PJ Harvey Collaborates With Refugee Poets To Tell Their Powerful Stories

by Eleonor Botoman

  In honor of National Poetry Day, English alt-rocker PJ Harvey developed a multimedia project featuring the writings of migrant poets from readings, performances, and workshops. The completed project aired on Channel 4 and replaced the T.V. channel’s usual video intros. Susannah Herbert, the event’s director, explained the importance of the project toThe Guardian:

“A poem can reach places that prose just can’t.That’s why we’re inviting all with anything important to say today to say it with a poem. It can be new or old, utterly original or a familiar favorite. It can be deep and dark, funny or memorable. By enjoying, discovering or sharing a poem – words that draw attention to themselves – you change the nature of the national conversation.”

It’s important to hear the stories of migrants now more than ever, especially when their presence is unwelcome in many parts of Europe. The struggles they’ve faced, the homes they’ve lost have been repeatedly dismissed as increasingly racist fear-mongering drowns out their experiences in politics and in mainstream news. This project is a push towards raising awareness, to help more refugees escape their ravaged home countries, to put a human face and a personal story to de-humanizing news headlines. 

This is not the first time Harvey has pushed migrant issues to the forefront of her work. For her video for the song “The Wheel,” from her most recent album The Hope Six Demolition Project, Harvey documented her travels to war-torn Kosovo between 2011 and 2015 in hopes of raising awareness about the refugee crisis and the devestating effects of global conflict.

This is also not the first time Harvey has incorporated poetry into her music. At Glastonbury earlier this year, she stopped in mid-performance to recite “No Man’s An Island” by John Donne, a reflection on the recent Brexit vote — the outcome of which was primarily fueled by racist, anti-migrant sentiments.

PJ Harvey also released The Hollow Of The Hand in 2015, the complete embodiment of her travels with filmmaker and photographer Seamus Murphy from Kosovo to Afghanistan to Washington D.C., part of which you can see in “The Wheels” video. Between Murphy’s photographs and Harvey’s poetry, there is a powerful story to be told about the damage of war on civilians still in their homes and the migrants who flee the horror. You can read one of her poems from the book below:

The Abandoned Village

by PJ Harvey

I thought I saw a young girl
between two pock-marked walls.

I looked for her in the white house
that crumbled mud from its falling roof

On a nail in the kitchen
a threadbare apron.

The husk of a corn doll
hung from the ceiling.

I asked the doll what it had seen
I asked the doll what it had seen

I looked for the girl upstairs. Found
a comb, dried flowers, a ball of red wool

unravelling. A plum tree grew through the window,
on the window ledge a photograph

in black and white, but her mouth is missing,
perished and flaked to a white nothing.

I asked the tree what it had seen
I asked the tree what it had seen



Photo via PJ Harvey’s Official Website


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