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Mark Huband: The Siege of Monrovia

Monday 22 January 2018, 7:30 pm9:30 pm

The poet Mark Huband will read, in full, his booklength

poem ‘The Siege of Monrovia’, introduced by

Live Canon director, Helen Eastman.

About the poem:

In 1989 a young foreign correspondent, looking to

make a name for himself, set off for a new life in


West Africa. Writing initially for the Financial Times

and subsequently for The Guardian, Mark Huband

travelled far and wide, from the tumult of

Mobutu’s Zaïre to the Saharan homeland of the

Touaregs, telling the stories of West Africa during

that tumultuous time as the Cold War came to an


When a small group of Libyan-trained fighters

crossed the border into Liberia on Christmas Eve

1989, the series of wars which followed tore

Liberia to pieces. Ostensibly launched to bring an

end to the ten-year dictatorship of Liberia’s

President Samuel Doe, the ensuing decade of

bloodshed left the country brutalised, its people

traumatised, and its economy ruined.

Rebel factions formed around Charles Taylor, a

renegade government minister, and Prince

Johnson, a former government soldier who broke

away from Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of

Liberia. Characterised by the use of child soldiers,

rape, drug-fuelled violence, and tribal slaughter, the

Liberian civil war rapidly lost its purpose of

liberating Liberians from dictatorship.

Mark Huband was the first journalist to reach

behind rebel lines, and reported on the war from

all sides. Most journalists left when Monrovia,

Liberia’s capital city, was besieged by both rebel

factions in the summer of 1990. Mark remained for

the three months that the city was under attack,

and his award-winning journalism provided a

unique account of the conflict and its atrocities.

But it is only now, almost thirty years later, that

Mark has been able to write his own personal

account of that time he spent among the rebels,

killers, victims and warlords. He has found a way

to do this in poetry, the terza rima form of the

narrative poem The Siege of Monrovia allowing the

verse to speak the unspeakable and describe the

indescribable, in a work which bears witness to a

time of chaos and bloodshed, but which also has

space for light and humanity.

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