I class myself as invincible

Whisper to me alone

WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers experiences of people who have experienced homelessness — and the experiences of many other vulnerable people — in Manchester during lockdown. We’re using journals of writing, art, songs, phone conversations and embroidery. Here one of our Whisperers talks about being transgender and how attitudes have changed during Covid.

Jessica: 

“I class myself as invincible. It’s because I get so much crap every day, being trans. I am just being me, being myself, but they can’t stand it. I’ve been attacked so many times I can’t count. I don’t know why they can’t leave me to live my life, be the person I’ve always wanted to be ever since I was little.

“One thing I’ve noticed during the virus is people are more kind. They’re trying to stay calm, they’re trying to deal with this situation. It’s made them come out of themselves. They are listening to each other much more, trying to figure out what to do, how to survive. I notice these things.

“It’s sad it’s taken the virus to make people more open-minded. I wonder if they’ll stay like that, or they’ll go back to what they were before? The traffic is coming back now, there’s thousands of cars on the roads, maybe everyone will go back to their old ways. Right now I’m not getting so much hassle and violence as I used to. I still can’t go out wearing a dress, I’ll get beaten up. But if I wear women’s jogging stuff, I can go outside and I don’t get too much abuse. Maybe they’re being kinder. Maybe they’re scared of catching the virus. But what comes next?”

WHISPER TO ME ALONE is supported by Arts Council England. Partners include The Booth CentreBack on Track, Bury Art Museum and With One Voice arts and homeless sector global network.

Doorways

Whisper to me alone

Our Covid Journal project WHISPER TO ME ALONE has been up and running a few weeks now. It’s a project that is growing quietly, as people gather ideas for their diaries of words and pictures. Below is the first of the artworks, from Jasmine. A haunting little pencil sketch, it’s an archway that seems to invite us to step in and yet at the same time is a barrier, a secret place.

This project of telephone calls and “one-to-one workshops” is full of fascinating conversations, of insights, openess, and the occasional blind alley. During the calls, I have got a notebook to hand and when it seems important, I scribe down what people say and then read the notes back to them. It’s a way we’ve worked for years, catching words from the air before they disappear. Here, discussing the effects of lockdown, is Anastasia:

We’ve lost so many lives to Covid. It is a catastrophe. But it has also led us to compassion, gratefulness and more humanity. The appreciation of little things that we can’t have right now. Things like hugs. We are missing contact with other people and finding new ways to connect. With each other and with nature. I’ve been looking at flowers, watching the birds.

We’ve actually got time during the lockdown. We have been given time to stop and stare. There are less cars on the road, less pollution. You can see the stars.

Anastasia

WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers experiences of people who have experienced homelessness — and the experiences of other vulnerable people — in Manchester during lockdown, using journals of writing, art and song lyrics and phone conversations. 

This project is supported by Arts Council England. Partners include The Booth CentreBack on Track, Bury Art Museum and With One Voice arts and homeless sector global network.

Writing in a time of lockdown

Necklace of Stars

Today I asked two of our writers to talk about writing poems during the time of lockdown. Has it helped their state of mind, has it hindered? This is what they said:

“I was feeling fragmented, fragile. I was working through that and trying to find strength and determination. So I grabbed onto the writing. I wasn’t aware of it at first, just playing with words and rhymes. And then it became clear to me, I’m speaking to myself and for myself… The writing has changed for me week to week, with my variable moods. Some days I thought: what’s the point? I’m stuck inside, I’m not seeing anyone or going anywhere, I’ve got nothing to say. But when I do get into it, it’s the best game there is. I’ve been swerving between those two states of mind… “

L

“I think it’s help me deal with lockdown. It’s helped me sound out what I’m thinking. I’ve been chasing a little flicker of understanding. Trying to think and digest and let it filter in. Or else you drown in your own thoughts, don’t you? If you’re left alone with them too long.

“And then it’s been great to share the poems and get a reaction, that makes it real, reaching out to other people. It’s turned this period into something creative. I love the sharing of a writers’ group, the talk around the table. But this is different, it’s a brief intensity and then the time to reflect by yourself, to learn yourself…”

M

Today’s blog was written by Philip Davenport, from arthur+martha.

A Necklace of Stars, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service.

The seeds of your thought 

Necklace of Stars

Phil writes:

For years, arthur+martha have run workshops in which a group of people sit around a table to make art and poems together. In truth, these aren’t just workshops, they are also talking shops, they’re about being in one another’s company.

Right now, this is not possible. We have to work at a distance so that we don’t spread the virus. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I ring people and we talk one-to-one, sometimes for a long-ish while. And although I miss the chatty groups, I’m starting to appreciate other qualities of distance working.

One-to-one conversations give people time and space to reflect. To question exactly what it is they’re interested in, how they write about it, to face the things that they are dodging, to appreciate strengths they took for granted.

Below, Margaret’s powerful trio of poems Dandelion time talks about exactly this struggle, to find a pattern in life, compassion and understanding in what can look like chaos. It’s a brave and rather beautiful documentary of the life of the heart. She starts by simply watching the dandelions – these very same dandelions that filled the air when the virus epidemic started. The dandelions become a symbol, they are blown by the wild winds of life and love. They’re also the seed of her daughter’s life. Then in the final section she opens her window to let in whatever life brings along next. This is a heartfelt journey, facing fears and delight equally — and it embraces both.

 

Dandelion time

 

Part I

Invading gardens

littering the roadsides

dandelions wait to tell the time

 

The tic toc of the clock

releasing seed heads,

thoughts that fly

 

It’s bare pincushion head exposed

reveals a Fibonacci spiral

nothing random here.

 

Part II

 

My thoughts take root,

bed down in my house,

the collected chaos of myself

in notebooks and files,

the library of my life.

 

How shall I bring order ?

Unlike the dandelion

my life has been

without a grand design

no Fibonacci sequence.

 

You blow the dandelion to

the tic toc of your own time

letting your seeds of thought fly.

 

I pressed my wild flowers

into heavy books

catalogued on library shelves,

crushing out the colour,

wanting to hold them fast.

I fitted passion into form

hoping to make it last.

Love and marriage

the one fought the other

the other always won.

 

My daughter you are the flowering

of that explosive mix, grown up,

un-afraid to puff your cheeks.

 

Part III

 

Your

seeds fly

through my door

opening windows in my house

as you wait for me to come outside

inviting me to take another chance at life and blow the dandelion clock.

 

Margaret Gosley

 

image1

 

Today’s blog was written by Philip Davenport, arthur+martha. The poem and dandelion photos are by Margaret Gosley.

A Necklace of Stars, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service.

Happy?

Necklace of Stars, Projects

 

How are you coping

As we go through lockdown?

Perhaps you are lonely

Perhaps you are sad

Yet be consoled; this too shall pass.

 

Annie Carter

 

While we have been working on the poems for necklace of stars, the Covid virus has kept everybody shut away in their own little worlds. For some this has been a shelter and a relief, for others a prison. This time alone, or else in small family groups, has forced people to look at themselves and think about who they are. And the question of happiness has come up over and over. When I ring up participants I very often ask how are you doing? And they want to know about me — how is it today?

Questioning happiness, contentment, the striving to find peace, is traditionally the business of poets. And so some of the pieces we’ve gathered for this lullaby project are not lullabies at all, instead they address fear. And the writers look very deeply to see if they can find peace, either in themselves or in the world around them.

And, as is the way of all things, just as peace arrives, it leaves again and we see the world in conflict once more… and the words of lullabies mean more than simply finding sleep, they mean finding harmony between ourselves:

 

Hush-a-bye baby, hush-a-bye

Sleep sweet to my lullaby melody

Dream of your place in the Galaxy

Safe from the chains of old slavery

May your life be filled with sweet harmony

And your fantasy never lack sanity

May you never be plagued by poverty

May you reach for the stars as your destiny…

Hush-a-bye baby, hush-a-bye.

 

Annie Carter

Joan B, embroidered stars

Joan Beadsmore, embroidered stars for Necklace of Stars, quilt. June 2020

 

Today’s blog was written by Philip Davenport, arthur+martha.

A Necklace of Stars, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service.

 

 

Spring Greens

Necklace of Stars

“I’m still tired, but feeling positive now. I really appreciate this, the chance to write the poems. When life has been harsh to deal with, it’s helped.”

(Participant)

One of the things I have witnessed over and over again is that making art, writing poems, stitching embroidery, can help to unpick despair. Nobody really knows why, there are lots of theories. At times making a poem or an artwork is simply a distraction. It takes the mind onto other things, stops those restless thoughts chasing each other and becoming frantic.

Art can also help understanding. Writing a poem gives your thoughts new shape and perhaps allows new answers. An artwork is a representation of the world and connects you to it more deeply. Slowing yourself down to the intricate pace of an embroidery gives you time to meditate and find a richer texture in the whole of life.

“I’m feeling my way forward, using my poems as a guide.”

(Participant)

Making things not only shows the exterior world, it also reflects the inner life and makes it richer, brighter. If you can, take a little time to live with the prose poem below. It’s a celebration of trees, the wonderful, familiar friends that I often don’t give a second glance. But here they’re transformed by the poet’s eyes — into furniture, into children begging for pennies, into a swirling cloak that becomes an old coat, or into old pale bones against a winter sky. As well as trees, all the seasons of human life are in this little poem and so it helps me to appreciate my own. And for the makers of such work it is transforming too…

“I found this to be very useful. More than useful, brilliant in fact.”

(Participant)

 

Spring Greens

 

The Hollies are still wintergreen, come spring, leathery, shiny-tough, reliable as upright chairs in their utility upholstery.

Plum and cherry let the March winds take their snow and ruby blossoms from them, holding out small fingers for their fee, which came in copper verdigris and silver tarnish, well-used coins and promise of paper money for the fall.

Oak begins leafing out from nowhere, fine, fresh, lettuce-like, so young.

Sycamore sings, spreading hand spans which unfold into a summer cloak whose generous swirls conceal old mossy coat.

Beech, whose bones arched stark against the pale, cold, winter sky, now shimmers in the heat, the flesh full, lush, deliciousness.

 

Linda

 

Today’s blog was written by Philip Davenport, arthur+martha.

A Necklace of Stars, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service.

 

All these things whirring

Necklace of Stars, Projects

For some people, lockdown is a blessing and for others it’s a struggle.

On the face of it, we have peace and quiet and an ever-stretching holiday. But underneath those things are nagging worries: fear of infection, fear of unemployment, fear of those around us, fear stoked by the media…

“All these things whirring.” (Participant)

And yet birds are singing, the air is purer than it has been in decades, the roar of traffic and the thunder of aeroplanes has quietened. The timid creatures that we share our world with have started to assert themselves again. Carparks have become wildlife habitats, the woods and moors are a sunshine paradise.

Today my phone calls with participants in the Necklaces of Stars project reflected the strange doubleness of this time. People have thrown themselves into making poems and songs. They have space and quiet to concentrate and so they dig deep, take journeys, into their deeper selves.

 

fine stitching, star, Joan

Detail, embroidered shooting stars, Joan Link, A Necklace of Stars 2020

 

Their poems appear in the Inbox each day. They’re funny, sad, thoughtful, kind-hearted. Some of them have pasted a grin on my face, others touched me beyond words. It’s good work. And they are rightly excited:

“I have never had this feeling before, where I have let the poem take me over. This time I’ve trusted it and jumped in. Let the form take me and learned from it. I used to treat poems like they were a competition to win, a test. I didn’t ever really let go. Now I’ve got many, many ideas, and I want to do them all…” (Participant)

 

“I am so pleased, so very pleased, to have done this, I was unsure at first but I’ve loved it. I had doubts about myself and my work, felt silly and slow. It’s wonderfully reassuring to be told it’s good, to know it’s reached someone else.” (Participant)

Today also brought tears and shakiness from some. The disquiet underneath the quiet is taking its toll. For those who are isolated alone, solitude weighs heavily on the heart. What is life if it isn’t shared? The missing are missed terribly.

 

And so we talk about…

 

Hope to see your face again in the mirror

On reflection let’s hope the sadness is gone

From the dark shadows where hope is fading

Replaced by radiant rainbow beams of hope.

 

Tricia Clough

Joan B star embroidery

Embroidered shooting stars, Joan Link, A Necklace of Stars 2020

Today’s blog was written by Philip Davenport, arthur+martha.

A Necklace of Stars, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service.

King of Flowers

A Book of Ours

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Today we were visited by Professor Jeffrey Robinson from Glasgow University, who came bearing questions – and that of course leads us to question ourselves. What is this stuff we are making…?

A BOOK OF OURS is an in-between thing, constructed of artwork, poetry and music. And yet it is only itself when all of these come together.

The original books of hours in medieval times were also multipurpose. They were used as a text for prayers, a manuscript for singing from, and a spiritual guide that depicted visions of the important saints, angels and devils to dodge or make friends with. Such a book would be left open on an altar for marking out the whole day in churches, abbeys, monasteries, and in palaces. 

Because we have decided to copy the format of the old books of hours, it makes sense that we also have images, words and music in our book. But there are other reasons too.

IMG_9277

Some of the makers are most confident telling their story through words. Others struggle with literacy and are more comfortable representing their lives on a page through images. For others again, it’s the combination of word and image that is crucial, both together. And now we are working with songwriter Matt Hill, the music is yet another means of reaching out…

Combining sound, colour, and verbal description, gives a huge range of expression — and that’s what you need if you’re trying to capture the essence of you. Particularly to describe your inner visions, perhaps when under the influence of substances, or when the emotions that drive your life are waves so colossal that they can only be shown by overloading all systems of communication.

Or simply to inscribe joy, as a flower.

The faces of strange hauntings fill the medieval books of hours and the imagination of the whole medieval world. Call them devils or angels, gargoyles, fairies or bogeymen, they are most definitely around. Perhaps they are forever part of human experience whatever name you give them.  They peep out of the page corners from old manuscripts, they’re in paintings too, and in churches, as carvings or sculptures. These photos that I took in Saint Laurence’s in Ludlow show the carved wooden seats for the choir. There you’ll find mermaids, witches, owls, even the pagan Green man. He peers at you curiously, as if you’re the mystery. And from his mouth comes new growth, a poem written in leaves.

IMG_9261

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sing Lullaby

A Book of Ours

IMG_9427

 

Brother James, Brother James
I am you, I am you
Roof and food and family, roof and food and family
I need you, I need you.

Brother Ladbrokes, bother lad brokes
Stop robbing me, stop robbing me
I have a got an acca, give you a smacka
Then I win, no cheating.

The Frere Jacques Variations

 

We returned to the Booth Centre today for our last big run of workshops on the Book of Ours project.

Over the last year, this blog has documented our slow but steady progress as we’ve made an illuminated manuscript together, a book designed to outlast all our lifetimes. It’s been a dream project for Lois and I, and one that’s brought delight and sometimes shared sadness, as our scribes and artists — many of whom have lived experience of homelessness — make this work.

Several of the most famous medieval illuminated manuscripts contain musical scores. Today we brought music into our workshops for the first time with singer and songwriter Matt Hill, who fitted melodies to some of the poetry from last year — and invites new songwriting.

Singing together can be a joyous thing. It can also be challenging to those of us who don’t have an easy relationship with pitch, following a rhythm or remembering a melody. Added to that is the embarrassment about singing that many people carry from their schooldays. And yet it was by singing a children’s song that we began to open up.

Brother Stephen, Brother Stephen / Where are you, where are you? Hair like copper wires, hair like copper wires / Where are you? Your eyes were blue… Matt delicately built the confidence of the group, bringing everyone who wanted to join us into the ring of music and charming songs from us — some moving, some humorous but all of them made together, out of our own voices. One instrument made of many people.

Esme, Esme, Esme, Esme
I love you, I love you.
You are my sister, you are my sister
You my all, you my all.

Love and peace, love and peace
Here to stay, here to stay
Everybody’s laughter and forever after
God I pray, here to stay.

Matt made it look easy but there’s a lot juggling required to bring together a group of people with complex needs, energies, backgrounds, states of intoxication, states of mental health.

So we played music — and it felt like play, not work. Songs flowed, rapidly finding their form. For instance, The Frère Jacques Variations. From being a distant childhood memory, it refocused into a song about memory, connection, and a picture of our city now, the lives it contains and the earth of Manchester itself.

In the afternoon the session quietened as they often do, became more meditative, more inward. Still the songs came, but this time more as individual statements. One of the most powerful lyrics was a simple, heartfelt goodbye to someone. It was written with tears as accompaniment this time, rather than Matt’s guitar. After it was done, the writer looked me full in the face for the first time that day and said. “I feel lighter.” If nothing else had happened that day, it would’ve been worth being there, for that moment alone.

Sister City, Sister City
Are you sleeping, are you sleeping?
Underneath the concrete, underneath the concrete
Is the earth, is the earth.

Brother-sister, brother-sister
We need you, you need us
To get us through this, to get us through this
You need us, we need you.

The Frere Jacques Variations
With contributions from James, Keith, Lawrence, Flora, Debbie, Gary and Mo

She of a golden heart

A Book of Ours

The last session for now at Back on Track, and it’s sad to go. The group bonded together and launched themselves into making their mark on the big blank pages of A BOOK OF OURS. Over the last six weeks they have found ways to inscribe their identity, the fingerprint of themselves, using poetry, art, calligraphy, colour, design. Their work has been subtle and beautiful. Often it has been bravely revealing too. As we say goodbye to them there is a wrench because it feels like there is still so much more to be said, so much further to go with these artist-writers.

During the course of our three hour session, pages are inscribed, some illuminated with colours so vivid that they conjure a different world and way of seeing. Lawrence has devised a wonderfully elegant page for his description of his “favourite sin”, greed. The poem that it contains celebrates greed in a manner that would make Mrs Thatcher proud, and then halfway through the whole thing is reversed and the greedy “I” becomes the need of us — and “us” is homeless, penniless.

Meanwhile Chris has evoked a spell for meeting your own Death face to face, using an old Icelandic line. The piece is written in runes just the way it would’ve been hundreds of years ago. It is an ancient text in style and yet it also challenges the very idea of illuminated manuscripts, which vikings were famous for burning.

M has echoed the warmth of the sun in his carefully chosen and inscribed line from the Office of the Dead. This is a long poem about dying, but also about new beginnings and his page contains the green of new growth.

Finally Shannon has celebrated her mother in a page that glows with gold and with affection. Truly it is infused with love for Clarissa, she of a golden heart.

There’s always a lot of work going on behind the scenes in these workshops. Lois and I will have planned for it go in many direction, following people’s mood. Then on the day, alongside us are the volunteers, who gently support, encourage, lend their specialist skills and observe. Today, for instance, Gary is working on the subtle details around a capital letter. It’s a Miniaturists’ heaven he’s creating, a tiny nighttime planet hanging on a letter, with attendant owls. And as we work, Jess is carefully observing the session, making notes on the interactions, on the tiny moments of connection and disconnect that join us all together.