2017 Betjeman Poetry Prize

The Faculty extends their congratulations to Amineh Abou Kerech on winning the prestigious Betjeman prize for young poets. Her poem, "Lament for Syria", was judged to be the best entry for this year's award. Faculty members Mohamed-Salah Omri and Julia Bray helped to translate this poem over the summer as part of a multi-outreach activity with Oxford Spires Academy, in collaboration with Oxford Comparative Criticism & Translation and Creative Multilingualism, and undergraduate Samuel Moss was involved in the Poetry Hub project. Amineh's prize-winning poem is shown below:

Lament for Syria by Amineh Abou Kerech

Syrian doves croon above my head
their call cries in my eyes.
I’m trying to design a country
that will go with my poetry
and not get in the way when I’m thinking,
where soldiers don’t walk over my face.
I’m trying to design a country
which will be worthy of me if I’m ever a poet
and make allowances if I burst into tears.
I’m trying to design a City
of Love, Peace, Concord and Virtue,
free of mess, war, wreckage and misery.


Oh Syria, my love
I hear your moaning
in the cries of the doves.
I hear your screaming cry.
I left your land and merciful soil
And your fragrance of jasmine
My wing is broken like your wing.


I am from Syria
From a land where people pick up a discarded piece of bread
So that it does not get trampled on
From a place where a mother teaches her son not to step on an ant at the end of the day.
From a place where a teenager hides his cigarette from his old brother out of respect.
From a place where old ladies would water jasmine trees at dawn.
From the neighbours’ coffee in the morning
From: after you, aunt; as you wish, uncle; with pleasure, sister…
From a place which endured, which waited, which is still waiting for relief.


I will not write poetry for anyone else.


Can anyone teach me
how to make a homeland?
Heartfelt thanks if you can,
heartiest thanks,
from the house-sparrows,
the apple-trees of Syria,
and yours very sincerely.

For further information, please see: https://www.creativeml.ox.ac.uk/languages-creativity/exploring-multilingualism/inspiring-pupils-multilingual-creative-writing

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