PERSONA NON GRATA
Edited and Compiled by Isabelle Kenyon
Published in 2018 Fly on the Wall Poetry Press, UK
Isabelle Kenyon is the editor of Fly on the Wall Poetry Press, and the author of Digging Holes to Another Continent and This is not a Spectacle. Kenyon writes in the introduction that Persona Non Grata is `curated from love and the desire to make a change`. Proceeds go towards Shelter UK and Crisis aid UK to support those suffering from homelessness, poverty, disaster, war and oppression around the world. Fly on the Wall Poetry Press has also produced an anthology called Please Hear What I am Not Saying for MIND, the UK mental health charity.
This collection includes the poems of 45 different writers from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures, and the range of poetic forms reflects this enormous diversity. They have all come together to speak out against injustice and to promote change. The anthology is split into seven sections, each focusing on an aspect of social injustice. These sections tackle a vast range of issues such as homelessness, racism, domestic violence, alcoholism, drug use, mental health, sexuality, women’s rights, refugees, war, grief, invisibility and politics. British attitudes to these issues are a recurring theme; I found it an uncomfortable reminder of our collective tendency to sweep suffering under the carpet and retreat into our comfortable lounges to drink tea and discuss the weather.
18 million starving, think
about Yemen over your afternoon tea, just for a second,
then reward yourself a cake for piety.
In fact, not only do we sit back and drink tea, we are sometimes guilty of being poverty `tourists` when we come across someone in our neighbourhood who has fallen upon hard times:
The watching curtains twitch
those who sat cosy, chicken dinners on laps
watching the Real News far far away safe distance
suffering, you are too close
just outside and close enough to smell
In Nigel Kent’s poem, Sleight of Hand, a homeless man suffers the indignity of a rich man’s mockery and it reminds us that not only are some people indifferent to suffering, on occasion, but they are also positively gloating. They enjoy stealing even the `fledgling hopes ` of a person in dire need.
There is a `them and us` thread that winds its way through the collection. An underlying fear keeps the disadvantaged at arm’s length. It is a fear that can dehumanise, as Marjon van Bruggen highlights in her poem, Stripped.
Did he once love and live
had a wife and kids, maybe
a too small suit, neatly pressed
preserved for that special occasion?
Who took it all, and took even
more in dark silence, until
he had nothing left but this?
This sense of otherness is also conveyed in Jennie Owen’s The Refugees, where the subjects of her poem almost become animalistic,
unaware in their hoof and claw otherness,
that they have not obliterated their cages,
their sunken ark,
for good, just yet.
The refugees believe they are being shipped to safety, yet the locals wait on the shore like hunters, `all their ducks in a row`.
In Sostenuto by Judith Kingston, commuters observe a man ravaged by war, as they hug their bags and children close to them,
worried they might catch his wasting, or his fleas, worried
he might want things that were theirs.
Raine Geoghegan tackles the plight of the travelling community in his prose poem Keep Movin` through the language of a Romany Gypsy (glossary included!). We get a glimpse into a world where the inhabitants are always strangers and can never claim a piece of land for long. Despite this, there is a deep-rooted sense of loyalty and togetherness in the community. They sing together and thank God for their blessings; `All together in the poove (field), the best of times`.
Sometimes the lack of humanity shown by those who have more is counterbalanced by the surprising generosity of those who have very little. Maureen Weldon’s Bus Stop Woman is a cheerful, talkative, loving sort who can see (it seems) into the souls of others, despite her circumstances. In Sonnet for a Homeless Woman Named Beth, the subject of the poem `blows kisses to each passer-by who smiles at her` as she lives amongst the small tents and blue tarps of her own temporary neighbourhood.
Ceinwen Haydon reminds us that despite the hardships there is lots to celebrate, and the small acts of kindness between strangers mustn’t go unnoticed:
my bus arriving two minutes early,
the old lady who gives
her last humbug to the driver
because he smiles like her late husband
and the Sikh boy who gives her his seat.
There is often a dichotomy at play in these poems; the sparkling Christmas window displays in the high street at odds with the homeless seeking shelter and food on the wrong side of them;A wrecked car `ridden with joy and fired to skeleton` becomes home sweet home, a haven with its windows blown out; the British drop bombs on a country and then provide it with aid. Danger and safety; love and hate; hope and despair are awkward bedfellows on every page.
But I think that’s the point. The world is overwhelmed with suffering, and people who ignore, encourage or instigate it. This anthology holds nothing back – it presents humanity for what it is and there is no escaping how far we can fall. Yet at the same time, there is hope. We just need to look past our tv screens, listen over the noise of the radio, and see beyond the empty promises of our power-hungry world leaders. At least we can control how we behave and how we respond to the suffering we encounter. At least we can try to keep our hearts open to the bigger picture.
Love is a doing word
so let’s all keep in mind
that in a world already tough enough
at least we tried being kind.
 Persona Non Grata, Editor’s Letter, Pg. 3
 Isabelle Kenyon, Numbers, Pg. 34, l.7-9
 Jan McCarthy, Bitter Charity, Pg. 9, l. 11-18
 Nigel Kent, Sleight of hand, Pg. 11, l. 24
 Marjon von Bruggen, Stripped, Pg. 13, l.12-18
 Jennie Owen, The Refugees, Pg. 29, l. 10-13
 Jennie Owen, The Refugees, Pg. 29, l. 16
 Judith Kingston, Sostenuto, Pg. 39, l.13-14
 Maureen Weldon, Bus Stop Woman, Pg. 17
 Debbie Hall, Sonnet for a Homeless Woman named Beth, Pg. 18, l.7
 Ceinwen Haydon, Let`s Celebrate (after Mandy Coe), Pg. 80, l.5-10
 Marg Roberts, Forgotten Hero, Pg. 20
 David Mark Williams, Derelict, Pg. 25
 Isabelle Kenyon, Thank God for British Values, Pg.78
 Rosalind Weaver, At Least We Tried, Pg. 79, l.21-24
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