The Poetry of Distance

CALAIS – JULY 19, 2019

– of family – that a kite flies – across the Channel – of the long distance runner – of the time it takes to become a body builder – between West and East Africa

CONTEXT We arrived in Calais on the ferry for one day only due to a timetable change over the summer period. We were informed that the police violence has escalated further over the past three weeks and refugees are again being dispersed on coaches to distances far away from Calais. Although the distance is the same, coming across on the ferry meant a longer journey time, bringing with it a different perspective on the complicated journeys refugees have to undertake in order to reach the UK.


People looked exhausted and dishevelled and throughout the afternoon a number of people slept on the floor around the edges of the large room. Outside a row of new allotment beds brought a contrasting layer of nurture and life.

The location of The Community Table had slightly shifted due to a reorganisation of the large room, requiring us to recalibrate in relation to the space. The typewriters helped to reset the tone, supported by the introduction of a book of poetry and atlases onto the table. Throughout the afternoon a number of young people joined us, some fleetingly and others for the five hour duration.

Around the table there was discussion about distance and stamina sports with stories shared about body building, marathon running, about travelling long distances – several of the young men telling us they have travelled alone across countries since their early teens. Some countries have been much harder than others.

All those gathered at The Community Table told us they speak more than one language and above all wanted to improve their English. A collective poem was typed in which images became words, the typewritten poem becoming a new image in itself.

This was echoed at the table by one of the men who showed us his own typed texts on his mobile phone. He explained that when alone he writes about his life here in Calais and finds this very helpful, texting each entry to his friend for safekeeping. He explained that in spite of this space that he manages to carve out for himself, he yearns for genuine intellectual and spiritual connection.


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