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Stamford Poet Laureate Rob Ellks discusses taking on role during coronavirus pandemic




When Rob Ellks took on the role of poet laureate for Stamford he had many bright plans for his year in the position.

However, as the coronavirus pandemic put a pause on events and forced the country into a second lockdown, Rob has had to adapt to the new way of life.

Many of the duties included recording poetry to be uploaded online for people to listen to and see performed.

Robert Ellks on the poetry stone in Stamford
Robert Ellks on the poetry stone in Stamford

Rob, a former teacher, said: “It’s been strangely different.

“Normally, as a poet laureate you’re asked to write specific poems around particular events, such as for the new mayor, the Battle of Britain, the allotment society’s big presentation, Remembrance Day.

“All those events obviously haven’t happened as they did in previous years, but I have written poems.”

Rob Ellks, Stamford's poet laureate
Rob Ellks, Stamford's poet laureate

Despite not being able to meet in groups at the moment, Rob says he has met “some wonderful poets”.

“The people at Stamford Arts Centre have done everything to keep poetry out there,” he added.

The pandemic has restricted Rob in some elements of the role that he had hoped to fulfil.

“I wanted to build greater links with schools,” he said.

“Also, and not to do with lockdown, a lot of people writing poetry recovering from various addictions.

“My aim was really to liaise with these groups.”

Rob, who was awarded the role of Stamford poet laureate in May, has had a passion for poetry for many years.

The 74-year-old said: “I have always loved poetry.

“I did quite a bit of street theatre at the end of the 1960s - I kind of kept the
interest.

“I started it again a few years ago. It was the people at the arts centre that said ‘come to these poetry evenings’.

“I started writing and performing - it was really good to get back into it.”

He added: “I just love the diversity. It is very interesting in times of stress and difficulty how often people turn to poetry.

“In lockdown a lot of people turned to it to record how they were feeling. Poetry is a very personal medium as there is no one way of doing it.”

During the pandemic, many creative people took inspiration from the world around them, but Rob decided to take a different approach and not write about the effects of the coronavirus crisis.

Rob, who lives in Morcott, said: “I deliberately avoided lockdown as I’d had enough of it.

“When you got up in the morning it was on the radio and television, I wanted a bit of something to take the mind away from it.

“What I will do, I think, is a Covid-19 poem but it will be looking back, as an alternative observation about it.”

During the past few months Rob has also been linking with other poets in the area and further afield via Zoom.

Against All Odds - Poem by Rob Ellks, Stamford Poet Laureate 2020-21 written for the Battle of Britain Commemoration

1940 at times the bleakest of our islands years

Seeing Britain gripped by invasion fears

Our army in France heavily defeated

On Dunkirk beaches sorely depleted

Now facing occupation by a nazi state

Forged from vengeance and supremacist hate

Unleashing a luftwaffe fury in our summer skies

Airfields- radar- factories the stategic prize.

Raid after raid both day and night

Against all odds

1940 at times the bleakest of our islands years

Seeing britain gripped by invasion fears

Our army in france heavily defeated

On dunkirk beaches sorely depleted

Now facing occupation by a nazi state

Forged from vengeance and supremacist hate

Unleashing a luftwaffe fury in our summer skies

Airfields- radar- factories the stategic prize.

Raid after raid both day and night

To cripple the RAF and our ability to fight

Spitfires and hurricanes scrambled to defend

And repel the aggressors that seemed without end.

For three draining months the battle of Britain raged

Seeing fighter squadrons constantly engaged

Fresh faced young pilots who’d barely left school

Determined there would be no invaders rule.

Outnumbered, scrambled several times a day in a dog fight war

Of merciless ferocity never witnessed before

Survival mantras in their heads instilled

Flying too long staright and level sees you killed

Relaxing your vigilance in combat skies

Is the time a fighter pilot dies

But as raids reached towering peaks

Survival expectancy a mere four weeks

September 15th was to be their historic day

German troops massed in France poised for the fray.

1,000 luftwaffe sorties in daylight hours

An onslaught to break our defensive powers

Waaf, plotters, controllers bunkered underground

A stiffling tension barely a sound

Anxiety framed in collective eyes

Awaiting feedback from embattled skies

To assess the engagements every ebb and flow

Locate with precision where squadrons should go,

A desperate day challenging every nerve.

All pilots airborne none in reserve

With dogged resistance repelled the assaults

Ferociously fighting tooth and nail

Invasion plans left in tatters, deemed to be of no avail

The second world war five more years raged on

But for this our freedom was a battle won

Covid means there can be no battle of Britain parade

Or service at Stamford’s memorial wall

But we still remember those who fought in summer skies

Determined our nation would not fall

Taking to the air in squadrons whose names

Now are legend, 605, 3030, 87, 54

So very many more.

We remember

Personnel from 14 nations, some refugees rallied to the cause

544 pilots died, 312 ground crew perished too.

As the battle of Britain ran its course

Including those from womens auxillary force,

A fact that srtikes a particularly poignant note

So many of those that died were still too young to vote.

You shone light on our darkest hours

With respect, with deepest thanks we remember

How against all odds you saw it through

The defenders, the protectors of our freedom

We call the few.o cripple the RAF and our ability to fight

Spitfires and hurricanes scrambled to defend

And repel the aggressors that seemed without end.

For three draining months the battle of Britain raged

Seeing fighter squadrons constantly engaged

Fresh faced young pilots who’d barely left school

Determined there would be no invaders rule.

Outnumbered, scrambled several times a day in a dog fight war

Of merciless ferocity never witnessed before

Survival mantras in their heads instilled

Flying too long staright and level sees you killed

Relaxing your vigilance in combat skies

Is the time a fighter pilot dies

But as raids reached towering peaks

Survival expectancy a mere four weeks

September 15th was to be their historic day

German troops massed in France poised for the fray.

1,000 luftwaffe sorties in daylight hours

An onslaught to break our defensive powers

Waaf, plotters, controllers bunkered underground

A stiffling tension barely a sound

Anxiety framed in collective eyes

Awaiting feedback from embattled skies

To assess the engagements every ebb and flow

Locate with precision where squadrons should go,

A desperate day challenging every nerve.

All pilots airborne none in reserve

With dogged resistance repelled the assaults

Ferociously fighting tooth and nail

Invasion plans left in tatters, deemed to be of no avail

The second world war five more years raged on

But for this our freedom was a battle won

Covid means there can be no battle of Britain parade

Or service at Stamford’s memorial wall

But we still remember those who fought in summer skies

Determined our nation would not fall

Taking to the air in squadrons whose names

Now are legend, 605, 3030, 87, 54

So very many more.

We remember

Personnel from 14 nations, some refugees rallied to the cause

544 pilots died, 312 ground crew perished too.

As the battle of Britain ran its course

Including those from womens auxillary force,

A fact that srtikes a particularly poignant note

So many of those that died were still too young to vote.

You shone light on our darkest hours

With respect, with deepest thanks we remember

How against all odds you saw it through

The defenders, the protectors of our freedom

We call the few.

A Face - Poem by Rob Ellks written for Stamford Holocaust Memorial Service January 2020

A Face, A face so young

Bruised and cut by a kappa’s brutal stick

A Face, a face so young, crudely hacked from hair

Intensifying a pleading help me stare

In bewildered, desperate eyes

Drowning in seas of unanswered whys

Each one a memory

Memories drenching her in anguished pain

Stalking every single waking day

Replaying in her mind, again and again

The swooping jackboots

Splintering every star daubed door

The old, the sick, those unwanted left butchered on the floor

Being crammed as cattle and set for slaughter on that foul and fetid transport train

A new life, a new life in the East the Gestapo said

But brought instead to stand before that vile insidious lie

ARBEIT MACHT FREI

Then made to form those Auschwitz lines

Lines for death and lines for life

A line for Mengele’s exploring knife

Now trapped in a sewer of imposed degradation

Awash with tears of desperation

Tears that she could only wipe on dehumanising death camp stripe

Stripped of status, hope and rights

And now, without an ounce of pity

A kappa stakes a painful claim to that last possession

Her given name 26947

Henceforth her branded anonymity

A girl, a girl still young enough to be a child

Left wondering time after sobbing time

Why her birth was such a crime?

A girl, a girl still young enough to be a child

Not knowing in that so called shower, she will die

And where she stands another broken soul

Will ask that self-same question, why?

I can do nothing about your cruel death

But this much I promise

Whilst ever I draw breath

You will not be a number

Czeslawa Kwoka

I will always use your name

Czeslawa Kwoka

You will not be a number

I will always use your name



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