Thursday, 26 May 2016

Of mobile phones

Compared to many, I am not particularly attached to my mobile phone; but even though the one I use is old and battered, I know I would not want to be without it. For those far from home, it may be of even greater value: the only connection with family, friends and a life left behind.

So columbite-tantalite (coltan), even if we have never heard of it, is important to us all. Used in almost every electronic device, including the ubiquitous mobile phone it has known a huge surge in value in the relatively recent past.

About 80% of the world’s known reserves of coltan are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where its exploitation continues to fuel the war, one of the deadliest conflicts since the Second World War, having to date claimed more than 5 million lives. While most companies will of course avoid buying minerals directly from the warring factions and various rebel groups in DRC, it is amazing how many of the neighbouring countries, with scant known supplies of the mineral, have seen a huge surge in exports.

I can’t remember when the significance of conflict minerals, and particularly coltan was brought to my attention but it is perhaps since meeting refugees from the Congo that it has felt somehow closer to home and more uncomfortable. 

For many refugees from there, and other areas where conflict minerals fuel ongoing wars, there must be a bitter irony in a dependence on devices which contribute to the bitter suffering they have experienced firsthand: it is something of this duality which the following poem tries to express.

Technology's latest miracle
This lightweight

Too great a weight
For heavy hearts
And hurting hands

The bleak, scorched earth
Of burned and blackened land
Left scared and scarred by war

Its precious value
Bought and sold
In oft-spilled blood
And fierce flame

Yet as it burns
Still now it brings
The warm amber glow
Of home

And cradled
In scarred, scared hands
This deathline
A lifeline

As cracked and fractured voices
From a cracked and fractured land


With hopeful dreams
Of all that was and is and might just be
At home

ps: This Ted talk: also speaks powerfully on the subject.

pps: I don't usually use my blog to advertise products, especially ones I have never owned,.. but it was the use of conflict minerals in the mobile phone industry which, at least partly, inspired the Fairphone and while I'm sticking with my ten year old "dumbphone" for now, who knows, maybe one of these may be the future. 

Friday, 13 May 2016

A Palette of Emotions

I haven't written any poetry for a while ... certainly nothing that has even got close to what could be described as finished. 

But today at St Chad's Sanctuary, we took a break from preparing for reading exams and wrote poetry. Once again, I was able to appreciate my students' ability to say so much with so little and to admire their capacity for creativity, as together they produced poetry which included:

Quite apart from being a whole lot of fun (at least for me, and hopefully for my students too) and being another different way of reinforcing some English vocabulary, it also inspired me to come away and use a similar premise and structure to that I had given them (somewhat extended) to write something of my own:

A Palette of Emotions

Sadness is a monotony of grey
It is the silence of a shadowy, starless night
It is tear-smudged streaks across an unfinished page
It weeps

Happiness is a warm, amber glow
It is the harmony of voices raised in joyful song
It is swirls of colour dripping from a brush
It laughs

Anger is a deep, brooding red
It is scarred and bloodied hands wrenched apart
It is a dark stain spreading across an expanse of white
It kills

Excitement is a sparkling yellow dashed with golden glitter
It is the warm embrace of a long-awaited reunion
It is uncontrolled splashes of brightness
It dances

Fear is a deep blue as unfathomable as the ocean
It is the toes curled against seeping damp and biting wind
It is torn-off corners and jagged edges
It trembles

Hope is a thousand unnamed shades of green
It is the freshness of damp leaves after spring rain
It is a pen poised above a blank canvas
It waits

Humanity is the confused beauty of a well-used paint palette
It is the depth and complexity of all our experiences
It is a new story forever unfolding
It lives

Sunday, 1 May 2016


Yesterday Daniel Berrigan: priest, poet, protester and peacemaker died just short of his 95th birthday. He may not have had the media presence of many of those whose deaths facebook has mourned in 2016, but of all those who have been on the social media roll call to heaven so far this year, for me, he is without a doubt the greatest.

I often post poetry here: usually it is my own. Today though, I'm making an exception and posting one of his. One that speaks of how he kept going for so long. one that resonates, as many of his words do, with both inspiration and challenge.

If, in the face of vast American might, he never lost sight of the possibility of an alternative, it was perhaps because he realised that while the commitment to the powers of war, death and destruction was total; too often those who spoke for peace lacked the same energy and dedication. 

All it would take, then, to change the world would be for those who say we believe in peace to approach the task of creating it same with the same commitment and prepared to take the same risks as those who wage war.

He did exactly that, living by what he believed and inspiring others along the way.

His is a voice and a life which continues to challenge. It is a challenge I know I am not yet living up to. I know I want to try.

Some: A Poem by Daniel Berrigan

Some stood up once, and sat down.
Some walked a mile, and walked away.

Some stood up twice, then sat down.
"It's too much," they cried.
Some walked two miles, then walked away.
"I've had it," they cried.

Some stood, and stood, and stood.
They were taken for being fools,
they were taken for being taken in.

Some walked, and walked, and walked - 
they walked the earth,
they walked the waters,
they walked the air.

"Why do you stand?" they were asked, and
"Why do you walk?"

"Because of the children," they said, and
"Becuase of the heart," and
"Because of the bread,"

"Because the cause is
The heart's beat, and
The children born, and
The risen bread."

RIP Daniel Berrigan (9th May 1921 - 30th April 2016)