Kate Clanchy
British Red Cross

Kate Clanchy's work has been featured by such publications as The Sunday Times, The Independent, Ambit, The Rialto, Poetry Review and the BBC World Service. Her new collection, Samarkand, has been shortlisted for the Forward Prize. She has received the Eric Gregory Award, New London Writers Award, Scottish Autumn Book Award, the Forward Prize for the Best First Collection and the Somerset Maugham Award by the Society of Authors.

Background

As part of the British Red Cross's Power of Humanity Programme, Kate Clanchy has been appointed as Poet in Residence to:

  • Raise awareness of the work of the British Red Cross through a different medium; namely, poetry
  • Engage staff and volunteers by organising poetry workshops to take part in, encouraging writing about their work to celebrate the Power of Humanity
  • Publish poetry, internally and externally, concerning the work of the British Red Cross  

The poet will travel throughout the UK visiting the branches and centres of the British Red Cross and seeing the work of the volunteers and staff in action.

Foreword to the anthology published at the residency's conclusion

'What are you doing at the Red Cross?' was a question I was asked quite frequently during my six month residency. It also seemed a reasonable question: after all, when people are fundraising, helping refugees, running tracing services and delivering wheelchairs all around you, it is easy for a poet to seem a little redundant.

But I hope I was some use. My residency was part of the Poetry Society Poetry Places project, funded by the Arts Council of England 'Arts for Everyone' Lottery Department. Poetry Places aims to set poems to work with people everywhere, and has placed poets in Marks & Spencers and on oil rigs, but few placements have been as wide-ranging as mine, which sent me all over the UK, visiting Red Cross workers. I was recruited as part of the Power of Humanity programme, and my brief was to work with volunteers and staff and encourage them to write about their Red Cross experiences. My most important task was to enable volunteers and staff to record what they did, and so demonstrate how valuable that work is.

The response was varied and rich - so rich in fact, that we decided to draw together some of the results in this anthology to celebrate the power of humanity. Here you will find accounts of counselling in Dunblane, hepatitis in Bosnia, reflections on Red Cross heritage, and imaginings of times to come from Red Cross Youth members. It was impossible to include all the poems in the anthology, so I was faced with the difficult task of selecting a sample which I felt reflected the breadth and diversity of the Red Cross. The writers are of all ages, come from all over the country, and work with the Red Cross in many different areas.You will also find two poems in Welsh: so successful was the project in Wales that communication manager Non Williams decided to extend the project to Welsh-speaking schools by recruiting poet Menna Elfyn.

I have also gained many rich experiences for myself. I will not quickly forget standing in the shadow of a disused pit whilst delivering wheelchairs in the Rhondda Valley, or the harrowing accounts from those working with Kosovo refugees in Leicester. I'd like to thank everyone who sent in poems or who took part but especially, Beryl Evans, Lesa Kingham and Non Williams, from the British Red Cross, and Morag McRae from the Poetry Society for all the enthusiasm and hard work they brought to this project.

- Kate Clanchy, British Red Cross Poet in Residence

This anthology was sent to 56,000 members of the British Red Cross.

 Poem by Kate Clanchy for the 50th Anniversary of the Geneva Conventions (August 12, 1999):

Geneva Conventions

In the playing-out of violence

the referee can seem absurd -

a stickler with a whistle

who trots down the fluent forwards,

rule book in hand; points

between their intent, balletic, feet

to an eroded, chalky, line -

 

But behind the line, just breathing,

with faces to the wire, with babies

on shoulders, grave children

by the hand, with grandfathers

on tractors, rag-bags, icons, carts,

stands a stadium crowd, a city full,

a country of the saved.

 

 

 

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