2 Untitled Poems by Tom Pow

28th December 2014

Reel Festivals 2011 was our most ambitious event yet, and aimed to host events in Syria, Lebanon and Scotland, focusing on cultural exchange and interaction. Unfortunately due to developing events in Syria we have had to postpone events there.

Instead we had a focused programme of events in Lebanon and Scotland, both of which featured Syrian elements alongside Scottish and Lebanese films, music and poetry.  Tom Pow was one of  8 poets taking part in poetry translation working and reading in Lebanon and Scotland including Emily Ballou, Golan Haji, Rasha Omran, William Letford, Mazen Marouf,  Yehia Jaber and Ryan Van Winkle.

We are honoured to be able to present two new pieces of work from Scottish Poet Tom Pow as a response to his experience of taking part in Reel Festivals 2011. These poems will feature in a forthcoming e-book of Reel Festivals poetry and are currently being translated into Arabic. The titles of these two poems both refer to a Reel Festivals’ poetry panel event held in Beirut, ‘Crossing Borders / Bearing Witness’. For more information on this event please see the Daily Star review here.

Bearing Witness discussion, Beirut 2011


for the Reel Poets of Lebanon, Syria and Palestine

Everywhere you look, this city
is being reinvented in glass, metal and stone.
Its memories of itself carry a honeyed,
though slightly antiseptic air.

Glass megaliths rise up, born for light,
for the same light that kisses the sea,
the same light that moulds the flotilla of yachts
in the fresh, fuck-you marina.

In this light, money lauds itself,
placing itself both above history
and instead of history; it claims it, above all,
can put a sheen on your heart.

In the shadows, where light still lives
among what’s dusty, cracked and improvised,
I follow the repeated hollow tap of an old woman’s stick
as she thrusts herself along a narrow street.

Tap tap tap
Listen listen listen

vowel abuts vowel
consonants like waves clear their way up the strand

language has no fixed point
language cannot be stilled

and the river of language
surrounds us, as light does:
it lets us praise

the jacaranda’s purple blossom
sprayed against a faded yellow wall

the sweetness of cedar oil
glistening silver as a snail’s trail
on my open palm

this river flows over borders
borders are nothing to it

it talks of courage and of carnage
and of a pain beyond what we can imagine

the pain of those who find themselves
in the same place wherever they are
because they cannot forget.*

This morning, in the grey dawn, above Beirut
balls of thunder explode like gunfire through the air.

Elsewhere, in other cities, gunfire explodes
through the night air like thunder.

Sister poets, brother poets, we honour you
for whom precision has become
such a dangerous and necessary art.

These lines were spoken by Syrian poet Golan Hadji at the panel discussion on Crossing Borders/Bearing Witness.I began this poem immediately after hearing Golan read – the first of the Reel Poets I heard


for William Letford

Sitting with Billy in Beirut, looking out
from the cool shadows of Le Chef
onto a sunlit street in Gemmayzeh.

The head waiter, exhausted of the charisma
with which the Lonely Planet credits him,
has folded himself into a chair by the door

and given himself to sleep. Our flag lies
between Billy and me, spread across
three neat oval plates:

the green sprigs of mint, the red of the radishes,
the wet black backs of small olives.

There is no other border between us. And today
(a good day!), nothing we cannot cross.

First published on Reel Festivals website on June 9th, 2011.