Un-silenced voices: Romani voices

Mike Cheslett author of In a Mirror at Midnight, a collection of adult fairy stories.

Janna Eliot writes about Romani life, and has translated two books about the Roma Holocaust: Settela about a Dutch gypsy girl killed in Auschwitz and her second volume of short stories, The Gypsy Piano Tuner, will be published next year, as will her translation of Sofia Z, by Gunilla Lundgren, a graphic novel about a Polish Roma girl who survived the concentration camps. She is also author of Spokes and three Romani story poems for children.

Valdemar KalininRom writer following the Russian Roma Literary School. He is the author of the poetry collection Romany Dreams written in Belorussian, English and Romany: in Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. He was awarded the Hiroshima Prize for Peace and Culture in 2002 and the Roma Literary Award by the Open Society Instittue of Budapest in 2003. He has also written a translation of the Bible in Romany language.

Damian Le Bas (“Danes”) poet, was born in 1985 to a large Romany Traveller family from the south coast of England. He read Theology at Oxford University, graduating first in his year in 2006. Damian’s poetry has appeared in Magma and the TLS, and he writes drama and journalism with a special interest in Romany and Irish Traveller issues. ‘Danes’ also writes in his native English Romani tongue, which mistaken academics believe is now a dead language. The poet David Morley says Damian’s poetry “fizzes with life” but ” doesn’t give away trade secrecies”.

Music by Antonio Riva’s “Le Gazhikane Muzikante” band


Hosted by Clare Paul

Unsilenced Voices: Romani Voices

22 January 2012

sttela's last road

Cover of ‘Settela’s Last Road’ – a novel by Janna Eliot

Exiled Writers Ink support and give a platform to exiled writers from around the world. Nicole Fordham Hodges went along to one of their monthly readings at the Poetry Cafe. She heard some Romani voices, and they certainly hadn’t been silenced.

It was a striking audience flamboyantly dressed: black hats, beards, dark skins, green eyes. I joined a scattering of Anglo-Saxon looking ladies at the back of the small basement room.

The evening began with Antonio Riva’s band Le Gazhikane Muzikante: ‘the Non-Gypsy Musicians’ who play Gypsy music “just because it is amazing.” By the end of the first haunting, life-affirming song I was inclined to agree. Antonio Riva sung in the many different Roma languages, translating only a few fragments: “Please don’t wake up. Wait for the sun to rise on Romani people.” At the end of the set, Anthony Riva introduced ‘Opa Cupa’: the song, he said, was known amongst all travelling people. I noted a darkhaired girl in front of me listen intently, look down, shake her head.

Valdemar Kalenin was the first of four writers. He read first in English then Romani, with no need to glance at his lengthy collected works. He spoke of the conflict between a gypsy son seeking an education “newspaper under his arm”and the traditional father: “who will look after the horses?” In Romani the poem became spellbinding.

The spell was broken by Janna Eliot, a British Gypsy from London, who read from her novel for young adults ‘Settela’s Last Road.’ Based on the true story of a young Sinti girl killed in Auschwitz, it was painfully direct in its style. Janna Eliot, who also teaches Gypsy dance, read with a dancer’s lightness, finishing with a simple, lyrical description of the moment of Settela’s extermination: “there was a song that would never stop singing.”

Poet Damien le Bas followed on with some virtuoso wordplay. In ‘Words I Like’ he effortlessly juggled English Romani with Latin and Greek in order to “feed my needy traveller brain.” As poet David Morley says, Damien’s poetry “fizzes with life….but doesn’t give away trade secrets.” In the most memorable poem of the evening, Damien described a gypsy wedding in the New Forest, in “the lilac tint of the Hampshire dust” lacking “only of hautiness/ perhaps some thin unknowable inscription.”

The final reader was Mike Cheslett, who read his comic adult fairy story ‘In a Mirror at Midnight’, in which a refreshingly feisty heroine cuts off her Dad’s head. Following the theme of the night, even the severed head started to sing.

The evening finished with ‘Le Gazhikane Muzikante’. As another extraordinary song began, the dark-haired girl in front of me nodded deeply and began singing. The chairs were pushed to one side, as Janna Eliot offered to lead everyone in a gypsy dance. Some of the audience melted away. I felt privileged to have heard these varied, haunting, lively voices. But it was time to leave.

Exiled writers ink presents the monthly exiled lit

Across the Divide: An evening of women poets and writers of diverse backgrounds

Presented by Lynette Craig

Mediah Ahmed was born in London and her parents are of Pakistani origin. She has a PhD in Biophysics from Queen Mary’s. She has only recently started writing poetry after attending the Exiled Writers’ Ink Writing workshops.

Irene Fick was born in London to communist refugees from fascist Germany. She was brought up in Düsseldorf and returned to Britain at the age of 22. Except for Marmite and baked beans she regards herself as fully integrated into Britain and, more specifically, into the British left and feminist movements.

Alia’ Afif Sifri Kawalit was born in Jordan.She is currently doing her PhD in creative writing under the supervion of Prof Janet Montefiore and Dr David Herd. She worked as a lecturer at Petra University in Jordan. She has her work published in Route 57and Petra Voices and was recently featured in Manchester’s Not Part of Festival. In addition, she participates in various open mics around the UK.

Amina Lachowska left her motherland Poland first for Dublin, then Czech Rep. and since 2006 been living in London. A Ullysses in hijab, she tries unsuccesfuly to grow up, understand what it means “to be”, seeking an exile in Arabic, where there is no such verb. Unconditionally loves mingling in words (writer), colours (painter) and the theatre. Conditionally loves people who enjoy drawing lines in the lives of others.

Esther Lipton is a a lawyer by profession. Published poet. Currently working on a first book of her poems.

Special guests:

Lara Popovic is a 25 year old Serbo-Dutch writer and visual artist. She was born in Australia, the daughter of a refugee. Lara left home at seventeen to wander the world. London is now her permanent base.


Dr. Shadab Vajdi is an Iranian linguist, poet and retired academician. Her works of poetry, in Persian, have been translated into English, German and Swedish.Distant Melodies is the second English anthology of her poems.

Jorge Salgado Rocha was born in Chile and came as a refugee to Britain in 1974. He he has published 8 books.

Voices from Arab spring

An evening of poets, writers and musicians from Lybia, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Yemen and Lebanon

arab alphabet

Alphabet of the Arab Spring by Dia Batal

Nouri Jarrah: poet and writer from Syria, has lived in exile for more than 20 years. His poetry is widely published in the Arab world with 8 poetry collections. He is director of The Centre for Arabic Geographical Literature.

Jiumah Bukleb: poet, novelist and journalist from Libya, has published several books of poetry and novels in Arabic, widely read through his regular writings in magazines. He has lived in exile for over 20 years.

Mohammed Jumeh: poet and columnist from Yemen. He has a PhD in text translation and won the Yemen prize for Young Poets in 1999.

Wissam Boustany: International flutist from Lebanon, one of only a few flutists to have launched a successful career as an international soloist, Wissam Boustany is a performer who inspires audiences with his energetic and communicative music-making. Wissam continues to use his music as a powerful healing force to open the doors of inspiration between people and nations, and help us reflect on our common humanity. Chairman of the British Flute Society.

VOICES AGAINST SUPPRESSION – An evening of theatre from Zimbabwe

“Two Men on a Bench” is a dark comedy that tells of two souls dispossesed of their world by the Mugabe regime. It was first performed riskily in Harare in the mid-nineties and is the work of Zimbabwean playwright, Bart Wolffe who will be reading the play alongside Handsen Chikowore, a Zimbabwean who spent five years in exile as an asylum seeker before being accepted in the UK.

Handsen Chikowore is a poet with work published in journals and magazines in many countries. He first started his poetry writing as a hobby at the tender age of twelve and has continued with it ever since as an outlet for expression that he believes both informing and entertaining. He performed in Exiled Writers Ink production ‘A Mouthful of Africa’.

Bart Wolffe is also a self-imposed exile from Zimbawe with a long history of writing, acting, directing and producing for television, radio, film and theatre throughout southern Africa and has had six of his plays performed in London and Edinburgh. He is also a novelist and poet and recently ran a series of workshops with refugee children in Croydon culminating in a performance of the piece; “Where do I belong?”

The second half of the evening is hoping to have a guest producer from Zimbabwe, Daves Guzha, talking of his vision of expressing the voice of the suppressed through drama. Daves runs a organisation in Zimbabwe, Rooftop Promotions, that has done much for freedom of expression in the country and established Harare’s “Theatre in the Park” .

Daves’ cast for his recent production, “Rituals” was due to perform in Edinburgh this August but were denied visas. The same cast for his show have been arrested several times in recent months for the risks they have taken in performing under the restrictions of extreme censorship of expression in a country where no independent media is allowed to freely operate.

We also may be fortunate enough to have the British Theatre director, Giles Ramsay, speaking of his recent work in Zimbabwe where he directed an African version of “Oedipus tyrannus”. Giles, a RADA alumni, is the founding director of the charity Developing Artists which is dedicated to creating new work in developing countries.

My Freedom, My Bondage

Being an immigrant or living in exile, is like the two sides of a coin; We leave home for various reasons with a sense of freedom yet remain emotionally in captivity. I am using this theme to ascertain how artistes and writers deal with this forlorn feeling.

Chinwe Azubuike, poet, host for the evening

Adnan al-Sayegh was born in al-Kufa, Iraq in 1955. One of the most original voices of his generation, he has published ten collections in Arabic, including the 500 page poem ‘Uruk’s Anthem’ and has received several international awards. He has read his poetry across Europe and the Arab world, at the Medellín Festival in Colombia and in Cuba. The uncompromising lyricism of his poetry forced him to leave Iraq in 1996 and he has lived in exile since then, first in Sweden and after 2004 in London.

Oreet Ashery is a Jerusalem born, London based, interdisciplinary artist working across performance, photography, video, objects and writing. She has published three books: The Novel of Nonel and Vovel (Charta, 2009) an expanded project with the Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour, which included public events, exhibitions, performances and film programmes; Dancing with Men: Interventions, Interactions and Other Artworks (Live Art Development Agency, 2009); and Staying: Dream, Bin, Soft Stud and Other Stories (Artangel, 2010), a participatory project with women seeking asylum in the UK due to the conditions surrounding their sexual orientation in their respective countries.

Alfredo Cordal was born in Chile and is an established performance poet and playwright. In Santiago he produced literary programmes for televison. He has produced several plays in London including ‘The Last Judgement’, ‘The Investiture of El Dorado’ and ‘A Passion in Buenos Aires’ . His poetry has been widely published and performed.

Chris Gutkind Born in The Hague to an American mother and father who escaped to Britain as a German-Jewish refugee, he first lived in Canada, moving to London in 1988. His first collection of poems is entitled Inside to Outside (Shearsman 2006). His poetry has been widely published in UK poetry magazines and is also included in The Stumbling Dance (Stride 1994).

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Personal and Collective Resistance

22 Betterton Street, London WC2H 9BX (Covent Garden tube)

Writers from Syria, Yemen, Iran and Iraq express a range of resistances from innermost personal resistance to collective resistance.

Fadhil Assultani is an Iraq poet, translator and journalist. He has published several books of poetry and translation. Some of his poems were translated into German, Spanish, Kurdish, Persian and English. He has lived in London since 1994 and works as head of the cultural department of the daily London-based Asharqalawsat. He is also editor-in-chief of the quarterly cultural magazine Aqwas.

Mohammed Jumeh from Yemen, is a poet and columnist and has a PhD in text translation. He won the President of Yemen prize for Young Poets in 1999.

Ziba Karbassi was born in Tabriz, northwestern Iran. She had to leave her country with her mother in the mid-1980s when she was a young teenager and for most of the time since then she has lived in London. She has published seven books of poetry in Persian and two books in English and Italian and is widely regarded as the most accomplished Persian poet of her generation. She has read her work widely across Europe and America. Last year she won the Golden Apple poetry price for Azerbaijan. Translations by Stephen Watts have appeared in such journals as Poetry Review and Modern Poetry Translation.

Richard Sherwin: Special Visiting Guest

Richard is a poet from Israel where he taught Literature at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv. One of his particular interests is Biblical Literature.

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Exile: what is the silver lining?

Hosted by Andrea Pisac

Exile has traditionally been perceived as one of the most tragic conditions that a person can experience. In many respects this is the truth – vast volumes have been written to attest to that. Yet, as I socialised with people who had spent a considerable number of years in exile, I noticed we could all find a silver lining to the cloud of exile. So is there a positive side to living in exile? If the home that was once known is lost, is there something that is gained too? I ask these writers to enagege with these ideas through reading of their poetry and prose.

Paulina Egle Pukyte is n artist, writer, poet, essayist, and cultural commentator. She has a BA from the Vilnius Academy of Art and an MA from the London Royal College of Art. Her first book Jų papročiai (Their Habits) was published in 2005. Her second book – ‘a string of very short stories and other texts’ Netikras zuikis (Fake Rabbit) was published in 2008 and shortlisted for the Book Of The Year award in Lithuania.
Paulina lives in London and Vilnius.

Edin Suljić was born in a part of ex-Yugoslavia which is now Bosnia and Herzegovina. He studied science, but always stayed connected with the theatre. He found a way to communicate observations through writing, photography and short films. He has lived in the UK since 1991. He worked for the Royal Court Theatre in London.

Tena Štivičić is a London-based Croatian playright whose work has been produced in over ten European countries. Her play Fragile! won several international awards. In the UK she has worked with Paines Plough, Royal Court Theatre, National Theatre, BBC Radio4, New Wolsey Ipswich and The Birmingham Repertory Theatre. She published two widely-read books of columns in Croatia. Her play Seven days in Zagreb was part of the Orient Express, a European Theatre Convention project touring Europe in 2009.


Esther Kamkar was born in Iran in 1947 and has lived the USA since 1973. In 2001 she received an Artist Grant from the Peninsula Community Foundation to publish a collection of her poetry Hummingbird Conditions in a letterpress limited edition, to be used as sample books to teach children poetry and handmade bookmaking. She also received a grant from the Clay and Glass Arts Foundation (2003) for her project Personal Narratives in Poetry and Clay.

Voices of The Second Generation of Exiles and Immigrants

David Clark is the child of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s. His PhD focused on Jewish museums. He contributes to various cultural magazines inLondon.

Olufemi Hughes is the child of African father and Indian mother, brought up in Scotland. She is an avid poet and is writing her first novel. Olufemi is the founder of ‘Community Dialogue for Change’, which promotes social justice by creating a bridge between different communities. She lives in Brighton.

Alev Adil was born in Cyprus and grew up in Turkey, Cyprus and London. Her published collection of poetry is Venus Infers (2004). She is head of the Department of Critical and Communication Studies, University of Greenwich.

Alison Prager, born in London, is the daughter of a German Jewish refugee who came to Britain on the kindertransport. She is a communications officer, and an active supporter of Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

* Music by Rahila Khalwa, presenter. She sings popular Russian and Japanese songs with the guitar.

Rahila Khalwa, a rootless writer, keeps looking for her place in the desert, recently with the guitar, which she started self-teaching in 2004.

Railroad Cafe-Restaurant Arts venue, 120-122 Morning Lane, Hackney E9 6LH

Nigar Hasan-Zadeh Poet and philologist of Russian language and literature, she was born in Baku, Azerbaijan. She has published 3 collections of poetry – On Wings over the Horizon, 2000, Under Alien Clouds, 2004 and Silver. Her latest work, as yet unpublished, is a Sufi fable: Mute Fairy Teller and White Bird Nara. Her poetry is included in the anthologies, Best Russian Women Poets of the 20th century, 2005 and the Anthology of Russian Women Poets, 2006. Her work has been widely translated and she has performed internationally. She has been living in London since 2000.

Ziba Karbassi from Tabriz, Iran has published seven books of poetry in Persian and two books in English and Italian and is widely regarded as the most accomplished Persian poet of her generation. Last year she won the Golden Apple poetry price for Azerbaijan. Her poems have appeared in many languages throughout Europe and the UK and US including Poetry Review and Modern Poetry Translation.

Rahila Khalwa, studied English history in Japan, then (white) feminism and social history at Essex, to find herself a lone rootless wanderer, which she remains ever since. She found her niche in the Algerian Sahara, at the wrong time, and still looks for her place in this world. Her writing has appeared in several academic journals such as Journal of Gender Studies, and writers’ magazines including Exiled Ink and The New Writer.


(Hackney Central Rail Station/ Buses 106, 254, 48, 55 all stop at Hackney Town Hall and it is a 5 minute walk from there).

Eat beforehand if you wish! Delicious, home-made food.

Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton Street, London WC2H 9BX

Celebrating Africa: Poetry and Music

Jean-Pierre Faziry Mafutala is from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Inspired by the story-telling tradition, he echoes the suffering experiences of displaced people worldwide. His poems are published in the collection Speaking in Other Tongues. After completing higher education at the University of Kinshasa, he joined the Civil Service. He has lived in London with his family for several years. He studied Politics with Economics (BA Hons) at Goldsmith’s University of London. He has been involved in community work from 2000. He is the vice chairman of ASCOP (African Swahili Community Project).

Chinwe Azubuike is a poet from Nigeria. She first came to the world’s attention in 2004 when she gave a talk on female circumcision for the BBC World Service. She has participated in various poetry readings throughout London. Presently, she is running a campaign worldwide, against the victimisation and deprivation of human rights of “the Widow” in Nigeria. She has written extensively on the subject with essays and poetry, and spoken at major Human Rights events most recently, Amnesty International, London. She is currently working on a documentary about Widows entitled “Death of a Husband.”

Dele Osunsami is a young poet who lives in Hackney, East London. His poetry is featured in Poetry That Speaks For Itself. Drawing inspiration from daily tussles and victories, his poetry offers a candid, poignant and lyrically supportive canvas upon which those emerging from struggles of their own can paint a depiction of hope. He is currently at the London Metropolitan University studying to become a Sports Therapist.

Allison Lindner is a poet born in Guyana, South America. Her poems have been published in Guyana, Canada; and most recently in the UK by United Press. She has run writing workshops at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). She is currently a member of the London Writer’s Collective, ‘Malika’s Kitchen’ which she juggles with her legal studies.

Maya Naidoo, barrister and writer. Maya writes poetry and short fiction, and is the author, with her mother Beverley Naidoo, of “Baba’s Gift”.

MUSIC: Stealth

Abayomi Odubanjo a.k.a. Stealth, is a young artist. Stealth has been making music for the past 6 years, and has many accolades, some such as: Working with mobo award winning artists Guvna b and Victizzle.

Abayomi is also a student, studying Real Estate And Property Management.

Organised and hosted by Shereen Pandit, writer.

£2 EWI members; £4 others


The Night of Exiled Writers

We are hoping this will become a regular monthly event.

The concept is a mix and a dialogue between the lived and imagined experience, to include poets/writers who are displaced in some way and write on themes of exile, or translate the work of others, even if they are not themselves exiles or refugees.


Aydin Mehmet-Ali was born in Cyprus. She is an award-winning author and her short stories have appeared in various anthologies and journals, including Silver Throat of the Moon: Writing in Exile. Her first short story collection was entitled Pink Butterflies/Bize Dair (2005). She is also an international education consultant, project manager and researcher.

Carlos Reyes-Manzo was born in Chile and has been living in exile in the UK since the 1970s. He has been writing poetry since his youth. In 2006 he published, Oranges in Times of Moon, a bilingual edition. He participated in the 2006 Sidaja International Festival of Poetry in Trieste. He has performed his poetry on radio, television and poetry readings.

Jude Rosen is an independent researcher and writer on urban culture and citizenship, a translator and poet. She has had poems published magazines, in anthologies Oxfam Poems for a Better Future (2005) and This Little Stretch of Life(Hearing Eye, 2006) and her pamphlet A Small Gateway was published by Hearing Eye, 2009. Currently, she is working on a long poem, Reclamation, on the voices and narratives from the marshlands and industries of the Lower Lea Valley, East End and Olympic borderlands, part of which was performed in Hackney Museum in December 2007.

MUSIC by the talented, versatile Henry Bran from El Salvador and his guests

Railroad Cafe-Restaurant-Arts venue

120-122 Morning Lane, Hackney E9 6LH

(Buses 106,254,48 and 55 all stop at Hackney Town Hall and it is a 5 minute walk from there).


What Became of Romania?

Poetry and Music

Monica Lucia Madas – singer and poet

From Romanian traditional songs with jazz improvisation, to acoustic, folk and experimental, electronic, concrete.

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Adina Tarry, born in Romania, left to become a “global expatriate”. In 2000 she first published her writings in Bucharest. Now based in London she is an organisational consultant, coach, business psychologist and associate lecturer.

Mariana Zavati is an award winning poet born in Romania. She has also published essays, reviews, short stories and translations. Published poetry: Travellers/Calatori (2001) Pilgrims/Pelerini (2002)Bequests/Mosteniri (2003) Soapte (2005) Vise la minut (2008) Poems UK (2009).

Bashir Sakhawarz is a special guest on a flying visit to London. He is an established writer from Afghanistan who has written six books of prose and poetry and whose English works have appeared in many anthologies and literary magazines. He was awarded first prize for poetry in Afghanistan. He works in and travels to many countries in the world.

Oppressed Coverage Exposed

‘I don’t belong inside / your cage of coverage. / I’m not in the news. / Get me out of here’ (Imtiaz Dharker, The Terrorist at my Table. Tarset: Bloodaxe, 2006. 47).

The Western media demonises and stereotypes many countries. Male poets from Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Pakistan provide their own, personal insights.

Handsen Chikowore is a Shona speaking poet from Zimbabwe. He participated in Exiled Writers Ink’s theatre production ‘A Mouthful of Africa’.

Zabih Hassan is a poet who has published three collections of traditional poetry in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is a practising GP from Partika in southern Afghanistan.

Arsalan Isa: ‘I was born at twenty-six minutes to eight, and three and a half kilometers away from the moon. I was born in a spoon and slipped out into the deep end.’

Dumi Senda, nicknamed Voice of the voiceless, is a performance poet, activist and humanitarian of Zimbabwean origin. Publications include the Sun & Snow anthology – bringing together Canadian and African poets to raise funds for a hospital in Ghana, a German journal Zimbabwe Netzwork and various online journals and articles.

Mojawer Ahmad Zyar born in Afghanistan, is a linguist, prolific writer in Pashto, German and English and has compiled over 100 dialects of Pashto and other Afghan languages. Reviving Pashto as a global language, he introduced Pashto free style poetry.

MUSIC BY Farhad (tbc) From Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, Farhad plays a range of instruments including the rubab, tablaa and tambur.