Interview _ Siobhan Logan

The Poetry of Mass Movement

Siobhan Logan is one of the most exciting emerging voices in British literature. Some of her work has appeared in A Slice of Cherry Pie, a poetry chapbook anthology edited by Ivy Alvarez and inspired by David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. The anthology is published in the United Kingdom by The Private Press, and in the United States by Half Empty/Half Full.

Beginning in 2005 with “Black Dog,” and followed this year by “The Dead Walk Box,” her stories have received commendations in the annual Leicester and Leicestershire Short Story Contest for two years in a row. In the same year her poem, “The Builder,” was selected for Body and Soul, a poetry anthology published by United Press. She was also awarded the Merit prize for another poem, “Window,” in the Nottingham Open Poetry Competition.

Siobhan Logan has also been invited to work with the visual artist Jackie Stanley on an exhibition on the theme of Aurora Borealis for the Physics Department of Leicester University in a collaborative project fusing visual arts with poetry. She spoke about her poetry and short stories and the novel she is working on and the concerns that unite her work.

Your short story, “Frog Island Lesson,” seems to be a fragment. Is it part of a bigger story?

I am doing some research and making notes on a novel. The novel is set in Leicester and centers on themes of migration. There are two strands in the story I want to explore in it. I want to explore the story of child migrants - about 10 years ago, Margaret Humphreys, a social worker who worked with people who had been adopted, discovered that hundreds of British children were literally deported to institutions in other countries. Some were sent to places like Australia and Canada.

When was this?

In the '20s and '30s. It accelerated after the war and was happening as late as 1967. There was so little understanding of how this would traumatize children. They had a hard time. The stories of what these children went through are heartbreaking. Their records and identities as British children were erased.

How did these stories come out?

Over the last 10 years or so, quite a lot of them have been trying to track their origins and it has been proving to be difficult. I want to pick up on that story and connect it with one on people working with asylum-seekers and immigrants in Leicester. It will be a challenge to weave the two strands together.

Asylum-seekers are in the news a lot. Do you think the image that is being presented of them is accurate?

I see asylum-seekers as people who are already in a very vulnerable position who then face destitution at the hands of government policy here. They have become a political football for our media and political parties who promote the idea that asylum-seekers are somehow sponging off us.

Asylum-seekers are the modern scapegoat - what Jews were in an earlier period or Irish or Asian immigrants after them.

Why do you think there is this scapegoating?

This shambolic government deflects attention from its own shortcomings by trying to criminalize the poor. They deflect people’s worries about inadequate resources in the [National Health Service] NHS or education onto people who come in with almost nothing.

Yet this government pours billions of pounds in pursuing war and destruction elsewhere. There’s a blank cheque when it comes to war in Iraq yet they say we can’t afford decent pensions.

Asylum-seekers are not scroungers?

If you look at places like Leicester, you can see that immigrants who have settled here have made a huge contribution, both economically and culturally, to the city.

It doesn’t make sense to think of immigrants as a drain on resources. Look at Belgrave, where I live - families arrived here decades ago after being expelled from Idi Amin’s Uganda. Fleeing persecution, they settled here and worked hard to build a future for themselves and their families - it’s now a thriving, busy community that I’m delighted to be a part of.

Asylum-seekers should be allowed to work — we all need the dignity of that –- and where this is not possible, they should be entitled to full benefits. If you don’t allow asylum-seekers to work, you are not allowing them to contribute to the economy. You are creating, deliberately, a very impoverished group. Which is immoral and unjust.

“Frog Island Lesson” is a short story but it has a lot of qualities about it that you would ordinarily associate with poetry. Was this a conscious move?

I am interested in the way people have stories and myths in their heads and how they make themselves out of those stories. I am interested in pushing at the boundaries of form only if the story needs it. You need a character at the center and whatever pushes the story forward is the form the story should take.

What would you say influences you most as a writer?

My family migrated from North Ireland when I was six. I was surprised how much stuff about Ireland comes into my writing. My own family is spread between these three places: my brother and his family are in Eire; my parents might be moving back to North Ireland; and the rest of my family is in Britain.

For each of the five children in my family, the way we see ourselves in relation to Ireland is different. I think that’s why I want to write about migrants because it has some resonance for me.

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