Inspired by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Jennifer Wong created this poem for inclusion in A Poetic Declaration, commissioned for the Ripples of Hope Festival at HOME in Manchester, in September.

Jennifer Wong is a poet born and raised in Hong Kong, who currently teaches creative writing at Oxford Brookes University. Jennifer’s poem was inspired by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which codifies the rights to freedom of opinion and information. Jennifer said:

“Over the last few years, no one can deny that Hong Kong has changed. The poem was drawn from the months and years of heartbreaks, conflicts, the avalanche of news back home, the pressing conversations with friends and family about a changing Hong Kong. The poem speaks of wounds – some of them irrevocable and still scorching – but it is also a poem about hope.

“Thinking of what I witnessed myself, the experience of people I know, it is hard to keep emotional distance in writing this poem. But as poets and as part of the diasporic community, I think we have a duty to be honest about our feelings. I want to remind us all of how history makes us feel, and the importance of collective memory, to recognize the power of language, and to bear witness even if the pain remains unreconciled.”

The Ripples of Hope Festival at HOME in September was held by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights UK charity.

Between our voice and our silence

is a summer we believe in,
phone lights flashing along the Lion’s Rock,
before we wake up in a shrouded city 
where your tongue tastes of metal,
and you struggle to erase the scenes 
of clashes between your own people. 

You can’t talk about it, but they are locked in your head:

graffiti messages, 
tributes to the dead,
a campus under siege 
and stricken faces live-streamed on TV.

Nothing you learnt at school 
has prepared you for this moment 
when the city crumbles, and you no longer know 
how to teach your children 

the meaning of sirens; 
of bricks; of barriers;
of scarred streets and metro stations;
broken windows; broken bodies;

in unforgiving weather, a sea of black heads fill the concrete, pleading because they must.  

a song is not a threat 

a word is not a threat

a candle is not a threat

When a country demands from you
what you cannot give				

and when they ask you about
the colour of your heart:

is it the loyal shade of a chameleon, or the colour of sand

And we arrive at this new monsoon season of silence, and the rain cleanses almost everything—the cars, the houses, the parks, the books, walls—except for my heart of stone and sand, and a song I can’t sing.

Image of Jennifer Wong
Jennifer Wong. Photo: Tereza Cervenova

Jennifer Wong

Born and grew up in Hong Kong, Jennifer is the author of several collections including her latest collection, 回家 Letters Home (Nine Arches Press 2020) which has been named the PBS Wild Card Choice. She studied in Oxford and completed a creative writing PhD from Oxford Brookes University. Her poems, reviews and translations have appeared in World Literature Today, Oxford Poetry, Oxford Review of Books, The Rialto, Magma Poetry, Poetry Review, Poetry London, PN Review, Asian Cha and Asian Review of Books. She is writer-in-residence at Wasafiri and teaches creative writing at Poetry School, City Lit and Oxford Brookes. She also founded an online poetry reading series called What We Read Now.

First published in A Poetic Declaration, September 2021

On Human Rights Day, 1O December, a Poetic Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created by school children from Greater Manchester, to view it – click here

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Featured image: Nora Tam (Pillar of Shame sculpture memorialising the victims of Bejing’s Tiananmen Square massacre, which was recently removed from the University of Hong Kong’s grounds)

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