‘This event is one that builds our hope and our passion for freedom,’ said Nigel Ashworth, Rector of St. Ann’s Church as he opened Words to Freedom. This hour-long session, organised by Amnesty International, was a show of solidarity for oppressed people across the world. It featured poems, novel extracts and biography excerpts from writers in Kosovo, Kurdistan, Nigeria, Sudan, Germany, Ireland and more, and was a powerful illustration of how ordinary people can use words to defy political subjugation.
And, by and large, it worked. Despite the dark subject matter, the three actors Amnesty had rustled up to lead the event brought each text to life, injecting the readings with energy and, at times, humour. TV actor and teacher Wyllie Longmore gave a particularly powerful rendition of Benjamin Zephaniah’s We Refugees, a moving poem that reminds us that ‘we all came from refugees/Nobody simply just appeared’.
Nathan Crossan-Smith, a budding thespian currently studying at Xaverian College, read, among other works, Not My Business. This poem by the Nigerian dissident, Niyi Osundare, is a rebuke of those who stand by and watch as corruption, brutality and political injustice ruin the lives of their innocent neighbours.
But the most moving readings came courtesy of Shobna Gulati. The former Coronation Street actress was the best known and, unsurprisingly, the best of the acting bunch, and she read various pieces, including All We Want is our Freedom. Penned by Burma’s pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, this piece had particular poignancy given the ongoing political unrest within this troubled South East Asian nation.
Words to Freedom finished with Gulati’s reading of Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise, a work that is by turns defiant, provocative and proud. As Gulati repeated the poem’s hopeful refrain, the audience was left with a sense of promise; that, as we returned to our ordinary lives and our ordinary worries, poetry and fiction still maintain the power to illuminate injustice and thus bring about change.
Words to Freedom was held on Saturday 18 October at 2pm at St. Ann’s Church, St. Ann’s Square, Manchester city centre.
Susie Stubbs is a writer and editor based in Manchester. Her blog, http://travelswithmybaby.