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Amineh Abou Kerech. (Twitter)

Lament for Syria

Syrian refugee, 13, wins prestigious poetry prize

October 3, 2017

Last week, a 13-year-old Syrian refugee was announced as the winner of  the U.K.’s prestigious Betjeman Poetry Prize, a writing competition for children between the ages of 10 and 13.

The Guardian reports that Amineh Abou Kerech’s prize-winning poem, Lament for Syria, explores the child’s longing for her homeland. “Syrian doves croon above my head,” she writes, “their call cries in my eyes/I’m trying to design a country/that will go with my poetry/and not get in the way when I’m thinking/where soldiers don’t walk over my face.”

Amineh and her family fled the Syrian civil war in 2012. They lived in Egypt for four years, and moved to England last summer. During her time in Egypt, Amineh began to channel her homesickness into poetry. “When I remember my Syria I feel so sad and I cry and start writing about her,” she told The Guardian.

Amineh wrote Lament for Syria, in both Arabic and English, and translated it with the help of her sister, her teacher and Google Translate. Chris Riddell, a cartoonist for the Observer and one of the competition’s judges, said that the resulting poem “has a solemnity to it, but also the profound view that you get through a child’s eyes.”

Below, read the full text of Amineh’s winning poem.

Lament for Syria

Syrian doves croon above my head

their call cries in my eyes.

I’m trying to design a country

that will go with my poetry

and not get in the way when I’m thinking,

where soldiers don’t walk over my face.

I’m trying to design a country

which will be worthy of me if I’m ever a poet

and make allowances if I burst into tears.

I’m trying to design a City

of Love, Peace, Concord and Virtue,

free of mess, war, wreckage and misery.

*

Oh Syria, my love

I hear your moaning

in the cries of the doves.

I hear your screaming cry.

I left your land and merciful soil

And your fragrance of jasmine

My wing is broken like your wing.

*

I am from Syria

From a land where people pick up a discarded piece of bread

So that it does not get trampled on

From a place where a mother teaches her son not to step on an ant at the end of the day.

From a place where a teenager hides his cigarette from his old brother out of respect.

From a place where old ladies would water jasmine trees at dawn.

From the neighbours’ coffee in the morning

From: after you, aunt; as you wish, uncle; with pleasure, sister…

From a place which endured, which waited, which is still waiting for relief.

*

Syria.

I will not write poetry for anyone else.

*

Can anyone teach me

how to make a homeland?

Heartfelt thanks if you can,

heartiest thanks,

from the house-sparrows,

the apple-trees of Syria,

and yours very sincerely.

Read the full story at The Guardian and learn more about the prize here.