The first ‘Writing Mesopotamia’ reading at the Ashmolean

The first reading of the ‘Writing Mesopotamia’ programme at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, took place yesterday (Sunday 17 March). Heavy snow from about 9.00am until 11.30am gave us a bit of a scare and we thought we might have to cancel it, but luckily, it eased up and the Ancient Near East Gallery rang to the musical and moving voice of exiled Iraqi poet, Adnan al Sayegh sing/ reading his poetry in Arabic, with English translations read by myself and Joe Brady. Joe is a student on the Oxford University MSt. and he also read (ringingly) extracts from The Epic of Gilgamesh.
There will be further readings by Adnan, myself and Joe on Sunday 28 April.
There should be details on the Ashmolean website and I’ll post some more here in advance.
At the end of the reading, my granddaughter, Abigail, came to share the limelight with me!
Abigail sharing the limelight Ashmolean reading March 004 Ashmolean reading March 012

Ashmolean Museum – Writing Mesopotamia

Ashmolean Jenny and Adnan

Writing Mesopotamia is an exciting series of readings and creative writing workshops from The Poet’s House, Oxford to mark the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War in March-April 2003. Renowned Iraqi poet Adnan al Sayegh and Oxford-based poet Jenny Lewis will read their own poems together in English, some with Arabic translations, exploring attitudes to, and affects of, the war.

Sunday 17 March 12.00pm 

Lunchtime poetry reading (in English and Arabic) and discussion in the Ancient Near East Gallery by renowned Iraqi poet, Adnan al Sayegh and Oxford poet Jenny Lewis.

Sunday 24 March/ Sunday 7/ Sunday 14/ Sunday 21 April 10.30am-12.30pm

Creative writing workshop inspired by artefacts in the Ancient Near East Gallery for 12 participants, for adults and accompanied children 10+

Sunday 28 April 11am-4pm

Adnan al Sayegh -Visiting Poet. Three readings by Adnan al Sayegh and Jenny Lewis in the Ancient Near East Gallery (11.00am; 12.30pm; 2.00pm) Display of poems created by the creative writing workshop participants and further reading of workshop participant’s work at 4.00pm. ‘Launch of Now as Then pamphlet of poems by Adnan al Sayegh and Jenny Lewis, published by Mulfran Press.

All these events are free but to get an idea of numbers, please reserve places on the creative writing workshops in advance by emailing

Poet’s retreat in a Scottish castle

I had a Hawthornden Fellowship in June which involved living in a castle in Scotland with five other Writing Fellows to concentrate on our writing. Three Americans, a Scottish poet and a Filipina short story writer. It was an amazing experience, the castle was very secluded and we had to be silent betwen the hours of 9.30am-6.30pm. Lunch was sent up in Fortnum hampers (home made soup by the resident chef) so as not to disturb our work.

I was translating extracts from The Epic of Gilgamesh and saw my editor at the Scottish Poetry Library. I also saw Vashti who played me her beautiful new songs. Altogether a rich and unusual month (although very rainy…)