A foreign country

During the launch of her poetry collection at the Labour Club, Kate Adams read the title poem, The Cheering Rain.

Before she did she introduced the poem, saying that she was waiting for a publisher to confirm if it had been accepted for an upcoming anthology. She said that the publisher had asked her which country it was set in.

Birmingham,” came the reply, to a ripple of laughter.

It’s easy to see why the publisher was confused. The writer does indeed make Birmingham seem like a foreign country. There is an intensity about the poem, with its flashes of colour, with its sounds and its characters, with its running boys and its stall holders, which gives it the feel of a North African souk, rather than an ordinary street in the heart of industrial Britain.

Many of the poems have that feel. It’s like you are looking at Britain with new eyes, in exactly the way you would look if it was your first time seeing the country, as a visitor might see it: as an exotic land, as a place of mystery and wonder, confusing and obscure at times, frightening, but still vivid in its presence, with the presumption stripped away, so that all you are left with is the urgency of your immediate sense impressions.

This is the genius of these poems (if that’s not too big a word) that they offer us a new perspective, a new way of looking at things. All of a sudden we are seeing the world through the eyes of the migrant, through the eyes of the asylum seeker; we are hearing the thoughts of people for whom English is unfamiliar, people struggling to put into words their sense of dislocation, their sense of loss.

This is not surprising as the poems come directly out of Kate’s work as a volunteer with Kent Refugee Help. In this capacity she has worked with asylum seekers, both those held in Immigration Detention, awaiting deportation, and those who have been returned to the community under strict bail conditions, unable to work or to claim benefit, which is itself a form of detention, a way of separating the asylum seeker from the rest of the community.

A prison

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Dover Immigration Removal Centre

Kent Refugee Help is a small charity supporting detainees in Dover Immigration Removal Centre. At the start of the evening Kate showed a film commissioned by the charity, made by two students, Levi Roberts and Jess Dadds. The film simply shows the road up to the Removal Centre. It was made by strapping a camera to the roof of a car and then driving up the road. So we see the tree-lined road as it ascends the hill, until it gets to the Removal Centre. But there is a finality to this destination, as you see the huge wooden doors, the walls, the ditch, the bridge, the razor wire, the surveillance cameras. It is a forbidding place. The centre was built during the Napoleonic Wars to house French prisoners. Later it was a Borstal. Now it is a place to house failed asylum seekers before they are shipped abroad to whatever fate might await them; if not to torture and death, then certainly to the fear of those things.

So this is a prison from which some people will never return. It is a measure of our age that such places exist. And it is a measure of our failing humanity that we don’t even know they exist.

But for all the politics in these poems, they are not polemical. We are not being told what to think. Rather they represent lives as they are lived under these particular circumstances; a portrait rather than a manifesto.

The Cheering Rain refers to the sound the rain makes when it is beating on tarmac and canvas. It is like the sound of a crowd cheering. This is an upbeat thought. It creates a picture in your head of joyous celebration, and, while some of the poems have a melancholic edge, the choice of The Cheering Rain as the title points to the underlying message in all of these poems.

Because in the end, that’s what they are: a celebration. A celebration of culture, of language, of humanity, of colour, of individuality, of strength, of patience, of resilience, of difference.

Of life.

The Cheering Rain

Rain comes like a crowd cheering,
hard on tarmac, on canvas.
Everyone cheers with the rain.
A boy runs between stalls to a van

parked in a side street at odd angles.
A man laughs selling baskets of old tomatoes,
Fifty pence because it's Ramadan.
Rain comes loud, dousing
the sultry hours of an August day.
The rain is my unsteadiness,
I could be swept away.
The colours of vegetables flood -
green and scarlet peppers, iridescent
onions, humble brown potatoes.
I scarcely see them, it is simpler
to be with the rain,
the thrill of its sound is like a crowd roaring,
like somebody trampling.
We shelter together. You say,
I told you not to come at Ramadan.
I make myself into a desert,
a hard, dry place, safe from the passion
of water and sacrifice.
I cover my hair
and listen to the cheering rain.

From the back cover:

In The Cheering Rain, Kate Adams draws on her experience of working with refugees to create a patchwork of stories. Trapped and frustrated by faceless institutions and unfathomable systems, her voice is joined by the characters she has known. Filled with humour, warmth and courage, these poems remind us of the incredible limits of human endurance, and of the cruel machinery that changes lives in the twenty-first century.

“These poems convey fragments of memory and communication, those glimpses of broken lives, which are poignant, painful, and yet precious, for those who are in the limbo of exile. Kate Adams has a remarkable eye for the telling detail, and a sensitive ear for voices seeking to express themselves in an alien language. She has the gift of evoking experiences of other worlds, other lives and experiences, without distancing them, making them a part of her life and ours.”

Lyn Innes, Emeritus Professor of Postcolonial Literatures, University of Kent

“They are so wonderfully economical these poems, elegant, understated and quietly poignant, a few well-chosen words to conjure up whole vistas, whole countries, whole days, whole lives, with an eye for the small detail which seems to open up some echo of hidden emotion. It is the measure of a good poem that it stays with you like a song. I’ve been singing these poems in my head ever since I first read them.”

CJ Stone, author and columnist

“Opening Kate Adams’ exhilarating first collection is like emerging from a dark alleyway into the noise and colour of an African street market… but they are in her own country, England. She works on behalf of refugees and she is passionately involved with the people she works for.”

Hubert Moore, poet and writing mentor for refugees

KRH works in partnership with organisations in the Southeast which are active in promoting the rights of refugees and migrants:

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