Ledbury Poetry Festival campaigns for poets at risk

Ledbury Poetry Festival campaigns for poets at risk

English PEN is partnering with Ledbury Poetry Festival as part of a campaign to highlight poets at risk around the world.

The festival, which opens today (1st July), takes place over 10 days every July and lays claims to the title of largest poetry festival in the country.

Poets attending 2016's festival and who will be taking part in the joint initiative 'Poetry as Protest’ include Fleur Adcock, John Greening, Sarah Howe, Andrew McMillan, Daljit Nagra, Ruth Padel and Ruby Robinson.

As part of the initiative, each of the poets will read a short poem or extract by a writer "at risk" they've been paired with to show "solidarity" and "to give a voice to those whom others have sought to silence".

The poets at risk whose work will be read are: Amanuel Asrat, an Eritrean editor and poet who was arrested almost 15 years ago amidst a crackdown on the media; founding member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest since her husband won the Nobel Laureate for his human rights work in 2010; Mahvash Sabet, one of seven Baha’i leaders currently serving 20-year prison sentences in Evin prison, Tehran for their faith and activities; Ashraf Fayadh, whose death sentence in Saudi Arabia was overturned in January but still faces a harsh sentence of eight years and 800 lashes; and acclaimed poet Omar Hazek, who most recently, and ironically, was barred from leaving Egypt on his way to the Hague to receive a PEN award for freedom of expression; he served two years in prison for peacefully protesting before being 'pardoned' last September.

Jo Glanville, director of English PEN, said: "It was incredibly powerful to hear works by our detained colleagues brought to life by fellow poets at last year’s Ledbury Poetry Festival. We are therefore delighted that more than 25 poets appearing at this year’s festival will be joining us to show support for poets at risk around the world and to introduce their writing to a new audience."

Chloe Garner, artistic director of Ledbury Poetry Festival, said: "That poets are imprisoned and worse because of what they write shows us how potent words are, that those who use them are held in terror by such powerful governments. Ledbury Poetry Festival is proud to support the excellent work English PEN is doing."

Andrew McMillan, first poet to win the Guardian First Book Award for his collection Physical, said: "The world is so much smaller than we imagine it to be, and we can’t ignore the plight of those suffering for simply using their voice or their pen – to write or tell stories is the very bedrock of a civilisation; civilisation itself cannot be imprisoned, we must keep saying their names aloud."

McMillan also wrote a blog for Penguin Pride this month following the shootings in Orlando - a piece he said is about pride, being open in poetry, and about freedom. "LGBTQ people don’t have the luxury of pretending we like something, or pretending to feel something, or pretending to buy into a culture because who we actually love could get us killed," he said.