Event spotlight – Changemaking: a poetry event for Palestine

Event organiser Mridula Sharma, who is part of GoMA’s Youth Group, writes about their event – Changemaking: a poetry workshop for Palestine.

The event will be held on 14th June, 2-4pm at Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow.

We are privileged to inhabit a crucial moment in history.

Today, we see people rising to take action to see a free Palestine in their lifetimes. We see young people in student encampments rising above the hostile environments of their institutions to build a better future. We see art workers lifting each other up as arts organisations update their guidelines and threaten to withdraw funding over political statements.

All efforts at campaigning — from going to protests to organising teach-ins — produce an effect, even when we convince ourselves that they don’t. Last month, Glasgow councillors put forward a motion to take action ahead of the Scotland-Israel Women’s Euro 2025 qualifier, acknowledging that hosting Israel would not align with the council’s call for an immediate ceasefire and reaffirming solidarity with all the victims of the ongoing siege of Gaza. A few months back, this might have been unthinkable.

Creative resistance is both necessary and urgent. This is because occupation forces confiscated books, pencils, and pens from Palestinian prisoners following October 7, and made it impossible for them to resist their incarceration through artistic expression. This makes our efforts at extending solidarity all the more vital.

The weaponisation of literature by the Zionist movement in mid-twentieth century proves the importance of art and literature in shaping popular attitudes. Ghassan Kanafani contends that it was literary Zionism that gave rise to political Zionism. It is time we reclaim creative expression in activism.

Why blackout poetry?

The theme for this year’s Refugee Festival Scotland is RISE. As a member of the 2023-24 cohort of the GoMA youth group, I will be leading a two-hour poetry writing workshop in response to the festival’s theme at the Gallery of Modern Art on 14 June. The workshop will encourage participants to write blackout poems in solidarity with Palestine. This will affirm our support for Palestinians as they rise and build new lives.

Blackout poems are created by redacting certain words and sentences in the source text and generating new meaning. Creative engagement with diverse source texts — from food recipes and newspaper articles to social media posts and more – related to Palestine and contemporary transnational movements in support of Palestine can help us rise above hostile narratives and realise shared visions of freedom.

Sometimes called redacted poetry, blackout poetry has its roots in revolutionary print media in the eighteenth century and the subversive Dada movement of the twentieth century. The earliest known example of blackout poetry can be traced to a man named Caleb Whiteford. A neighbour of Benjamin Franklin’s, Whiteford collected some of the first-ever print newspapers and created an entirely new body of poems as well as puns by ‘cross-reading’ and redacting words: he read lines across the page rather than reading downwards, crossed out words, and produced new combinations with interesting results.

It was in the twentieth century that similar experiments with form and style resurfaced. Writers and artists associated with the Dada movement demonstrated a commitment to creating collages and giving birth to unexpected meanings through the interplay of words. Many used images as well. Author of Newspaper Blackout Austin Kleon at The New York Times has claimed that avant-garde poet Tristan Tzara, painter Brion Gysin, and American Beat writer William S. Burroughs have all made important contributions to expand blackout poetry. Kleon remains among the greatest support of the form today.

Can a workshop centred on blackout poetry, which largely owes its growth to white men in the Global North (i.e. Kleon, Tzara, Gysin, and Burroughs), materialise an inclusive space where everyone belongs and finds support for their creatives voices as they express their solidarity with Palestine? The answer is yes.

Last year, I used the University of Glasgow’s June Cockburn Prize to start a reading group for Glasgow-based refugees and asylum seekers at Maryhill Integration Network. Discussions around blackout poetry encouraged group members to create blackout poems celebrating activist visions in a diverse community space. Together, we forged subversive narratives out of obsolete documents such as press releases justifying the US-led invasion of Iraq.

A form developed by white men will only get enriched if people with diverse identities begin to make their own contributions. Aimed at non-professionals, the Scottish Refugee Council-funded workshop for Refugee Festival Scotland will help people from different backgrounds to connect over writing and bring everyone together to transform GoMA into a site of artivism.

Get involved!

Join us as we rise above the uncertainty of the present moment and continue our investment in spaces of solidarity, strength, and resilience. The workshop is open to anyone who wants to show solidarity with Palestine and its people, many of whom might now enter broken asylum systems as they start to rebuild their lives.

Bring your keffiyehs and write blackout poems with us between 2 and 4pm in GoMA’s studio on the fourth floor. Free vegan refreshments will be provided.

5 events for Palestine at this year’s Festival

  1. Changemaking: A poetry workshop.

14th June, 2-4pm.

Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow.

Book now.

2. Arabic Shorts: Resilient /صامد + Q&A

15th June, 1-3pm

Glasgow Film Theatre.

Book now.

3. Workshop: Refugeehood, Struggle and Solidarity

16th June, 3-5pm.

Civic House, Glasgow.

Book now.

4. RISING IN HARMONY.

19th June, 10.30am – 4.30pm.

Many Studios, Glasgow.

Book now.

5. The future of UNWRA and Palestinian refugees

21st June, 11am-12.30pm

Adam Smith Building, Room 718, University of Glasgow.

No registration necessary