Tag Archives: Compassion

Poem For a Refugee Child

my grandmother's book

my grandmother’s book

I am currently up in Scotland staying with my mother, who is ninety seven, and hearing from her again the wonderful stories of my forbears, wonderers, poets, preachers, artists, and dreamers of one sort or another. After I had given her my new book of poems Parable and Paradox, and read some of the poems to her, including some those about the present refugee crisis, we took from the shelves the book of poems her mother had published in 1922 which included this powerful poem written for a refugee child in Glasgow. My Grandmother taught English and History in a school which took children from the poorer districts of Glagow, and this powerful poem with its deep compassion and empathy for the refugee and the exile, came out of that experience. I post it now both because it is International Refugee Day and also because it is part of my hope that my own country will not forget itself and turn its back on the refugees and on our long tradition of welcome and hospitality. My Grandmother’s book contains poems with their own music, filled with passion and compassion, and includes a series of sonnets for the city she loved. Her’s is a tradition which I am, in my own way, seeking to continue.

The Gean-tree, I should mention is the Scottish name for the wild cherry.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button:

A Child of the Ghetto

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JD Salinger – ‘a terrific friend’

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” (Holden Caulfied in The Catcher in the Rye)

As I read the news of JD Salinger’s death I remember first reading Catcher in the Rye in my mid teens, in Canada. It was mesmerising. When I came to those lines I’ve quoted, I remember looking up from the page and wishing  JD Salinger were ‘ a terrific friend’ of mine! He was one of those authors , like Lewis, who seems to know your hidden self, who cut through the outer layers, uncovered things, and made you agree or disagree so strongly that you wished he was in the room with you to start a conversation that would change everything. But in a way the conversation that starts when we read some books never really stops, and some authors really do become ‘terrific friends’ even though we don’t know them in the flesh. Holden Caulfield wondered where the ducks went when the pond froze in winter, may the man who imagined that strange compassion in his hero find the real compassion of his Creator as he leaves this frozen world.

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