‘You’ve been hacked.” It’s the message no internet user wants to hear. In my case, the message came at the end of February this year from French spiritual writer Didier Rance, who wanted to check a reference on the John Bradburne poetry website. He typed in www.johnbradburnepoems.com, as I’ve done thousands of times over the past decade, but instead of the familiar screen appearing, he found himself being offered extreme weather clothing from Canada Goose.
I checked. He was right. Instead of a galaxy of poems about the Trinity, the Virgin Mary, the birds and beasts of Africa, and, above all, the lepers in the settlement of Mtemwa in Zimbabwe where John worked – and died – in the 1970s, I got an array of parkas, jackets, pants, gloves, mittens and hats. I thought it was a disaster. It had taken me nearly 20 years to edit all of John’s poetry and make it accessible online. And it had disappeared.
Why did the editing take so long? Because John Bradburne is the most prolific poet the English language has ever had. Think of the major poets you’ve read. Wordsworth wrote about 50,000 lines; Shakespeare 80,000. Bradburne wrote nearly 170,000 lines – well over 5,000 poems – an achievement accepted last year by Guinness World Records. The John Bradburne Memorial Society celebrates it as one side of the work of this remarkable man, who refused to leave the lepers he cared for in the middle of the Rhodesian civil war, and was abducted and killed by one of the factions.
Mtemwa has since become a place of pilgrimage, and every September 5 – the anniversary of his death – the settlement, and the nearby hill where John often prayed, is filled with thousands of visitors. Signs of sanctity have steadily grown, faithfully recorded by the society in its newsletters, and a movement for his canonisation is gaining increasing recognition.
A lot is happening. In 2012, Didier Rance published an award-winning biography of John Bradburne in French, called Le Vagabond de Dieu – God’s vagabond. This year, an English translation is being completed. The Memorial Society continues to fund-raise to support the Mtemwa settlement. And there is increasing interest abroad. A group in Italy is planning a translation of some of John’s poems into Italian, and is thinking of a big anniversary event in 2017, possibly at Assisi. More and more people had been going to the poetry website as a consequence. And suddenly it was down.
I got in touch with Canada Goose, but they could do nothing. The hack wasn’t anything to do with them, they said, but a rogue competitor. “Not our problem.” I got in touch with the site’s service-provider, but they couldn’t do anything either. Security was a matter for individual site owners, it seems. “Not our problem.”
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