Star Travellers

Necklace of Stars, poetry

From Jackie, one of the writers on the Necklace of Stars project, a journey deep into the sky and into the deep past.

Oh how the stars have shaped our lives
We gaze upon history.
See -

Great ancient cultures were born 
Of their worship
Of celestial ancestors

Rediscovered over generations
To be themselves revered as epic
Monuments of lost civilisations.

We gaze upon the same 
Wondrous interstellar light show 
As did the 

Pharaohs, Aztecs, Maya; we gaze upon history
As we strive to join our brethren
The sky gods.

Jackie

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC 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 – post and phone conversations. Alongside writing and embroidery themed around childhood lullabies, we invite written responses to the pandemic, so that people can share their experiences as an antidote to lockdown loneliness.

Starshine

Necklace of Stars, poetry

From TS, one of the writers on the Necklace of Stars project, an imagining of who wears the necklace. And who is watching.

A necklace of stars sparkles, 
Gracefully around the neck  
Of this cosmological goddess 
Holding her supreme position 
In the firmament; she reigns 
Over her subjects
As they move, almost indiscernibly 
Across the skies.  

The goddess moves her elegant hand 
Across the glittering jewels 
Adorning her throat 
Realigning them to create 
The most favourable conditions 
For earthly followers who scrutinise 
Every change and charm.
Step by step, she strokes each precious piece 
Until the ultimate arrangement arrives.

TS

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC 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 – post and phone conversations. Alongside writing and embroidery themed around childhood lullabies, we invite written responses to the pandemic, so that people can share their experiences as an antidote to lockdown loneliness.

Visions of angels

A Book of Ours, poetry

A BOOK OF OURS is an illuminated manuscript which gathers significant events, dates, people, celebrations and memorials, all in one book, giving a wide cross-section of hugely individual lives. Our hope is that by doing this we reassert the identity and the individuality of people who are sometimes dismissed as “homeless” when they are so much more.

Phil writes:

A BOOK OF OURS is in its final stages and we’ve been gathering a flurry of work to add to the project. Most recently, angels have arrived — these ones via their earthly emissaries the Inspiring Change Manchester art group, who have also made work for Whisper To Me Alone. As ever, the ICM afternoon was a delight, full of companionship and bustle and jokiness. Dylan Gwilym, who runs the group, creates an atmosphere of playful kindness for people to experiment safely within. Several people in the group have some experience of homelessness and this was discussed as we spent time together; included in this blog is a group poem constructed by me out of the conversation that day…

Angel artworks by the ICM art group. Top and bottom images by Becky Boo. Artworks in first panel (from top left to bottom right) by TN, Anonymous, Dee, GL and JP. Artworks paired in second panel by Dylan Gwilym and Lily Ozane.

Just like heaven

I’m good
At least I think I am. 
Thinking of angels 
Halos, I think of and
Doughnuts and rubber rings 

Think of people who’ve passed 
People passing you when you’re homeless 
Without giving
The time of day.

Seen a spirit
When I was a kid
When the window was open
A priest with no head
No one believed me
When I was out on the streets
People went past me, unseen 
Like you’re invisible.

Never seen
Spirits after that
But I feel them all the time

Me...I live in a theme park just like heaven, an angel
Tall and regal looking down.
It’s good to share trouble not hold it:
Swift-flying angel
Just let your imagination... go

Group poem ICM Art Group March 2021

Several organisations work together to support the art group:

Inspiring Change Manchester is a Lottery Funded Learning Programme. We work with people experiencing Multiple Disadvantages, who face barriers to accessing support and may be isolated within society. We follow a No Wrong Door approach, supporting people through a Multi-Agency Partnership that strives to be Asset Focused, Psychologically Informed and Person Centred. We are working to create System Change to tackle inequalities and improve people’s experiences in accessing the support they need.

Dylan Gwylim represented Self Help Services who are the partner providing the mental health element of the ICM project https://www.selfhelpservices.org.uk/

The group meets at Back on Track www.backontrackmanchester.org.uk Several Back on Track learners have been involved with various stages of A BOOK OF OURS.

Angel artwork by Becky Boo

For reading on clear, starry Spring nights

Necklace of Stars, poetry
Herewith, for reading on clear, starry Spring nights. Full of hope as we come out of lockdown -- two poems from AOS:

A necklace of stars,
Interspersed with dreams,
punctuated with memories
of beautiful themes.

Moments to treasure,
A joy to recall
Filling my life with pleasure, 
A sense of peace overall.

Gathering these  fragments
A delicate task,
Storing them  carefully
Seems a lot to ask,

But the happiness they bring
As I turn to reflect,
Give  me   Moments so beautiful
Life seems  quite  perfect.

AOS.

And next is a “simple thank you”, dedicated here to a son – but for everyone who helps us get through difficult times.

I need to thank you for being
my son,
I need to thank you for the things
you have done,
Taking time to talk when my spirit
is low,
means more to me than you will
ever know.

Thank you for the love you have
given without measure,
for this is a love only a mother
can treasure.

Thank you for all the  help and care,
Thank you for always being there.

AOS

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC 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 – post and phone conversations. Alongside writing and embroidery themed around childhood lullabies, we invite written responses to the pandemic, so that people can share their experiences as an antidote to lockdown loneliness.

Between the trees

Necklace of Stars, poetry

Raindrops hang like tears

from the solitary tree

outside my window.   

                                  

Its bare cold branches

heavy with the falling rain.

It weeps for the world.

A blackbird perches

on the drab, grey leafless branch

And sings its heart out.

The gentle snowdrops,

Their innocent heads held high,

Swaying in the breeze.

Petals like teardrops

hang down, clustered together,

a pure, white, delicate gown.

Their tender green stems

Stand proud, they do not falter,

Defying the wind.

Day is almost done.

Between the trees, soft lights shine.

The world looks softer.

Anne

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC 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 – post and phone conversations. Alongside writing and embroidery themed around childhood lullabies, we invite written responses to the pandemic, so that people can share their experiences as an antidote to lockdown loneliness. Here, Anne’s haiku sequence tells a story, moving from a dark mood towards the light — as the day itself travels in the opposite direction.

The song of twilight

Necklace of Stars, poetry

Three poems that sing, by Necklace of Stars writer Paula Elizabeth Tate:

Skylark 


Oh such pleasure from your songs
Listening to your silver tongues
Let me ride upon your wings
Hearing all the joys you bring.


Or I shall float as a cloud
Side-by-side with you reside?
For all the treasures of the world
Do not compare to thee, as none has thy sweet harmony.


And I shall polish stars at night
The moon will beam with sheer delight
But only when the skylark sings
Dancing round a million springs, for my heart’s a-flutter, a sky of wings.


Paula Elizabeth Tate


——

After Shelley

"We look before and after
And pine for what is not
Our sincerest laughter 
With some pain is fraught
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought."


Yet on we strive with songs of love
Hoping that one’s soul be reached
Never sure what would inspire
Knowing only our own desire
Until we hear that voice from thee, then all our dreams lie — silently.


Paula Elizabeth Tate


——

The Song of Twilight


The distant calls enchanted
As birds sang from a tree
No tender words were needed
They were in the melody.


Joined by sudden ripples
From the singing brook
In that fleeting moment
In that fleeting look.


The breeze was also humming
In a gentle way
For now’s the time for twilight,
The closing of the day.


As soft grey shades of evening
Make silver threads on leaves
Twirling to the music
The flurried dance of trees.


I stopped to search and listen
Some precious time I took
In that fleeting moment
In that fleeting look. 


Paula Elizabeth Tate

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC 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 – post and phone conversations. Alongside writing and embroidery themed around childhood lullabies, we invite written responses to the pandemic, so that people can share their experiences as an antidote to lockdown loneliness. Paula Elizabeth Tate’s poems are chock-full of rhythm and melody. Whether she’s taken flight with a skylark, in mid-conversation with the ghost of PB Shelley, or listening to the sounds of evening, she is a poet whose words sing.

The Good, the Bad and Covid

Necklace of Stars

Two Necklace of Stars writers share their thoughts on the pandemic.

First Jo:

The Good, the Bad and Covid

Strangers crossing the road to avoid passing me by. Social etiquette changed, no shaking hands or hugging and no standing next to someone you do not know. Throughout the world our perceptions have changed. The old normal is no longer relevant and new normal is here. It is one year now since the world has lived with Covid.

While I watch the news, questions arise in my head. Why were the Government slow to act?  Why too late in their actions ordering PPE?  Why no border controls for 12 months?  Why did they not follow medical evidence in February?  Why no strategy, or half-baked at best?  Why no explicit target on how to drive the virus out? No explanation on the failure in Track and Trace and the lack of disclosure or suppression of data. Scientists not challenging Government proposals when evidence suggests action needs taking immediately. U-turns in policies and non-action causes me to think the mistakes made amount to a state failure of mismanagement. My exasperation grows and a deep mistrust  surfaces within me.

But the Vaccine roll-out is a success.  The lockdowns caused by Covid gave me time to hope, to dream, to create and have time to act on my thoughts.  It gave me the space to finish tasks that needed completing, to breath fresh air and connect with nature.  I can pursue my hobbies cherish my family and friends.  I learnt of the caring and kindness of neighbours.  It allowed my imagination to wander to put my thoughts to paper and most all realise through the difficulties of 2020 — the human spirit is alive and well.

And now Lynn Ezea, and the summers ahead:

How have things changed? Trust has changed, because more is hanging on it. Some people can be trusted more than others. Some family members will stay safe within their bubble, some won’t — or can’t. For some people, the NHS is heroic, for others who couldn’t attend the death of relatives, they’ve lost trust in it. And what about trust in politicians? The politicians waited last year, trying to leave the difficult decisions ’til this year. A bigger lockdown could’ve happened a year ago. We have a Prime Minister who takes his time, but time is life. So many people have died in the hospitals. I’d be surprised if Covid has gone this year, what with the variants and the politicians.

My advice is to fill your mind with other things. Reading, writing, radio, TV. Go out if you can. People are dreaming of holidays, but that can’t be right now. The only thing you can possibly say is — it won’t last forever. Have hope – and look forward to the summers ahead…

Photo by Sue Dean

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC 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 – post and phone conversations. Alongside writing and embroidery themed around childhood lullabies, we invite written responses to the pandemic, so that people can share their experiences as an antidote to lockdown loneliness. The photos are by volunteer Sue Dean.

Writing in Solitary

Necklace of Stars


Necklace of Stars writer Tony Shelton on writing and healing:

When my wife died after 50 years of marriage and five years of terminal decline, I resolved to rebuild my life. I moved, I joined, I volunteered, I explored, and I made new friends. I also made an effort to keep in touch with old ones and with distant family members. Then a news report emerged about a virus outbreak in an obscure city in China and the world changed. Looking back, I have always written, from student days onward and over the years I have tried short stories, even a novel, and poetry. For some years, I even wrote (amateur) music reviews and a few articles (some satirical) for professional journals. I enrolled for creative writing courses. I have researched and written about local history. In total, I have been paid about £150 for my efforts.


But now, in the eleventh month of being locked down and isolated and with almost all my other activities suspended, I have almost become a full- time writer. I sometimes used to imagine how I would cope with being imprisoned: I would ask for pen and paper and write, write, write. Now I am shut up, shut off, I am doing just that. Almost as soon as I have had breakfast, I open up the laptop and write. I scribble in a notebook, sometimes in the early hours of the morning, and ideas go in and around my head. On some days I write for 4-5 hours or more.


My writing is varied. I keep a diary of my experience under the Covid regime (now nearly 200,000 words long). I write emails, texts and WhatsApp messages to friends, new and old, both nearby and distant. I keep in touch with distant family members in the same way. And, to one old friend in the West Country, who doesn’t use email, I write and post letters. I have contributed to a University dream survey. I sometimes send in pieces to a creative writing group in Cumbria which I used to belong to. I have entered one or two competitions with no success. I also write very practical stuff as secretary and ‘scribe’ of a local charity, drafting policies and compiling an archive.


And thanks to the guidance of arthur+martha’s Necklace of Stars project, I have compiled a series of pieces on my childhood memories, some of the most rewarding writing of all.


I’ll not turn anything down if it gives me a chance to write. But I can’t write if no one is going to read it – that would be like a stand-up comic performing to an empty hall. But if a piece of writing is useful or that people might get something out of it, that is rewarding. I
like the idea of being a journeyman writer – able to turn my hand to almost anything. Writing is about communicating and is some compensation for not being able to meet and talking in a café or pub, visit people at home or entertain visitors. Writing gives me
challenges, it keeps my brain working, keeps me focussed, stops me thinking and brooding too much and passes the time like nothing else. At the moment, I have no idea what I would do without it…


Tony Shelton
February, 2021

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC 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 – post and phone conversations.

Closing the Covid chapter

A Book of Ours

In September 2020 The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded arthur+martha emergency funding for running socially-distanced workshops, phone calls and online activities working with people who’ve experienced homelessness and vulnerable people in Manchester. This funding was for our project Quilt of Leaves, making the illuminated manuscript A BOOK OF OURS. The workshops took place throughout autumn-winter 2020, developing pages, poems and songs for a Covid Chapter in the illuminated manuscript.

A paper Covid virus finds its way into the illuminated manuscript

Alongside work on the manuscript, we developed poems/lyrics and a song sequence, describing participants’ experiences during the pandemic. Songwriter Matt Hill and Calligrapher Stephen Raw were a vital part of the team during this time, as was our volunteer Christine Johnson and the Booth Centre volunteer Sue Dean, both of whom contributed hugely.

Here is Christine, writing for our project diary to describe the tone of one of the last sessions, along with workshop photos by Sue. The theme of the session was ‘Heaven’ — whatever that might mean for each individual in the room. Christine’s description of a conversation in one of the workshops give a sense of the uncertainty and yet the power of many creative encounters at the Booth Centre:

“I asked him what was heaven to him, what did it mean to him. He said it didn’t mean anything to him, so I asked what made him feel good, or peaceful, or safe. He said Truth, so I encouraged him to write truth down. Why does truth make you feel good? Because it is/or I feel powerful. He wrote that down. It appeared that he felt more connected with the question now and seemed to enjoy this. He was however distracted by his phone in the midst of it, and did get up from his seat shortly after.

“I wondered whether this was simply the case or did I crowd his space a bit? I think though, that there was a bit more connection between us than earlier at the break when I asked him how was he finding the session? “Good”. End of conversation!

“For me, these sessions are about finding the feeling, which is the heart of connection. Beyond the mind, beyond words, excavating through the superficial layers, as far as someone is willing to go. And the sensitivity and respect to ask open questions, not pushing or controlling according to one’s own opinions or agenda. Letting go of a desired outcome and accepting and enjoying the unique results.

“What makes a person feel connected, and to what – to ourself? To ‘God’?, to another human being, to life, to our own experience of life? Each question invites you deeper.

“On the way home on the tram I was thinking about truth, or Truth with a capital T. What is Truth? Is it subjective or is there a single truth? What are other people’s relationship with the word truth? Political truth, personal truth. Over the years our life experiences, thoughts, opinions, beliefs and the peers we associate with, change. What was once true may no longer be true for us. Our educational, religious and political institutions shape us, condition us. So, what is Truth? Is it fluid, and if so, then is that really truth?

“Is there an ultimate truth? An unchanging truth ? If there is, what is that for you…?”

The BOOK OF CHANGES project is funded by the Heritage Lottery’s Emergency Fund, supporting homeless and vulnerable people to participate in making the arthur+martha illuminated manuscript BOOK OF OURS. This project is partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.

Hearing WHISPERS

Whisper to me alone

Whisper to me alone is a song and poem cycle made collaboratively during the pandemic with people who’ve experienced homelessness and with vulnerable people. Songwriter Matt Hill and Phil Davenport made many hours of phone calls with participants, gradually piecing together this material. Here, Matt writes about the experience:

Despite the limitations under lockdown this has been a project I’m really proud of. I worked over the phone with the writers, gathering their input and recording their voices. You will hear some of those voices in the finished recordings. I have come to know these voices so well and yet we’ve never met face to face.

The recordings were done at home, directly into phones, and down phone-lines. Although it wasn’t the best quality it captures the sense of isolation we were all feeling as we tried to find connection over the phone. There are other sounds here too, electronic sounds of dial tones and beeps merged with the sounds of bird song, from that remarkable period in early lockdown when the traffic stopped and the birds returned to the city.

For a project born in an urban cityscape, nature and birds are ever present in this material. We hear of the arrival of seagulls into Manchester and the mysterious disappearance of the pigeons. The reality of lives affected by homelessness and mental health challenges comes through. In times of trouble we all find our own ways to cope. Some of our writers found comfort in childhood or times of family gatherings and community.

As I struggled with my own mental health during lockdown I was able to find a strong personal connection to these songs. This song cycle give us glimpses of other lives but there is universal truth here, as we all try to adapt and shift to this new reality. Even though these are not the stories of my life, there is much here we can all find connection with. You can stream the songs on Bandcamp here.

Cover of forthcoming CD, designed by “SPD”

#WhisperToMeAlone is a cycle of pandemic poems and songs, which give tiny glimpses of homeless and vulnerable lives, in rooms, on streets, isolated in hotels… The project was devised and directed by Phil Davenport who worked with songwriter Matt Hill in collaboration with participants in Manchester. WHISPER was funded by Arts Council England and partnered with The Booth Centre and Back on Track in Manchester. Contributors include members of the Inspiring Change Manchester group, associated with SHELTER, and MASH (a charity providing non-judgemental services to women working in the sex industry). Visual tweets for the twitter stream were designed by the poets Tom Jenks and Nathan Williams. A CD is coming soon...