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The Poetry Table on the Border

CALAIS - SEPTEMBER 19-20, 2019


Our partners in Calais report that the past couple of weeks have been harder for everyone than is imaginable. Last week all the camps in Calais were evicted one by one. This week the large camp near Dunkerque was dramatically cleared. Refugees are however still in the area and many people don’t have basic items such as tents. Tensions are high and alcohol is being consumed as a way to cope. People are tired of the situation, while police are making their presence felt.

A visit to the beach near Sangatte on Thursday evening showed us yet again the close physical relationship between France and England with ferries moving back and forth across the sea in a steady stream.

This week we were privileged to be joined for a second time by Iranian artist Majid Adin who we first met in the Jungle Camp in Calais in 2015 and now lives in the UK.



Returning to our fortnightly timetable, we joined Médecins du Monde at the edge of town on the road next to the distribution area. It was painful to see the clearance of the wood where many people had been camping just days before. Across the two hours, heavy machinery tore through the low trees leaving the entire area stripped to the roots and therefore exposed. Finding shelter in this Calais landscape is becoming increasingly difficult.

We were humbled to see people’s resilience under such difficult circumstances. Some spoke directly about how hard living in Calais is and of the police beatings and inhumane conditions. Those at the map spoke with each other about their journeys, or discussed politics or wanted to rename or mark out their route. People showed interest in countries that weren’t on the map and bits of land just over the map’s border. There were enquiries about Iceland, Finland, Scotland, Colombia and Portugal - what are these countries like? Could one imagine living there? Most showed a brave face.


With the making of a short poetic film in mind, we laid out the typewriters and pens and paper and gently introduced the idea of poetry at The Community Table, setting the scene for the following day. By the end of the afternoon the large room was filled with people - refugees and volunteers, single men, unaccompanied teenagers and some families.


We furthered developed The Community Table for the afternoon session, creating a projection area on the wall for a series of short pieces of kite footage taken during the original Jungle camp in 2016. Laying the tablecloth map beneath the typewriters we wanted to create an inviting environment that might encourage a poetic response.

The films projected on to the wall attracted curiosity from across the busy room, while around 20 people worked directly with us during the afternoon. With Majid leading the poetry writing, small groups of Farsi speakers gathered around the table, the kites offering a poignant metaphor for talking about their situation while allowing for a more nuanced voice to be articulated. There was diversity of opinion and of language - with poems written and recorded in Farsi, Arabic, French and English.

The interactions were at times intimate, with a mother and teenage son writing side by side, and others collaborating on a poem, taking different voices. Philosophical ideas were introduced: ‘The kite and the person have to be like one and two at the same time.’Create a blog post subtitle that summarizes your post in a few short, punchy sentences and entices your audience to continue reading.

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