My last Whisper workshop at the Booth Centre, a remarkable place which offers advice, activities and support to homeless people in Manchester. I’ve been here on Wednesday mornings for the last five weeks, making poems with people. As they take part in the arts activities, I work alongside, writing down the stories they tell me. Sometimes it’s easier for people to talk while their hands are busy with sewing, or pottery.
This week I spend time with S, who wakes up with a poem in his head pretty much every day. He told me that his grandpa was a singer and so he is used to words carrying more than every day meaning, they can also be music, love tokens, or religious texts.
For S, the Psalms from the bible are everyday reading. I’m not a religious person, but I grew up with the Old Testament and the Psalms in my ears, and their subtle rhythm runs through a lot of what I write, even now.
S told me that he often has a phrase running around his head and he’s got to write down, to quieten it. The line that he showed me is the refrain in the poem down below, the crying rivers. As we spoke, of the conversation broadened out to the world he sees around him right now. For him, the pandemic is a biblical plague, a visiting of justice.
I read the poem below to him and he said, “Exodus. It means come forth.” And so that became the title.
As I’m finishing up this blog, I’m sat in the Booth by the piano. The place has been cleaned up ready for tomorrow and there’s a quiet buzz of conversation between two of the volunteers. Someone is whistling and banging a mop bucket. Outside, the rain is droppping in biblical amounts and I wait for my moment to cycle home.
Exodus, come forth First will be last And the last first Whatever is for you Receive it The lonely rivers cry to the sea Wait for me, wait for me Don’t hold onto An argument like it’s yours Let go It has no worth The lonely rivers cry to the sea. I don’t think the world will ever change There is evil, destruction All of King Pharaoh's plagues The lonely rivers cry to the sea Do you remember the first stars in the sky? Remember your first step on the Earth so fair? Say you don’t remember, but you were there. Lucifer will rob you blind Will feed you on death The plague of frogs of locusts Leave them behind Let my people go Let go, it has no worth The lonely rivers cry to the sea Wait for me, wait for me. "S"
I’d like to thank Merida Richards for allowing me to work alongside her pottery session — and for being so encouraging of this collaboration.
The long twitter poem Whisper2meAlone will begin transmission soon; it will include excerpts of the poems and writing from the project as well as songs and hand-drawn emoticons.
The arthur+martha project WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers words and art from people who have experienced homelessness — and the experiences of other vulnerable people in Manchester during lockdown. The project centres on journals of writing, art and song lyrics. The treated photo is by Sue Dean.