Poem 1.

March 29th, 2020 § 0 comments § permalink

I thought I’d lost this poem, and maybe I had. But luckily a hard copy was (perchance!) lying on the printer; so with great pain – and what else do I have to do these days? – I retyped it and I”m posting it to recall my days as PC4R admin.

Palm Sunday

Ahmed is messaging me stressing about his phone credit

And I’m stressing too, frying eggs and aubergine

At the same time.

Ahmed’s in Cosenza, good for him

His documents are OK, I’ve got his location

And number, but from his photo

It looks like he’s in a safe house. Can you show me a picture

Of where you sleep? Of the door? Of the outside? Keep an eye

On that slice of aubergine, it’ll burn. The admins don’t like the pic

though the house isn’t safe to Ahmed.

How long since he got fished up in Catania? and got his papers…

The NGO threw him out a week ago, now he stays with a friend

On the floor of a room (with a door). Coffee’s ready, drink it quickly.


If you go to Bethany, you’ll find a colt;

Say the lord has need of him. (Bethany, al-Azariya

Where they shot the girl Abir four years ago at a bus stop.)

Take the colt and bring it; I’ll ride to Jerusalem

Never mind the checkpoint, the people will shout

And the admins say

Ahmed’s borderline but just this time OK. Hosanna! Oh Sir thankyou please please

Can it be. quick

I need to call my mother in Raqqa


Lucky Marko the Eritrean, he’s in La Spezia;

Escaped across the desert, tortured in Libya; washed up in Lampedusa

Requested protection;

A minor, Dublin, can I translate his documents?

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the lord.

His sister’s in France, his guardian’s done the paperwork

He can catch the plane. But the Turkish army

Are planning to enter Sinjar , God’s gone west again

Three quarters destroyed already, two doctors left.  Millennia ago

These people worshipped peacocks.

You can bet the story’s nowhere near its end of endless

Heroes and heroines and butchers


So we listen and watch and share the human lives and deaths

As they cycle mindlessly for ever.

Do you believe? In what?


DAY 2.14 Conjunctions

December 21st, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink


(A rendition of ‘dancing till dawn, see below) among which I, like many others, count ‘and’ ‘but’, ‘because’, ‘moreover’. and so on. Accordingly, this afternoon (to change the subjcct, at least partially), I improved my life dramatically by changing the picture which I’m forced to look at while (now there’s another conjunction) I bicycle, on my ‘exercise bike’. It (I mean the picture) was a particularly dreary contemporary bunch of flowers; but I persuaded a kind friend (I still have them) to climb the stairs, an exercise which is far beyond my capabilities, and come back with a photographic report of what lay hidden there; which included a first-class example of the genre  of Chinese ink paintings of rushes. It’s beautiful, and now proudly installed in its place opposite my bicycling seat. But all the same, I have to worry about the reported absence of conjunctions from Quechua, who had, naturally, to borrow them from the conquistador, or Spanish invader. They had previously got by, I’m told, with juxtaposition, which I imagine must have done for most purposes. Still, how did they manage to explain that ‘Sophie is clearly exhausted, yet she insists on dancing till dawn.’? My Quechua isn’t up to it, and I have to choose between at least eight variants of the language – I’m surprised that they still have that many, given the extermination of the speakers by the Spaniards. You have to begin by exclaiming (which I’m increasingly doing) ‘Don’t use this vocabulary; it will lose what brain cells you still have left!!’ I’m confronted by the image of a strange universal plague which has arrived – from China, not surprisingly – to attack me and my household with some loss of any or all abilities to carry out even the most rudimentary tasks. Here we are, isolated in our corner of North London, a million miles from Wuhan (how are they off for interjections there?)

DAY 2.13 Interjections

December 13th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Which seem to be the most appropriate part of speech for this dreadful morning. How could we have arrived here? I cast my mind back to the afternoon in 2015, which I’ve perhaps too often referred to, when I marched with
many others to welcome refugees (I didn’t get to Trafalgar Square, but that’s rather the way things are these days); and at some level set the course of my further life, what was left of it. Before the march started, a great roar told us that Jeremy Corbyn had been elected leader of the Labour Party. And in the course of the next two weeks I was to find myself integrated in a raggle-taggle army of much younger militants, traipsing between London and Calais, enlisted for the refugee cause. And I, and my friends, and the refugees are still there (in some sense) and will not be moved for all the actions of states to displace us; the Labour Party, which has been through so much from Keir Hardie to Benn to Blair will probably remain there, waiting for the revolution.

If you look up ‘Wow’ on Wikipedia, you’ll find that it’s an interjection which has an incredibly complex cluster  of meanings, and one could perhaps borrow one or more to express one’s feelings this morning. (One could also say ‘Shit’, as I did first thing this morning, or use various Anglo-Saxon words relating to sex or bodily functions; and I have been fairly free with them from time. to time.)

So, what should I say about my feelings on this momentous day? Raising my eyes as much as was possible from the immediate mêlée, I tried to focus on the more long-term questions, in particular the ‘Green New Deal’ in New York. It is, after all, important to remember that the real questions are only answered over decades if not centuries.

DAY 2.12. The next thing?

December 9th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

My dear friends lately persuaded me that the best cure for my late night insomnia was a subscription to a film streaming website; and recommended particularly a site by the name of ‘MUBI’. Indeed, one can spend a couple of peaceful hours after midnight watching something a bit soporific which one could enjoy. However, I found, after a short time, that MUBI in particular tended to be less than perfect; relying as they did heavily (at that period) on obscure Latin American family dramas which at the late hour already mentioned simply confused me. It’s true that the gamut. of films available is far wider, allowing one to hope that some day La Chinoise or La Regle du Jeu.would turn up. And indeed, the other day I was rewarded by being allowed to see Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, which in my humble opinion has got to be the nicest film I’ve seen in a long time, and atones for MUBI’s many goofs. I must urge you to watch this idyllic story of a bus driver (who is also a poet) and his wife, who aims to become a star cupcake baker and country singer. He’s called Paterson, and they live in Paterson N.J., immortalized by William Carlos Williams. His poems are
brief and  lovely; his wife Laura is constantly urging him to preserve them and his failure to do so leads to eventual disaster at the hands of the odious dog which unaccountably both Paterson and Laura are attached to. I won’t reveal the dénouement, but the way Jarmusch explores it is enchanting. I strongly urge you to watch it as soon as you can.

DAY 2.11 The end.

December 3rd, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

I, like many of my readers I expect, have got thoroughly tired of hearing apocalyptic warnings about how soon the planet is going to run out of its resources, (they must have started about fifty years ago) and I’m impatiently awaiting the day when the powers that be (who are they?) will announce that the planet has indeed finally run out of everything; and we can stop being in a state of red alert, because there is NOTHING LEFT TO DO! Despite all the best efforts of pigtailed Scandinavian teenagers, the Earth has run its resources into the ground, figuratively speaking, and we can just carry on partying, snorting coke, playing old Led Zeppelin tracks etc. I would get the current president of the USA to support me in this position, but I don’t think he has the intellectual rigour.

DAY 2.10 Verbs

December 1st, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

a subject which has been rather a lot on my mind lately. Why? Compared with elections or shipwrecks or revolutions, verbs might seem to occupy a relatively small space in the public consciousness, although in their defence it could be pointed out that you can’t do much or indeed anything without them. But here they are, ever-present with their conjugations and stuff. I’ve been particularly preoccupied by the parallel between Nancy Ajram’s عم بتلعق فيك شوي شوي وعم حس بحني‘and Sappho’s Fragment 31. Both present the speaker as paralysed, in a sense, by the loved one’s presence. Immediately after posting I got one of those entirely justified complaints about the lack of translation: to which I had to respond



DAY 2.9 Report from the field

November 11th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

and it’s 11 November, which is widely celebrated (eg in France) as Armistice Day. I’m not clebrating much. I decided to skate lightly over hackneyed WW1 poets like Rupert Brooke, and zeroed in on the major Serbian writer Jovan Jovanovic Zmaj; who seems, dauntingly, to have written apart from some of the main poems in the Serbian canon, an analysis of turbulence which is a pretty tough nut to crack even if you aren’t a Serbian poet. […’The book will be a valuable resource for those who choose to make a research career in turbulence..’] Was this by the same Zmaj? I pass over my rich resources on Roma resettlement in Belgrade, which is obviously high on the list of Serbian problems for the human rights lawyer if not for the student of turbulence; one feels that the position of the Roma hasn’t advanced substantially since the day when Gavrilo Princip decided he ought to give history a nudge by shooting an archduke in Sarajevo.

Roma girl in Belgrade.

Well, it might be quite turbulent if you choose to look at it that way.]

But all this, in case you hadn’t guessed, is merely an excuse for introducing a poem I was sent following an appeal on behalf of ‘Phonecredit for Refugees’ (PC4R on your facebook page) for users’ accounts of their experience with the charity:

my truth

when I was little and lived in Africa
in the village with my mom,
one day I stole a coin and hid it
in my panties, my mother looking
for that coin, asked me if I had taken it myself?

I answered with a dry no.
we were out on the open veranda
with my friends.
my mother approached me,
stroked me and pulled my underpants down
and the coin fell down to the floor,
toppling down and up.
from that day the truth appeared
to me as a light, I understood
that one cannot escape the truth.

a few years later I left that village
bringing that feeling of feeling
the truth and telling the truth,
I pursued my truth, it became my freedom,.

my truth is to be a person who speaks with freedom
about herself telling her story without fear
because only my story is my truth …

my truth is to be a person who speaks gently
and kindly to others because only in this way
will I be able to transmit the power of truth …

my truth is to include people in my intimacy
because only in this way will I be able to open my heart …

my truth is that of giving people the chance to love me

By Landry Affton from Ivory Coast – Change the Word Coventry

Illustration byMajid Adin

I think that says it all.


DAY 2.9a (numbering has got a bit confused lately)

November 11th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Here’s my latest offering in the endless sequence of ruminations on the state of me and/or the world; which will be found at http://lukehodgkin.co.uk/uncategorized/6823 and if you get any enlightenment from that, I wish you joy. I recently learned that the people of Lebanon have been complaining about the theft of their entire seashore (quite long) by the wealthy citizens, who are denying access to it to anyone who doesn’t have a fat entrance fee, see Izzy Tomico Ellis’ twitterfeed (always educational).

On the other hand, if you’re given to worrying about the state of the world – and who isn’t? – you may well, like me , start fretting about the situation of the Oto-Manguean languages, spoken by about 4 million people! And I knew nothing about this huge population, nearly the size of Birmingham, speaking about forty tonal languages, all mutually incomprehensible. Some even include whistles.; some are spoken by only twenty people. The thought of all these people, with their difficulties in communications, trying to survive in a hostile world of people like Mandarin-speakers in their hundreds of millions (I speak not of Anglo-Saxophones), is daunting to say the least. Who will stand up for the Oto-Mangueans, with their tones and whistles? Will you? I’m glad to see that the Mexican government is taking steps to protect them, in their home in the state of Oaxaca.

Meanwhile the European Court has finally taken some steps against the odious Hungarian regime of refoulement etc directed against asylum seekers. Rather than give you the judgment itself, I’ll post a link to the trenchant criticism of its shortcomings from my confrère the European Journal of International Law: it’s at https://www.ejiltalk.org/the-ecthrs-ilias-and-ahmed-v-hungary-and-why-it-matters/. Good reading!

Day 2.8 Appeal

October 25th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

This is independent of the blog; it’s simply that, things being as they are, I’m finding it almost impossible to do ordinary things, and I can’t e.g. keep my balance, so can hardly walk for any distance without a frame, which is tiring and unhelpful from the balance point of view; and I’m getting weak and debilitated.

So, what I need is someone to take me, or my health, on seriously as a project. Physiotherapists, I’m sorry to say, don’t really seem to have the commitment, and I need to be forced to take exercise, go for walks etc daily. I realise  that this is a bit demanding, given what it  takes; so it really needs that commitment; plus perhaps a bit of reading, conversation and/or listening to music. If you can be more imaginative, you can devise a programme which we could both of us enjoy. If you’re the kind of person who sees looking after a rather feeble 80-year-old as a rewarding project, then this is for you; and you might diversify e.g. into childminding or dogwalking. But I digress.

And, if we were having a conversation, what a conversation we could have! If you brought me updates on the news (strictly speaking, I mean if you btought me a newspaper), we could discuss a way of fixing the current rather disastrous state of things. As Omar Khayyam put it:

Ah, Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire

To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire!

Would not we shatter it to bits – and then

Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!

[By the way, in case you were worrying about my recent book requests, To the Lighthouse and The Brothers Karamazov have surfaced, although The Cat in the Hat still eludes me. But I remember most of it, don’t you? And speaking of The Brothers Karamazov, I’d forgotten, if I ever knew it, that Dostoyevsky refers to Alexey as the hero of his narrative on page 1, while I’d have put my money on the more spirited Ivan. Maybe you could make a small sum in a pub quiz on that one.]

People do offer absolutely free ways in which I can become enabled; for example, by getting to classes (seated yoga?) run by some segment of the vast Islington empire. But to get to these, supposing that I thought seated yoga could be seriously entertained by a rational adult, I’d have to get transport, and we’re back to square 1. Liz thought that I should make myself my own project, which I thought in some way breached Gödel’s theorem. In the meanwhile I pace the corridors, supporting myself unsteadily on a stick and hoping I don’t fall over. As Celine Dion said, when you’re halfway up, you’re always  halfway down. The Cat in the Hat could do better (remember the number of things he could balance on his head).


DAY 2.7 Books

October 7th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

My migration, or hijra , to my present quarters took place about four years ago. And now I lie at night in a small, but entirely adequate flat (indeed, I can’t get up the stairs) with four fully filled bookshelves above my head. And I often wonder why the particular collection of books which also migrated and are now in that place came to occupy  it; They seem decidedly random, and some I don’t recognise  at all; while others are familiar old favourites, and many familiar old favourites are absent. Where is The Cat in the Hat? or To the Lighthouse? Or indeed, The Brothers Karamazov? How have I managed to spend four years in a house which seemed to have a library with so many gaps? There are, I estimate, a hundredweight of books whose provenance seems uncertain: at any moment they might decide (figuratively) to come crashing on my head in the middle of the night.

(I can’ t help being reminded of al-Jahiz, the notable defender of Africans and their intelligence,  who reputedly died just such a death in 868 (roughly) – but were they books or simply rolls  of parchment that fell on him ?) And my skull might be crushed by a book which I completely fail to recognise as mine – the biography of some dim Quaker member of my family, or an African militant text which (I have to assume) I acquired in the early sixties. Would that be a just recompense for my failure to be serious about the books in my life – and what would it be to be serious? There are any number of texts which teach you, if you apply yourself, to learn Arabic; thirty years have passed, the texts remain above my head  and I still can’t speak Arabic, or read the Qur’an. There are novels by black writers or scholarly studies of such novels – what a much better person I would be if I had taken the trouble to read them.

But I think I’m too old for such regrets, too old to wonder what would make me a much better person. The best I can do is to try and reach out in the middle of the night for some light reading, and find a back issue of Capital and Class. I start reading it and inevitably lose track of the argument halfway into the second page. The said argument is bound to lose me inevitably. What hope do I have, in the tangled web of cross teachings which we are increasingly encountering, of meeting  anything which I might recognise as true, when I can’t even discover how to paste a piece of music into a Facebook post.