A Collection of Poems From Mole Valley Poets Celebrating Amnesty International's 40th Anniversary, 2001.

Amnesty International Helen M Overell
TO SET US FREE Sylvia Herbert
WORD STREAM Alison Jesson
AMNESTY Carolyn Dunnett
OUT COLD Christine Cambray
Where the wood is still in bloom. Edward Newman
FORWARD TO A SHADOW Christine Cambray
A Better Place Hugh Timothy
SANDSTORM Nikki Hopkins
Fencing with Words Hugh Timothy
words will out Helen M Overell
Dawn Release Derek Webb

Amnesty International

they tell me that your candle burns
in some cathedral, looped about
with spirals of barbed wire that catch
the windowed robes of watchful saints,
draw tufts of silken threads; the aisles
echo with the muted footfalls
of ordinary pilgrims hushed
into whispers; the names, written
on white cards in painstaking script,
stand out like their bearers, shackled
with truth, burdened with principles
which subject them to a levy
of total freedom; they tell me
that the flame dances; that the walls
are steeped in centuries of psalms;
that the floor is puddled with light;
they tell me this in blue biro
on fine ruled lines, in fountain pen
on heavy bond, in rounded loops
or neat italic, in ink jet
spurts or laser print; they tell me
this - that all kinds of people write
when they see wrongs, that many add
their witness to your candle's voice

Helen M Overell


Enmeshed in the barbed wire of hate
And fear of what's to come,
Compression squeezes pain from us
And centres hope on those outside
Who don't forget the conscious choice
Which spurs us on.

The free and moving spirit lives in flame,
And tongues of fire speak all languages.
Keep the tortured candle alight -
The effort is not working
Until you feel the burn.

Sylvia Herbert


Which words should I choose
to lighten the monotony
of your darkness?
Perhaps something gentle
to begin with; a few syllables
cupped in the palm of my hand
for you to sip, slowly
like a tired desert traveller
who stumbles upon an oasis.

I shall fill a deep bowl
with cool refreshing phrases
to wash away the grime
of your prison and the stench
of the injustice towards you.
I will compose special verses
to comfort and soothe you,
and bathe your aching limbs
with healing sounds.

But how many sentences
will it take to unlock you
and give you back your voice?
I must choose carefully,
words can be as ruthless
as a canyon flash-flood.
I shall release a stream of letters,
to soften and revive
this barren earth.

Alison Jesson


A s the alphabet assembles
   drawn like filings to a magnet,
   it may provide the remedy.

M ake your words speed my way
   by the million,
   to challenge the infamy.

N ew missives, like the dueller's sword,
   defend my life
   and check my enemy.

E ach letter needles the aggressors,
   pricks their consciences,
   outlines your strategy.

S ince the human spirit
   should not be bound
   by accident of geography,

T hought should not be caged,
   nor religion stifled
   by political philosophy,

Y ou must write to make them see
   there should be an amnesty.
   I need to be free.

Carolyn Dunnett


numbing flesh at my finger-tips
ice- stretched out under me a freezing bed,
packed white sheets caress my body
in my ear I hear a voice
you call me to come
free fall to your arms
but you are on the other side of me
I can't get through
the ice wall stands between us
and I haven't the art
to melt my way to you
until the thaw comes
and we meet again
somewhere south of heaven

Christine Cambray


(Vanesa Lorena Ledesman, a transvestite, was arrested
in Cordoba, Argentina on 11 February 2000 and died
in custody 5 days later from 'cardiac arrest'.)

What is normal? Who says
I am not normal, because I wear tight dresses,
high, strappy heels, bouffanted hair and bright pink lips.
I like the sixties look.
Here there's no trappings of glamour.
A bucket in the corner, slats raised on brick,
where light angles through a solitary, barred pane
and never sweeps the floor.
The bracelets round my wrists are running sores,
my back criss-crossed with welts.
For make-up I have purple rings, which fade to yellow rouge.
'Vanesa', they call, 'come for a beating.'
They drag me, spit and kick,
because I, too, have balls.
The spider in the corner, hanging from her web,
can no more tell which way is up. From her high
vantage point she only sees the tops of heads.
It's a matter of your point of view.
These Argentine police all have a blinkered look.
They use long spoons.

Nikki Hopkins

Where the wood is still in bloom.

I met a priest this year,
very focused, very strong.
He said that under torture,
it is possible to go beyond.
Beyond the barrier of pain,
to where it can no longer touch you.
Where your tormentors
can no longer reach you,
because you have such power inside you.

Where the wood is still in bloom.

I met that priest this year,
very focused, very strong. And brave.
Like Christ, who went beyond,
to where his heavenly father stood,
he went beyond reality of pain.
Beyond all knowing. Beyond all suffering.

To where the wood is still in bloom

Edward Newman


stone-cold floor and if you close your eyes and stare
there is the green hill, soft grass and warm sunlight radiating,
drying your face, catching the tears,
grey walls, terrifying, squeezing your brain into dust,
eyes bulging, pushed by the pressure of fear,
and the space around you is crushing your courage,
tightening your lungs, and your ears strain to hear
nothing  nothing
you can smell home but the pain breaks your soul,
known arms and tenderness crush resolve,
and you tug yourself away,
concentrate shivering on this deathly cell,
with no-one to tell
and they will accuse you, abuse you, beat you, torture you
until, as the light goes out
you smell home

Christine Cambray

A Better Place

To make the world a better place
It's not enough to wash its face.
You have to scour from head to foot
Both in and out and always put
A cleansing rinse designed to drain
The scum from the collective brain.

Remember burned in prejudice,
Remember hatred - things like this
Will need to soak in healing balm
To ease their pain, suffuse with calm.
When sorting out the parasite
That sucks the good and leaves the blight
To fatten on the weaker thing,
Consider those who need to cling.

Whilst sorting out the spots you dread
Be sure each blemish doesn't spread,
Nor flush out good along with bad
Destruction of the business cad
May leave the good without a job
But scour too deep and you may rob
The world of things you'd rather keep.
For as you stir earths mouldering heap
Beware, the domino effect
You might get more than you expect.

And so I find it sad but true
That many hold the cautious view
It's safer to leave well alone
So we continue to bemoan
The failure of the human race
To make the world a better place.

Hugh Timothy


She donates generously,
(via direct debit),
to a range of respectable causes.
She phones the credit card hot line,
(after TV appeals),
for famines and occasional earthquakes.
and once, because it was very cold,
she paid a scruffy young man, over the odds,
for a copy of The Big Issue.

She buys charity cards
and real coffee from Oxfam,
has green food delivered,
and her claret bottles recycled,
and once, she campaigned vigorously,
to prevent a famiIy of asylum seekers -
from moving in next door.

Alison Jesson


A sandstorm starts slowly.
Light winds drift across dunes,
caress inclined grains
which stir, spill, shift;
changing the contours of the scarp.
Stronger, the air shucks under;
sand rises, startled,
to fountain, flurry and float.
Furious now, the wind whips
the sand to dervish dances.
A swirling, lacerating curtain
obliterates an angry sun,
flays flesh and flattens where it passes.
Reveals a purged and reformed landscape.
I would raise a sandstorm for you.
My letters will be carried on the wind;
will scour your desert scene
to an oasis in contention's eye.
Each word a grain of sand to rub
the shell of your imprisonment
and produce the pearl of greatest price.

Nikki Hopkin

Fencing with Words

Free words
Free words free
Make words free
with free

Hugh Timothy

words will out

somehow words will out, written in haste
on soaped tiles, scanned into memory,
one hand poised to wipe them to a swirl
of suds at the least footfall

somehow words will out, moulded to shape
in long nights, mouthed into memory,
one hand poised to nudge them to a row
of wrapped thought, sculpted freedom

somehow words will out, stubbled in gray
on scrolled scraps, seared into memory,
one hand poised to pinch them to a fold
of flame, a palm held ember

somehow words will out, shielded from guards
in cupped fists, dancing in memory,
one hand poised to pledge them to a tryst
of tagged exchange, Trojan flight.

Helen M Overell


Faceless and formless,
crouching the cell floor;
nameless, just numbered,
as the days pass by.

Humiliated, hungry,
close to cracking,
uncertain and unclothed
as the days pass by.
* *

Day 1, there comes a postcard
so I'm seen in a new light.
I stand and face the guards
and I'm tall at my full height.

Day 2, there comes another.
No matter how it came!
They look at me in puzzlement
and remember I've a name.

Day 3, some further letters
designed to bring me good.
My clothes mysteriously appear
as well as increased food.

I pray you'll all keep writing
as often as you can.
I'm hopeful, with your efforts
they'll see me as a man.

Carolyn Dunnett

Dawn Release

A chink of light. No more.
Then the door, you know
In intimate detail, grates open.
As if it had forgotten its purpose.

Slow sullen stares.
Not microphones or cameras,
Face you on the other side.
Watching you,
Always watching you.

All the bright optimism
Of so many years ago
Is now bundled up
In a torn grey overcoat,
Tossed at you as you leave

You walk the last
Agonising hundred yards
To the plane squatting like a mirage
On the tarmac
And do not dare look back

You have no expectations.
This new day begins
Without fuss or fanfare.
But slowly, imperceptibly at first,
The world changes.

Derek Webb


Thank you, Amnesty;
I, who, alone in dismal foreign cell,
Sought to explain the wrongs I'd tried to right,
Away from those I love and longed to hold.
You kept me in your mind and heart always
And fought for freedom to pursue the truth,
Upholding justice, sanctuary and peace.

Thank you, Amnesty;
You, who immersed in selfless acts,
Risked your own safety to support my cause.
You raised your voice with governments and powers,
Reasoned with terrorists, with consuls talked.
I knew my hope rested upon your work
To bring to others why I suffered so.

Thank you, Amnesty;
At last the cards and messages came through.
How high my heart leapt at the words of cheer.
I grasped my courage fast, in firm belief
That all you effort would, one day, procure
My safety, and the right of those who strive for good
To live at peace with mankind everywhere.

Thank you, Amnesty.

Sylvia Herbert