Inspired by Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Maura Dooley created this poem for inclusion in A Poetic Declaration, commissioned for the Ripples of Hope Festival at HOME in Manchester.

Poet Maura Dooley is a professor of Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London. Maura’s poem was inspired by Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which codifies the right to education. Maura said:

“My parents were the children of Irish immigrants. They believed in hard work and that education opened the door to a better life for their children. Learning to read and write was the bedrock of this belief. When I looked back through family records of census returns, marriage certificates, army attestation papers from earlier times I noticed the use of ‘x’ in place of a signature and thinking about what that represented in a life, gave me the root of the poem I wrote, ABECEDARIUM.”

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


Once you learn to read you will be forever free   

attr. Frederick Douglass
X marks the spot where treasure might be found
where words from weeds begin to stir
and books open their leaves to the sun.
X magnifies the field of vision tenfold.

X-Irishman is what an uncle gained
in signing up: three meals a day, a roof,
another nation - but made his mark
by handing on where treasure might be found
in schools and libraries and polling station.

X is the algebraic unknown, 
horizontal axis, skull & crossbones, 
poison, fast cars, adult danger, 
X magnifies the field of vision tenfold, 
the pharmacy, the occult, babe in a manger,
another kind of wrong, a sign of love,
X is the algebraic unknown. 

Here’s my chromosomes and 
(fingers crossed behind my back)
a photo of my heart you can’t yet read
-nor what’s written in the asterisks above-
but in cursive, capitals, in abcdery, 
it’s all unravelled now, fiction or fact,
we can decipher molten words, we’re free to act.
Maura Dooley mug shot
Maura Dooley

Maura Dooley

Maura Dooley’s most recent book (with Elhum Shakerifar) is translation into English of the poetry of the Iranian poet Azita Ghahreman, Negative of a Group Photograph. Whilst The Silvering is her own most recent collection. She was a Centre Director of the Arvon Foundation, founding Director of the Literature and Talks programme at the South Bank Centre and is Professor of Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London. She has served as judge for many literary awards, including the T S Eliot, Laurel, David Cohen Award, Forward Prize and the National Poetry Competition. She re-established Poetry International in the UK, worked for Jim Henson Film and, in theatre, for Performing Arts Labs. Her poetry has received an Eric Gregory Award, a Cholmondeley Award and she is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

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

The Meteor is a media co-operative on a mission to democratise the media in Manchester. To find out more – click here.

Sign up to The Meteor mailing list – click here.

Featured image: Alfons Morales

Share this article

  • Guest Writer

    This article was written by one of our guest writers. If you'd like to write for us, get in touch.

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *