The Prospect of Shelter

Oxford Writers' HouseEssays2016OctoberThe Prospect of Shelter

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The Prospect of Shelter

Over the past ten years I’ve had the opportunity to travel to and live in various countries.  After graduating from Cambridge, I spent two years in Prague working as a private tutor, and have travelled with my husband throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Arab world –  an experience that encouraged me to pursue my poetry writing further, and take up a Master’s in Creative Writing at Oxford.  My poetry has always been heavily influenced by my surroundings and the languages I’ve been exposed to. After living in Prague I found that numerous Czech words and phrases crept into my work giving more of a sense of place, and a flavour of the country, with its rich history and culture.
 
More recently my travels have taken me to the Middle East and I now live the the Arabian Gulf.  There is a strong poetic tradition in the Arab world, and my poetry has been enriched by the harshness and aridity of the desert landscapes, flora and fauna so perfectly adapted to live in temperatures that would eradicate anything less hardy. Thesiger wrote at length about his travels in the Empty Quarter in Arabian Sands (1959), and I can appreciate his fascination with the land, as well as the people who eked out a nomadic existence on the desert sands.  Now, the skyline of Dubai is dominated by skyscrapers and gives the appearance of an ultra-modern city, but one need only take the elevator to the top of the Burj Khalifa to see that the desert still surrounds the Emirate, a permanent reminder of the power of nature.  Sandstorms sweep the city with a fine coat of reddish dust. It is a striking experience to be caught up in a sandstorm without the prospect of shelter.

One need only take the elevator to the top of the Burj Khalifa to see that the desert still surrounds the Emirate, a permanent reminder of the power of nature.  Sandstorms sweep the city with a fine coat of reddish dust. It is a striking experience to be caught up in a sandstorm without the prospect of shelter.

In 2015, I was appointed Poet in Residence at Carfax Education and have since been teaching poetry to pupils over a range of ages.  This coming year I will be organising a Carfax poetry competition for children and young people in The Middle East, to encourage the poetic endeavours of a younger generation who are often a little wary of both reading and writing poetry.  I believe it is essential that children develop the ability to appreciate poetry, and not feel that it is an inaccessible literary form.  
 
Poetry is the ideal medium for the traveller. A poem can capture the intensity of a moment, the intoxicating experience of new sights, sounds and tastes that overwhelm and disappear quickly as breath.  Poetry has an immediacy and urgency which prose cannot always emulate: it is perhaps for this reason that war and strife always seem to produce an abundance of poetic work.  It is for me a concise way of documenting what I see and do when I travel, and remembering the small details that make each trip unique.
 


Alexandra Strnad

Alexandra Strnad

 

Alexandra Strnad read English at the University of Cambridge, and completed a Master’s in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford, for which she was awarded a Distinction. Her poems have been published, or are forthcoming in a range of journals and anthologies, including: Ambit, Other Poetry, Wasafiri, The Frogmore papers, Aesthetica Creative Writing Anthology, and Ink Sweat & Tears. She was the 2014 winner of the Jane Martin Poetry Prize. Alexandra is poet in residence at Carfax Education.


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