Necklace of Stars participant Pam describes the story of her poem Sweet Space — and the positive impact of writing poems during lockdown:
The Milky Way tastes of whizz bangs and pops.
Flying saucers trail streams of sherbet.
We ape cocktail sophisticates, posing
red-dipped tips of sweet cigarettes,
aimed skyward into
all sorts dreams and liquorice night.
The universe spangles with sweetness,
a kali rainbow poured into twisted
paper cones for wet finger dips.
We are freewheeling space cowgirls, licking
the chocolate edges off our wagon wheels,
dib dabbing fingers in the sherbert fountain,
bite a galaxy of hopes and dreams out of this sugar mountain.
Home safe in Grandma’s warmlit kitchen,
Grandad shows us how to lift the dumpling out of our stew,
a craggy meteor rolling in a puddle of treacle.
How have I felt about the Necklace of Stars project during lockdown? A friend told me about this project combining poetry and embroidery – two of my favourite things! I was thrilled when I found there would be space for me to join. I already write and belong to an informal poetry group as well as doing a class once a fortnight. But my class had moved to Zoom and my poetry group were trying to communicate by email, which was nothing like as much fun. Every one of us wrote a Lockdown poem that month.
But then Lockdown went on. I went from being a busy, sociable, active member of my community to being a shielded ‘old person’. I became an old person, I couldn’t even do my own shopping. There was no one to talk to – and when we did meet out dog walking, once we had checked everyone was ok, there wasn’t much else to say. We were all in the same boat, nothing was happening.
So it was lovely to meet an interesting, delightful new person in Philip (even if only via the phone). It was fun to be given interesting and challenging creative tasks to do – fun being in very short supply in Lockdown. I started with a list of 8 random word-pairings and fitting them into a poem was an enjoyable word puzzle. Then I did another puzzle, the HAPPY acrostic. I filled my notebook with word lists and scribblings. It was so encouraging to talk to Philip and get a positive responsive to the poems and share a mutual enjoyment of wordplay. I’m not short of entertainment, but the tone of life was very flat so the weekly conversations were something to look forward to. It was very enlivening having something to report – when every day was so much like another – and someone to report it to.
At first I wasn’t much taken with the Milky Way idea of a poem – to be honest, neither Milky Way (too sickly) nor Mars Bar (no crunch) are sweets I enjoy and they weren’t around when I was a young child so I have no emotional attachment to them, although I do still fall for a Galaxy now and then.
I did a little bit of freewriting, trying to find a way in to the poem, then spent a whole week thinking back to my small childhood (under 10) and quickly went back in memory to the corner shop my grandma and then my aunt ran in Denholme in Yorkshire. My father was in the army and we were stationed in Germany and Malaya (as it was then) so my memories of my grandparents are few but intense. I have vivid memories of the shop – dark and full of smells from the bacon slicer and everything else from candles to shoe polish. I wasn’t allowed in when it was open, but could wander in behind the counter from the back kitchen when it was closed and the blinds were down. I got such a telling off when I tried to be helpful and polished the rank of wonderful brass weights for the scales. It was explained to me quite forcefully that I could have rubbed off the brass and got my Auntie Gladys thrown in jail for giving short measure!
Grandad in the back kitchen sitting with us and showing my brother and me how to take the dumpling
out of our stew, put it on a side plate and then pour golden syrup (which he called treacle) over it and have it for pudding – a strange, only-Grandad activity like drinking Black Beer, keeping pigeons and playing snooker. We always left the shop with a good selection of sweets and I did love kali and sherbert. We both faked being grown ups with sweet cigarettes, little cylinders of sugar paste with a red tip.
Wagon Wheels came a bit later, when we lived in Manchester and an ice cream van came every Sunday in summer into our little cul-de-sac and the whole streetful of kids would dash out and queue up. The Corona pop man came as well, but Dandelion and Burdock are much more earthbound delights.
Pam Butler, writing about the Necklace of Stars project, summer 2020
A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – phone conversations and post.