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Three poems
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In October 2011, writer and political activist Enoh Meyomesse unsuccessfully ran for the presidency of Cameroon. A month later, while Meyomesse was abroad, gendarmes broke into his home without a warrant and confiscated documents, photographs and other personal property. On returning to Cameroon in November 2011, Meyomesse was arrested and charged with attempting to organise a coup, possessing a firearm and aggravated theft. He vehemently denied all charges, maintaining that he had been arrested because of views expressed in his writings and for his political activism.

In late January 2012, the coup charges against the writer were dropped; and in the intervening months the other charges against Meyomesse began to crumble. By June 2012 no charges remained. Despite this, a judge ordered an extension of his detention, ostensibly to allow the prosecutor to search for evidence against him. In December 2012, after more than thirteen months in prison, Meyomesse was found guilty of the theft and illegal sale of gold, and sentenced to seven years in prison. No witnesses or evidence were presented during the trial, and Meyomesse was not allowed to testify in his own defence.

Throughout his time in jail, Meyomesse has continued to write prolifically, and in November 2012 self published a powerful collection of poetry, Poème carcéral: Poésie du pénitencier de Kondengui (Les Editions de Kamerun, November 2012). To show our support for Meyomesse, English PEN put out a call on our website and via social media, asking our network of supporters to join us in working on a crowd-sourced translation of his writing. The resulting anthology Jail Verse: Poems from Kondengui Prison is now available as an e-book and to print-on-demand. As well as amplifying a voice that the Cameroonian government has sought to silence, we are using the collection to raise much-needed funds for Meyomesse and his family.

We are now looking for supporters to help us translate Meyomesse’s work into as many different languages as possible to help us ensure that his voice is heard as widely as possible. If you’re interested in getting involved, please contact cat@englishpen.org for more information.

Cat Lucas [End Page 137]

The Placard

it hung around my neckthe damned placardit hung        heavilyand the television camerasand the gawping bystandersand the gazing eyes of people    across the whole world    were reading        my nameacross itdumbfounded

it straddled my neckthe damned placardit straddled it        heavily

they’d stuck it therethey’d hung it therethey’d tied it there        and under my name        there was inscribed        an abomination        oh supreme humiliation

Translated by Dick Jones [End Page 138]

Why do you treat me like this

why do you treat me like thissimply because I don’t    see things your way

have you not freed wordshave you not freed spiritshave you not freed soulshave you not freed tongues

oh leaders of this regimecustodians of my people’s destinywhy do you treat me like thissimply because I don’t    see things your way

Translated by Dick Jones [End Page 139]

Ecrivain

écrivainelsewhere you are treasured    and on your bulging breast sparkle    medals and medals    from your heroic fights    against darkness

écrivainelsewhere you are revered    and atop your fragile yet also    powerful body sparkles a halo of wisdom    that brings glory        to        the        nation

BUT    here    your pen is loathed    it is hated it is abhorred    like the bird of death

AND    the people say    at last we shut his fat mouth    at last we shut his fat throat    at last we shut his fat baritone    voice that wakes the sleeping souls

AND NOW    he will no longer insult us    he will no longer shout at us    he will no longer abuse us    L’E        CRI        VAIN

Translated by Katerina Thomas [End Page 140]

Cat Lucas

Cat Lucas manages the Writers at Risk Programme at PEN.

Dick Jones

Dick Jones has written poems published by Orbis, The Interpreter’s House, Poetry Ireland Review, Qarrtsiluni, Westwords, Mipoesias, Three Candles, Other...