Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King received an Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law from Newcastle University, giving what was to be his last, visionary, speech outside the USA before his assassination.

The occasion is marked by the publication of The Mighty Stream, an anthology of poems in celebration of him, edited by Carolyn Forche and Jackie Kay (Bloodaxe Books, £12). The poem below, by Grace Nichols, recalls a tragic incident in 2016, as people fleeing from the Middle East war zone tried to reach Europe by boat.

         A BRIEF ODYSSEY

Loading article content

The toddler whose body was laughter

happy even after they had to flee

the grey rubble of what was once home.

~

A live-wire, all jumps and chants,

he repeated the words of his father –

Eu-rope, boat-trip, new-home-new-home.

~

Dressed as if for an outing, a great adventure,

he, his brother and anxious parents,

all headed for the Aegean – Homer’s mythic sea –

~

But the night it was dark

and the sea it was uncalm

and the boat – an over-crowded dingy –

set sail like a gamble against an hourglass.

~

Ill wind, ill fated odyssey –

leaving only a father to tell

the dazed tale of how they all slipped –

his clinging fingers turned to sand –

~

The live-wire, all jumps and chants,

returned by the abiding manes of the sea –

a small and casual sacrifice

on the shore of Poseidon’s omnivorous heart.