for human rights’. In total we received over 640 entries from all around the world and the 125 poets we published provided a valuable insight into experiences of oppression, discrimination, and dispossession – and yet they also offer us strong messages of hope and international solidarity. The anthology showcases contemporary work from both established and emerging poets that are truly outstanding for both their human rights and poetic content. The poems are arranged across thirteen themes – Expression, History, Land, Exile, War, Children, Sentenced, Slavery, Women, Regimes, Workers, Unequal, and Protest.

important elements by fascists, communists and religious fundamentalists.’ Our fourth poem is by ‘In Protest’ poet Vincent Berquez- who depicts a different kind of censorship in ‘The Willesden bookshop.’ We are seeing cuts to arts funding and the closure of bookshops and community art spaces which help keep the arts accessible- a more subtle way for the arts to be restricted. Since launching the anthology at the Bloomsbury Festival in October 2013, we have been taking ‘In Protest’ on tour through workshops at Keats House and events at the University of Kent, the Stanza International Poetry Festival and the Frontline Club.

We selected three poems from the ‘Expression’ chapter to join ‘Writing in the Blackout’ for their fresh and varying approaches to the theme of censorship.

You can order your copy of ‘In Protest- 150 poems for human rights ’ here, and keep up with upcoming events through Laila Sumpton’s blog.

In Linda Cosgriff’s poem ‘In the tradition of the star’ we learn about the South African newspaper of the same name who printed blank pages in protest at the media censorship during Apartheid.

For more information or to book a human rights poetry performance or workshop connected to ‘In Protest’ contact or @KHPoets on Twitter.

Next, Ken Evans takes a satirical look at Internet surveillance and asks ‘what if we had banned Internet search terms in the UK as in China and elsewhere. What might those words include?’ Thirdly, Richard Tyrone Jones’ lyrical poem ‘Parsing’ depicts an imprisoned writer’s struggle to maintain her voice at all costs. He said ‘I wanted to pay tribute to the bravery and obstinacy of writers progressively oppressed, silenced and murdered, in a way parsed down to their most 37



linda cosgriff

in the tradition of the star This poem is censored. I cannot mention _____ _______, a banned person; _______ _____ or _____ ________. Their organisation, ____ ____, may not be discussed under the current State of Emergency. I cannot include a photo, share details, describe actions. I give you blank space:

in protest.



Vincent Berquez

The Willesden Bookshop Soon only silence will be here, a shadowy dust will dominate on empty municipal shelving, the building is to be destroyed. All the words are to be removed eaten up by a property developer, the outside will murder brutally, skips full of living ideas and paper will be taken to the incinerator, to the dump, to oblivion to be pulped until silence is not the written word but a mournful wet-eyed good bye to the end of a good conversation.


Banned UK search terms Vatican peephole Bikiniless Royals Olympics pointless True jobless totals University shutdown Unaffordable housing Child starves, Mytholmroyd. Horseburger makers Drone death video ‘Dignitas’ vouchers Zero sport legacy Pussy Riot copycats Funeral bloodlust Dirty Bomb phone app Hillsborough anarchists Chain jobless to badgers – Word search tazerers Word tsar delete chiefs Search term jihadis Conspiracy fairies. Ken Evans

*(China’s Vice-President Xi Jinping’s absence from public life makes Chinese Internet providers censor word searches based on his name and ‘Back ache’ to avert conspiracy theories.) 41


Richard Tyrone Jones

Parsing They took away her audience; she composed just for herself They took away her laptop; she reverted to the pen They took away her paper; she wrote on her arm They took away her knife; she framed lines inside her head They took away her time; she turned the rhythm of her labour to the chant of her existence. They cut out her tongue. She composed in her head; they lobotomised. Still her aphasic dreams, of birds and better men, rhymed. They took away her breath. Her blood schooled the soil; its saplings stretched their wings through her to scribble on the sky. Conspiracy fairies.


# TakeAction Inspired by the art work in this anthology? What are your thoughts about free speech and censorship? Here are some ways for you to arm yourself with information and participate in the conversation Follow free speech campaigners: Write in the Blackout: Use your art to join the discussion and share it with your audience. You can share your work with us through #BlackoutWriters. Book the Keats House Poets to run a poetry workshop on censorship and free speech! @KHPoets

Support a petition: English libel law is becoming a glo bal disgrace: Jo Glanville, the Director of English PEN: “Our libel laws allow the rich and powerfu l to silence their critics and stop the general public from receiving vital information in their interest. We need to reform our libel laws now to protect the freedom of speech of every citizen� . Find out more here and sign the petition!

IndexCensorship @ The voice of free expression IFEX @ Global network defending & promoting free expression

Englishpen @ Promoting the freedom to write and read

pressfreedom @ The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

Lacunamagazine @ Writing Injustice new online

magazine on arts & human rights

Key artists standing up fo r free speech: Learn more about the work of cen sored artists and support their cause by spreading the word about their art and the issu es they are highlighting. Index on Cen sorship recently organised the Freedom of Expression awards- find out who was nominated and how they stood up to censorship here.



Free speech laws to use in your art and discussions:

About the free speech Laws..

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948. Article 19 Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Many States have signed and ratified these UN human rights laws, and made sure they exist in their domestic lawthe difficulty lies in ensuring that States implement the laws they have agreed to uphold. This is where citizens, artists and NGOs can work together to hold states to account for the promises they have made, or should make to upholding our right to free speech.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, Article 19 1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. 2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of his choice. 3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may be therefore subject to certain restrictions, bur these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others b) For the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals.

Join us & Continue the discussion at our

It is up to artists to be at the frontier of deciding what the boundaries of the arts are both in form and content- we can have a say in whether art is a danger to morals, public health or public order. Join the debate, or even better- start the debate in your arts network!

Arm yourself with information: The state of the UK’s media freedom slammed by international press organisation: read the report and summary on the Index on Censorship page

upcoming events:

Poetry and Protest, RichMix, 24/04/14, 7:30 pm - 10:00

pm, £5. Book tickets here

ssion on how literature and Join English PEN for a night of poetry, music and discu Byrne, Sophie Mayer, Laila activism can come together. Featuring poets James r. Hosted by Shane Solanki. Sumpton, Aoife Mannix and Stephanie ‘Sonority’ Turne /14, 4:30pm - 6pm, £4/5. Book

Writing in the Blackout, Keats House Museum, 14/06 tickets Here

Laila. There will be powerful Come and celebrate this anthology with Stephanie and role of the arts in speaking out poetry performances and a panel discussion about the network IdeasTap) and free speech about censorship with James Hopkirk (Editor of arts campaigners from NGOs.


Acknowledgements We would firstly like to thank IdeasTap for the grant and support that made ‘Writing in the Blackout’ possible. Being able to collaborate with both fellow Keats House Poets and IdeasTap members in creating this publication really helped us gather new and powerful work on the theme of censorshipand we would like to thank all of the poets and artists who have trusted us with their work. We thank Rob Sharp from English PEN for taking part in our interview, and ‘In Protest’ poets Linda Cossgriff, Ken Evans, Richard Tyrone Jones and Vincent Berquez for giving us permission to reprint their poems originally published in ‘In Protest- 150 poems for human rights,’ Human Rights Consortium, University of London, 2013. Many thanks as well to the Keats House Poets and Keats House Museum for supporting our launch and performance. A final thanks to our readers and of course the censored artists who inspired us to start ‘Writing in the Blackout,’. All views or opinions presented in this publication are solely those of the individual author’s and contributors, all poems and artwork © their respective authors. Email blog FACEBOOK tweet @KHPoets



Photo Credits Front and back cover design: Angela Dennis and Stephanie Turner.

Page 13 ‘John Lennon & Yoko Ono, deportation case at US Immigration’ Source: AP Photo

Page 3: ‘BLU’, Source: Art Info website.

Page 15: Source: Belarus Free Theatre

Page 5: ‘Singapore Dance Theatre’, Source: Arts Freedom website.

Page 2 &18: ‘KHPoets’ & ‘Photos at the Writing in the Blackout IdeasTap Spa’ Angela Dennis.

Page 7: ‘Kuwait night evening lights landscape bulldozer’ David Mark, Source: Pixabay.

Page 36: ‘Pen’, Angela Dennis and Stephanie Turner.

Page 9: ‘Prison bars’, Adrain Knight, Source: Flickr.

Page 11 ‘Banjul, Gambia’, Robbie Dale, Source: Flickr.

Page 40: ‘The Willesden Bookshop’,Snappy Pete, Source: Flickr.

Page 42 ‘Birds by the fort’, Laila Sumpton.