Neil Gaiman Reveals Poem for Refugees

By December 12, 2019News

At the end of November, Neil Gaiman announced that his latest writing project #KnitforRefugees with the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency), was to send warmth to displaced people suffering the cold and harshness of winter. The author and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador asked twitter users to get involved and share with him their ideas and words on warmth, which would later be transformed into a poem and knitted into a scarf by Kniterate.Following thousands of tweets amounting to 25,000 words, Neil Gaiman was faced with the “ridiculously hard” task of pulling together the poem on warmth for refugees. “It was very intimidating. The original brief was, ‘Can you do a story with a plot?’, and what I’d figured was, we’d get 100 or so replies, I’d pick one that would somehow call to me, and write a short short story. What I wrote was much more of a reaction to sitting and reading 25,000 words of tweets, one after the other,” said Gaiman.

“We’re in a place right now where public appeals mean something. We have more refugees and displaced people now than since the end of the second world war, and there are funding issues. The hardest part is that it doesn’t get better. They need blankets, warm clothing, thermal linings,” continued Gaiman. “Trying to make art in order to get attention for something like this is a very good use of my time.”

The end result of this writing campaign, Neil Gaiman’s poem entitled What You Need to Be Warm, has been knitted into an impressive 3-metre UK Solidarity Scarf, created using a digital knitting machine company called Kniterate. The scarf also features traditional Syrian roses, designed by a group of women in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, which will be supported by this UNHCR appeal.

“Sometimes it only takes a stranger, in a dark place,
to hold out a badly knitted scarf, to offer a kind word, to say
we have the right to be here, to make us warm in the coldest season.
You have the right to be here.”

“What is so beautiful about this is the ways people are describing cold in contrast to warmth. It’s ‘coming in from’, it’s what it’s a contrast to,” said Neil Gaiman added about the tweets used to create the poem, “The biggest problem that the Syrian refugees have right now as winter is starting to hit is you don’t get that change of state. And that means two things: you don’t have a change of state from cold to warm, and you don’t have a state. That’s what it all coalesced around. It was much more of a freeform poem than I’d thought.”

On a cold December night, on the UNHCR’s Twitter (@Refugees), Neil Gaiman answered a #AskNeilGaiman Q&A, urging people to donate but most importantly, “Be kind to refugees, be kind to each other.” Then, the author read his much-anticipated, warming and heartfelt poem out loud to hundreds of people watching live. As always with Neil Gaiman, both his words and voice captured the audience.

Sadly, replicas of the poem scarf are not yet available, however, in one of the Q&A videos, Neil Gaiman hinted that this might be a possibility soon. He also added that due to the positive reaction, Gaiman and the UNHCR will be trying to make the poem available in some way and there may be other things on the horizon to look out for.

Until then, you can read the full poem below, and don’t forget to donate what you can to the appeal for refugees. “Together we’re helping refugees survive a bitterly cold winter and that really is a good and powerful thing. One final request, if each of us donates to the campaign today, we can get more relief on its way to Syrian families right now,” stated Neil Gaiman in his final Twitter video.

What You Need to be Warm by Neil Gaiman

A baked potato of a winter’s night to wrap your hands around or burn your mouth.
A blanket knitted by your mother’s cunning fingers. Or your grandmother’s.
A smile, a touch, trust, as you walk in from the snow
or return to it, the tips of your ears pricked pink and frozen.
The tink tink tink of iron radiators waking in an old house.
To surface from dreams in a bed, burrowed beneath blankets and comforters,
the change of state from cold to warm is all that matters, and you think
just one more minute snuggled here before you face the chill. Just one.
Places we slept as children: they warm us in the memory.
We travel to an inside from the outside. To the orange flames of the fireplace
or the wood burning in the stove. Breath-ice on the inside of windows,
to be scratched off with a fingernail, melted with a whole hand.
Frost on the ground that stays in the shadows, waiting for us.
Wear a scarf. Wear a coat. Wear a sweater. Wear socks. Wear thick gloves.
An infant as she sleeps between us. A tumble of dogs,
a kindle of cats and kittens. Come inside. You’re safe now.
A kettle boiling at the stove. Your family or friends are there. They smile.
Cocoa or chocolate, tea or coffee, soup or toddy, what you know you need.
A heat exchange, they give it to you, you take the mug
and start to thaw. While outside, for some of us, the journey began
as we walked away from our grandparents’ houses
away from the places we knew as children: changes of state and state and state,
to stumble across a stony desert, or to brave the deep waters,
while food and friends, home, a bed, even a blanket become just memories.
Sometimes it only takes a stranger, in a dark place,
to hold out a badly knitted scarf, to offer a kind word, to say
we have the right to be here, to make us warm in the coldest season.
You have the right to be here.

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