‘Am I Just A Sound’ witnessed YorkPEN’s first event as a ratified society on December 10th last term. After the success of English Society’s ‘Poetry and Pints’ evening, this event adhered to a similar format in its presentation of poems and speeches, albeit in the more intimate setting of a cosy corner of Courtyard. Introduced by Seb, Chair of the Society, it soon became apparent that although we were there to appreciate the poetry, we were, more importantly, there to remember and reflect upon the various human rights’ campaigns and struggles being challenged and suppressed across the globe.
Marking the opening evening of ‘York Human Rights City Project’, the event attracted a diverse group of people from both within the student community and further afield, and the poems read were similarly delivered by a variety of people, which immediately established a dynamic and versatile environment. The evening was separated into three phases, each one introducing us to poetry and information concerning different international campaigns. Firstly, poems produced in response to ‘Pussy Riot’ were read, which immediately displayed how political suppression can be explored and exposed by literature in contrasting ways – one poem was subtly satirical in tone while the other teemed with expletives and conveyed the immense anger experienced in the face of injustice.
Injecting a flare of passion into the room was promptly delivered by Henry Raby, a spoken word poet whose dynamism was immediately electric. Bearing a resemblance to politically engaged Scroobius Pip, his lyrics were powerful in their simplicity, and delivered with such conviction so as to remain imprinted on your mind for the rest of the night – ‘we’re not pathetic, and we are not thugs – we’re fuelled by the power of protest hugs’. We were also privileged to welcome speakers from the University’s ‘Centre for Applied Human Rights’, including William Gomes, who was able to provide a fascinating insight into what he does for RNN (refugeenewsnetwork) and remind us of the fantastic work that people are doing right here in York for international campaigns.
One of the highlights of the evening arrived in the form of Angye Gaona’s poetry. Gaona is a Colombian surrealist poet who has recently been wrongly imprisoned, and on whose behalf YorkPEN was campaigning last term. Thanks to the brilliant linguistic skills of YorkPEN member Maitê Gothe, we were able to listen to original translations of Gaona’s striking poetry. Although the husky roll of the Spanish washed over the majority of the audience, the beauty of the language was universal and the subsequent English readings provided the content which could explain the sound to which we’d been clinging. We were also treated to translations of Iranian poet El – a poet who expresses her firm beliefs in the freedom of expression and the importance of breaking from tradition.
During the intervals and at the end of the evening beautifully illustrated bookmarks – created by members of YorkPEN – were sold and postcards written to the poets whose work we had shared and enjoyed. The money raised will be used to help the society to grow and to fund speakers to come over the course of the year. Now hosting a film series throughout this term (only £1 entry to watch a variety of films dealing with various human rights’ issues and campaigns), ‘Am I Just A Sound’ successfully laid the foundations in which this new and exciting society can develop.
– Alice Brooksbank