Shanee StepakoffMay 3, 2023
Found Poems from the Special Court for Sierra Leone
Bucknell University Press 2021
Content note: This episode contains discussions of violence, including rape and mutilation
Derived from public testimonies at a UN-backed war crimes tribunal in Freetown, Testimony: Found Poems from the Special Court for Sierra Leone (Bucknell University Press, 202) is a remarkable poetry collection, which won the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award (gold, poetry category), aims to breathe new life into the records of Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war, delicately extracting heartbreaking human stories from the morass of legal jargon. By rendering selected trial transcripts in poetic form, Testimony finds a novel way to communicate not only the suffering of Sierra Leone’s people, but also their courage, dignity, and resilience. The use of innovative literary techniques, along with the author's own experience around the Special Court for Sierra Leone, works to share the voices of survivors of this violence across the world. A heartbreaking and ambitious book, Testimony will be of great interest to human rights, legal, and literary scholars alike.
Testimony also includes an introduction that explores how the genre of “found poetry” can serve as a uniquely powerful means through which writers may bear witness to atrocity. This book’s unforgettable excavation and situating of survivor testimonies opens new possibilities for speaking about the unspeakable, and for thinking about the intersections between poetry, human rights, and history.
Dr. Shanee Stepakoff is a psychologist and human rights advocate whose research on the traumatic aftermath of war has appeared in such journals as Peace and Conflict and The International Journal of Transitional Justice. She holds an MFA from The New School and is completing a PhD in English at the University of Rhode Island. Prior to becoming a literary scholar, she was the psychologist for the UN-backed war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone (2005-2007) and a psychologist/trainer for CVT (an NGO that focuses on survivors of politically motivated torture), first in Guinea and later in Jordan.
Dr. Rine Vieth is a researcher studying how the UK Immigration and Asylum Tribunals consider claims of belief, how claims of religious belief are evidenced, and the role of faith communities in asylum-seeker support.