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This report is taken from PN Review 166, Volume 32 Number 2, November - December 2005.

A Good Writer Can Make My Imagination, a Great Writer Can Make My Belief Rowena Sommerville

Syndou Diarrassouba came to this country from Liberia two years ago, and was 'dispersed' to Teesside, where I run an arts project with refugees and people seeking asylum, based at Tees Valley Arts. When I first met him he was a clearly traumatised young man who had been attending English classes and learning to read and write - he had never been to school - and the teacher had recognised his poetic ability. Syndou spoke English in Liberia, but with a Mandingo dialect; he knew it wasn't 'proper' English and wanted to improve it.

Although unlettered and uneducated, Syndou clearly has an innately poetic and visionary soul; his conversation is full of statements like that above, wise and thoughtful and unexpected. He will talk quite naturally of 'the line of colours in your soul', 'reaching into the nebulous heart', 'cold sadness creeping towards the heat of anger'.

Initially Syndou wrote as therapy, attempting to purge his lonely soul of his many terrible memories - he has said that the only time he can sleep without medication is when he writes. Now that he has been welcomed into the (small!) Teesside cultural community, he writes more as communication, with greater purpose and control. He writes in longhand, redrafts diligently, and then brings his work to me for 'tidying up'. This, of course, raises many issues for any editor, and particularly when there is an issue of translation - linguistic and cultural. I want to help him ...

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