The Umpire of Heaven

A Book of Ours, poetry

Richard writes about a day in heaven, for our project A BOOK OF OURS. His heaven is simply a day spent with his father, watching cricket on the TV – and yet the affection with which he describes this day makes it so much more than “ordinary”…

Umpire

Sat there, my dad watching telly
His favourite commentator
Reporting the cricket. And dad
Big smirk on his face
Engrossed in the match
But he wasn’t the only one —

We were all there
And England was back in the game.
One of the boys hit it for 6
You can tell by the sound of the 
Ball on the bat
It was going for 6
A perfect moment. Heaven.

My dad doing the hand-signals
Signal for 6, signal for 4
Signals for “Out”, for “Wide”
In cricket, he knows it all.
And he’s got a sense of humour
Takes the mickey out of me, I tell him:
“One day you’ll talk sense.”

Football I’ve studied 20 years.
Learned — big teams are always beatable
If you play like a team without fear.
Get knocked down, make your comeback
Everyone’s got to struggle. Me, I’ve
Had my dips and in the biggest 
I lost everything. It caused me to rediscover 
Myself. My progress now is more and more —

And my dad is having a cuppa, eating sandwiches 
Sat there talking cricket, he’s got me intrigued.
Biggest smile on my face —
A family outing round the telly.

Richard

People who have experienced homelessness, and other vulnerable people, have made a medieval-style illuminated manuscript A BOOK OF OURS describing their lives, hopes and dreams in a 2-year project in Manchester, which had its public debut at Bury Art Museum in May and runs until July 2021.

This arthur+martha project took place at the Booth Centre, Back on Track and other support centres in Manchester, along with virtual workshops with (Invisible) Manchester and Inspiring Change Manchester. Much of this work has been inscribed into the illuminated manuscript, and many extra pieces are to be found here on our blog. The book pages and songs were made collaboratively by people with lived experience of homelessness and other vulnerable people 2019-21.

Supported by Heritage Lottery Fund

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.

Plague dreams

Necklace of Stars, poetry

As part of our Necklace of Stars project, we’ve invited participants to reflect on the world around them during the pandemic, sharing experiences of the “new normal”, including the subtle echoes in the parallel world of dreams. Here, writer Lorna Dexter discusses writing her dreams during the pandemic. Below is her prose poem (The Reconnaissance Airship), followed by digging up thistles. The poems “confront my old childhood fears of the all-seeing, all-knowing, judgmental, punishing God of my Fundamentalist Christian upbringing – fears triggered again by the Coronavirus ‘plague’.”

Lorna:

Over the years I have tried to turn some of my night-time dreams into poems, and Philip had suggested that I make a small collection of these. Maybe as a result of this encouragement, I found myself actually dreaming of writing and remembering what I had written when I woke up, crossing the boundary between waking and dreaming, between conscious and unconscious writing. Both these poems, which came within two days of each other at the start of this year, emerged in this way.

(The Reconnaissance Airship)

She was standing in the forest when the long – very long – grey, very dark grey
 airship floated silently overhead. She stood stock-still, in case there were
 movement sensors behind those mean little windows and portholes, glad she
 was wearing green. It took a long time to pass overhead, only just above the tree
 tops, and when it was gone she still didn’t move. She was thinking what she had
 in the house to drink, if this was the start of an occupation: a carton of soya
 milk, some fruit juices … Later, down in town to stock up, she found herself
 taking a photo of herself at a crossroads, looking up at the signpost with its
 street name boards – a selfie, with the identifying evidence of where she lived
 normally, where she was ‘last seen’ – just in case she ‘disappeared’ and her
 phone was the only evidence of where she lived before – before what? – before
 whatever that huge reconnaissance vehicle signified...

digging up thistles

 I walked past a familiar field today –
 a rough piece, a wedge of grass
 at the valley’s rim, fit only for grazing
 half a dozen sheep, a horse or two –

 in it, a group of men, all ages, dotted about,
 bent double, digging holes, some very deep.
 The farmer and his sons stand and wave,
 acknowledge me – and all look up,

 some long-bearded, long-gowned,
 from the local monastery, used to hard work,
 some local lads in run-down fashion gear,
 old codger neighbours in rough working clothes

 all eradicating thistles by the root, organically –
 a communal act of friendship, a joint effort
 to rid this plot, protect the whole valley
 from this pernicious weed. I walk on –

 at the field’s edge a sycamore sapling
 is opening out its new bronze leaves.

digging up thistles came ready-written, as it were. I dreamt I was writing it, pen in hand, laid out exactly like this, line for line, word for word. When I woke I thought I might not remember the words, but they came back as soon as I actually started to write them down, despite an interruption to go to the loo! Similarly with a third poem Starting the Novel, though in this case it was in prose, and I knew I was ‘starting a novel’ – not something I have ever planned to do. Both dreams seem to refer, in their different ways, to the struggle I have had in the last couple of years to confront my old childhood fears of the all-seeing, all-knowing, judgmental, punishing God of my Fundamentalist Christian upbringing – fears triggered again by the Coronavirus ‘plague’, part of the biblical prophecy of the ‘end-times’ for a wicked world – stories which I now believe to be ‘pernicious myths’, rather as thistles are pernicious weeds.

Lorna Dexter

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. Lorna Dexter’s dreamed poems chime with the unsettling, haunted times. The photo is by Booth Centre volunteer Sue Dean.

(Invisible) Manchester: seeing homelessness in new ways

poetry, Whisper to me alone

Invisible (Manchester) is a​ social enterprise​ that trains people affected by ​homelessness ​to become walking tour guides of Manchester. You might recently have seen their new electronic billboard project around Manchester.

“It is a community-led project which uses the city as our gallery space. What better way to address the “invisible” than making it ​visible? ​Danny, Laura and Andy, our main guides, have worked alongside the artist, John Hewitt (an illustrator who has focused on issues surrounding homelessness) to build a bridge between image and words, aiming to raise awareness of homelessness…”

The photo sequence features two lines from a poem by tour guide Danny Collins, alongside one of John Hewitt’s many drawings. Danny was a key contributor to the arthur+martha project The Homeless Library and is now a regular guide for Invisible (Manchester). His tour is a poetic exploration that transports you to the flip side of Manchester and into his own experience of homelessness. Each stop is marked with a poignant poetry piece from his time on the streets. Danny is currently working on a new book of poetry and has contributed to the arthur+martha Whisper To Me Alone pandemic project with his extraordinary lyric for the song SAME OLD SUN.

Invisible (Manchester) breaks down negative stereotypes surrounding homelessness while also providing people who have been homeless with transferable skills to expand their horizons. Visit the ​website​ for more information, or to book a tour. (Online tours currently offered.)

A winter prescription: two poems by Jaye

Necklace of Stars, poetry
Dreaming the Dream

I felt the sun beating down
As I lay on the Bondi Beach
Felt the breeze caressing me 
As I basked in the sultry heat.

I adjusted my bikini and
Pinned up my golden hair
I heard the chink of glasses
A Campari perhaps for me?

Then my carer gently said,
"Here's a cup of tea."
And I awoke to a wintery day
In the reality of the UK.


A Medical Consultation

"A gammy leg, a gooey eye
Your hair is falling out?
So what's the best that can be done
For someone just like you?
I know, I'll send you to the hardware shop
To buy some Superglue."


Jaye

These two poems by Jaye are designed to put a smile on the face, during a hard winter.

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.