Star-sent Lullaby

Necklace of Stars, poetry
 The star exploded in a distant galaxy
 Expanding in a sphere of radiant power,
 Propelling waves of light through space and time
 And turning their momentum into song.
 They saw the evolution of our Earth,
 And cast their light on our dark history;
 They led a strange procession into Bethlehem
 And soothed a saviour child to smiling slumber.

 And still their star-song shields our sleeping children
 From our history, which enslaves us from our birth.
 It leads us through the myriad stars of heaven
 To the birth pangs of the light that brought us life;
 Leading all things to their beginning,
 Transforming nightmares into future dreams.

Richard

Author’s note:

The starting point for this sonnet is the science linking time and distance. The stars are so distant that we see them not as they are now but as they were when their light first began to travel to us billions of years ago.
The song of the travelling light is their radio waves, the reference to Bethlehem imagines the star’s light arriving at the time of the Nativity. As a Church of England Reader, I had the privilege of preaching at the Midnight
Mass one Christmas Eve. John’s Gospel tells us that when we see the infant Jesus, we are looking at the Word of God at beginning of Creation. In the second part of the poem we return to the beginning by looking back into the night sky.

As a teacher of Music and English I have been strongly influenced by rhythm and sound. Theology and Philosophy are key influences. Poetry is important to me.  My own poetry follows free forms, or uses the Sonnet, which forces me to be concise. Being a shielded lockdown person has given me time to explore my interests. When I retired from teaching – because of Parkinson’s disease – I joined a creative writing course in North East Derbyshire adult education service.  I am grateful for the opportunity the Necklace of Stars project offers to explore my work more deeply.

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.

Hope, a reflection

Necklace of Stars, poetry
Hope to see your face again in the mirror
On reflection, let's hope sadness is gone
From the dark shadows where hope is fading
Replaced by radiant rainbow beams of hope

Tricia Clough

This poem by Tricia Clough has been posted once before, but today we want to draw attention to it again and send our kindest thoughts to Tricia – from all the necklace-makers.

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.

The image used is an artwork from our Here Comes the Sun quilt, the “daytime sister” quilt to A Necklace of Stars, which has been created by Lois with a widely-diverse group of makers, including homeless and vulnerable people and international contributors.

A Poetry Bubble, Pt 2

Necklace of Stars, poetry

Necklace of Stars participant Gill Ormond writes (below) about the experience of making visual poems, themed on the night sky. Gill has combined her art skills with poems that are part-image. In part 1 of her blog account, last week, she described writing her own poem and translating it into images. Here, she has remade two poems by the Scottish poet/artist Ian Hamilton Finlay in her own style, using loose hand-drawn letters and celebrating the fuzzy precision of pencils. Gill has moved Finlay’s crisp, clear graphics into a mystery space of haze and cobwebby lettering…

Gill Ormond homage to Sea Poppy by Ian Hamilton Finlay

Gill’s Project timeline

Week1 – Challenge – Go look at the stars and write, without looking at the paper, what they evoke in me.
Result – panic. That week no stars showed. Think creatively. Use their non-show to get my thoughts on paper. A poem emerged!
Week 2 –  Challenge – Fold and cut the written words in two. Move the lines up and down and see what emerges. 
Result –  as if by magic , a poem which distilled down with clarity to the heart of the experience.
Week3 – Move away from the typed words and draw them.
Result – illustrated poem with shooting stars and galaxies. With thanks to my Sister who coincidentally sent me her handmade star that I used as the basis for one of my illustrations.
Week 4 – Task Part 1 “Is it possible to imply starry sky without illustrating by stars?” / Task Part 2 – “Put your own take on visual poems by Ian Hamilton Finlay.” 
Result – here are my offerings…

Gill Ormond homage to Star/Steer by Ian Hamilton Finlay

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.

A Poetry Bubble, Pt 1

Necklace of Stars, poetry

Necklace of Stars participant Gill Ormond writes about the experience of making her visual poem Starsperience:

The air is light
 Bright on my skin
 The starsperience won't show
 The air is frisky
 My life shines
 Yet I stay huddled and small.

“This “Poetry Bubble” (appropriate for the times) of 1:1 phone tuition has allowed me to overcome fears that I would not meet the standard of other people’s work, of failure, of embarassing myself, of always striving to achieve rather than succeeding. I have been able to try my hand in a private way which I hadn’t realised the importance of until writing this piece. I am glad I hadn’t read anyone’s work on the blog til now. I may have run away! It is so moving and beautiful and I can begin to feel my way into its membership.

“I have amazed myself that I have been able to create these offerings. They have been developed following Phil’s suggestions. Another take I have on this statement is that I have been able to develop them using the creative framework Phil has offered. The latter feels empowering and I feel proud I have done so. The words are mine, the eventual designs are mine. However I would never have thought of presenting them in this creative way without skilled tuition…”

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.

Moon

Necklace of Stars, poetry
 I’m a path of light across your room,
 up the wall, into the mirror and out again
 through the open window, into the garden

 now a negative, shadow on shadow on black.
 I’ll sit on a branch with the owl, show him
 the hummocking mole, slip in and out between trees -

 I’m a flitter, a flibbertigibbet, play hide-and-seek
 with your certainties. On the twenty-eighth day I’ll be gone,
 your world will turn black , you’ll walk into a door,

 stub your toe in the darkness, and the owl will call,
 a lunatic cry, from the asylum up on the hill,
 night after night. But if you look out, look up

 you’ll see my new crescent, delicate, small
 in the overall blackness, a fragile sign -
 and you’ll know I’m on my way back.

 Lorna Dexter 24.10.20

“This poem came out of a prompt from Philip, suggesting we write a lie
about some solid heavenly body – the sun, moon, stars, Milky Way, etc.
Although I love the sun, thrive on its heat, come alive in the summer, the
moon’s phases have always had a strong effect on me, altering my hormone
levels every month. At full moon I’m speedy and active and wakeful,
sometimes not sleeping at all. At the dark of the moon I’m dozy, depressed,
with no energy, bumping into things.

“In his prompt, Philip had used the word ‘flibbertigibbet’, which I love, for its
complexity, the music of its repetitions and its silliness. I looked up its history
and it means ‘foolish woman, talking nonsense’ – so I had to incorporate that !
Which probably led me to instinctively give the Moon that voice, talking to me.
Of course the moon’s changeability is not a lie exactly, it’s just the way the
relationship between the sun, moon and earth, three very solid ‘realities’, seems
to us from our shadowed position on earth, only one of several realities.

“So this poem includes all my feelings about the moon – its strange transforming
light at the full; its very real effect still on my body and mind, no longer a
menstruating woman; and her apparent changeability.

“I live in the country, and my bedroom looks out on the garden, with big pine
trees beyond the wall, where the owl sits and calls, and I have a wide view of
the night sky, so the scene in the poem is very real, not a lie at all!”

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. Lorna’s poem started with one of these telephone discussions.

I explode into a million seeds

A Book of Ours, poetry

We’re making an illuminated manuscript and songs, telling the story of homeless and vulnerable lives. In the last three weeks, volunteer Sue Dean has photographed these BOOK OF OURS workshops at the Booth Centre homeless resource. Here is Sue’s first full blog account, to accompany her pictures…

The session started very jovial, with some friendly banter and teasing about looking like bomb disposal experts with the full face clear covers. A question was asked of the group: `If we could change one thing in the world what would it be?`

Answers varied from Trump and Johnson removal to giving independence to the North, equalising wealth, eradicating homelessness and feeding Hungry Children. Peaceful protests, lobby Parliament — and my personal favourite: Educate MPs on the impact of what they’re doing to the people and to the country. Also — as added extras — look after each other, equality, community and kindness, grow your own veggies if possible or join a community allotment.

We turned our thoughts and feelings into writing, poems and songs. Concentration and soft murmurings of different languages within the class were all that could be heard. We started a clap-clap chant (singing in groups isnt allowed under Covid Rules as it pushes out more oxygen). Each person read over the beat what they had written, sometimes in their first language other than English. This was recorded and the Mandolin played in the background. The whole group feel a sense of achievement and very happy — but desperate to hear the fully produced version!

Sue Dean

Writing, performing and recording A Million Seeds. Phil recording, written pages by Masoud, Jason and Farina, the rhythm section Songwriter Matt Hill and volunteer. All photos Sue Dean.

The BOOK OF CHANGES project is funded by the Heritage 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.

How do we get through?

A Book of Ours, poetry

How do I survive? It’s a question that everyone has to face, at some point, especially in these plagued times. But people who have experienced homelessness, and the support networks around them, give a lot of thought to it. Perhaps some of their answers will be useful to you, right now. 

This workshop at the Booth centre asked people for their survival tips. They jotted down their answers and then read them the top of a backing chanted by everyone in the room: “How do we get through?” The first suggestion is in the word “we” – you need other people to help and in return help them.

I’m looking at the poems right now, with their shopping lists of survival. First, as Mr Darwin once suggested, you need to adapt, to change. Connect to the deeper forces of life – breathe, follow your instincts, find joy in the power of life. Look after your resources (food, friends, shelter, morale). Be careful whose “truth” you listen to. And most of all, create calm inside yourself so that panic doesn’t stop you thinking clearly.

The poems for the Book of Changes are developing into chanted songs, like the old mediaeval Gregorian chants but with more than a hint of contemporary rap music mixed in. The first two weeks of making A Book of Changes have centred on people’s personal experience, formed into poems. This week we worked together as a group, bound together by the music that we made, chanting, clapping, stamping, banging on objects. Glueing us all together was songwriter Matt Hill, in the Booth for the first time since February. 

Then we discover a talented rapper in our group and so we explore finding rhythm in our spoken words…

Matt: “Covid measures mean we aren’t allowed to sing inside. So instead we head back into history to the early Middle Ages when monophonic chanting was the music of the moment. Our monotone voices chanting in unison, with no harmony or melody, suddenly seem relevant and powerful. The repetition of the phrase “How do we get through?” adds weight to this important question. Then we discover a talented rapper in our group and so we explore finding rhythm in our spoken words.”

For me, the whole session was shot through with many tiny moments of intimacy and tenderness. I was deeply moved to hear our support worker Harriet’s words, which felt like they’d been offered many times, in many desperate moments: “Just make it through the next 5 minutes. The 5 minutes after will be easier. I promise.” 

Perhaps most beautiful and mysterious of all were the instructions on survival given in Polish, Lithuanian and Finnish languages. I don’t speak any of those tongues, but the magic of the sounds seemed to suggest many meanings, many possibilities, and although we translated them to English, the words themselves hummed with a different music…

Volunteer Sue Dean took the photos and made these notes about the workshop: “An uplifting session. We started with learning to clap a basic beat. Then putting a word at the start and end of the beat, but continuing it in a round. The group enjoyed hearing a beat form from their own hands. An upturned plastic box was used for a drum, and a mandolin for the riff. We then wrote small poems or lyrics of experiences or memories. The whole group clapped and sang the basic beat while individual lyrics were recorded. The group music-making was a massive success – people still chattering about it over dinner and as they left. Shakespeare – if music be the food of love play on!”   

The BOOK OF CHANGES project is funded by the Heritage 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.

Become your own Stargazer

A Book of Ours, poetry

Who do you reach out to in these troubled times? During the lockdowns and the isolation and the paranoia, loneliness is at an all time high. The people you care about have become precious beyond price.

Today, our workshop (12 Oct) at the Booth Centre was all about these connections. The things that affirm life when there is too much death in the air. And so we talked about the people who matter to us and the chains of connection between us, the exchange of love, of kindness, of energy.

From myself to my mother
My friends and philosophers
Writers, Gaia, God
Neologists
Positive energies
Enlightenment, direction
In the stepping stones of progression...

But this is love in times of survival, not love as a luxury…

Flower pink fingers… Anon. 2020

In other words, we were writing love poems. But this is love in times of survival, not love as a luxury or as a romantic drama. And so as to make it more universal, the loved ones were given the names of favourite flowers. A lover, a granddaughter, children, friends, ourselves, our spiritual guides, our spirit selves — they became an orchid, a rose, a pink flower, a whole garden, a lily. Which is where we came in…

Elevate the Lily
Lilies of innocence and beauty
I can see -- there is Lily now, on
My pink 
Lily-pod floating.
Follow the Lily and become your very own
Stargazer.

Poem by "K"

Volunteer Sue Dean took the photos of people’s hands as they wrote their poems during this workshop: Sue also jotted these notes:

“All were keen to get their thoughts, memories or hopes onto paper As much or as little help was gently provided, making it a very chatty session with Social Distance observed. Some came out as poems, or songs with distinct lines and chorus. Some more private for them alone. All seemed to have enjoyed the session and would be returning…”

The BOOK OF CHANGES project is funded by the Heritage 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.

STREET ART PHOTO BY SUE DEAN

A pandemic epic

poetry, Whisper to me alone

#WhisperToMeAlone is a twitter stream of pandemic poems and songs, which give tiny glimpses of homeless and vulnerable lives, in rooms, on streets, isolated in hotels…

Phil Davenport and songwriter Matt Hill have worked with homeless and vulnerable people since May, to make the WHISPER poems and songs, over the course of many phone calls. The songs include recordings of phone calls, impromtu performances and snatched conversations.

“These conversations have gradually turned into a wide ranging poem of many voices, many experiences combining into a remarkable song cycle. All of WHISPER is full of life, full of humour and determination, in the face of this disease. And it’s inspiring, it’ll give any reader or listener the strength to keep on and learn from what’s happening around us. Sometimes life’s biggest lessons come from unusual teachers.” (Phil Davenport)

(Main image – Manchester street art, photographed by Sue Dean)

The project will be tweeted on 15 October and exhibited at Bury Art Museum next year, alongside an an embroidered quilt stitched with participants’ words HERE COMES THE SUN.

Poems, art and songs from WHISPER TO ME ALONE will be tweeted daily at from 15 October onward at https://twitter.com/whisper2mealone

WHISPER TO ME ALONE is funded by Arts Council England and partnered with The Booth Centre and Back on Track in Manchester. Photography throughout the twitter poem is by Sue Dean. Other 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 were designed by the poets Tom Jenks and Nathan Williams.

Philip Davenport is a poet who co-directs the arthur+martha organisation with artist Lois Blackburn. For the last decade they’ve collaborated with Manchester’s homeless community. During the pandemic WHISPER TO ME ALONE has resulted in poems, songs and an embroidered quilt. Matt Hill is a songwriter who explores people’s experiences to co-write songs — with prisoners, asylum seekers, people experiencing homelessness, and others.

Close your tender eyes

Necklace of Stars, poetry, Projects
I was a child during a war
Bomb shelters and sirens
Go to bed ready dressed
And mum took me to the Anderson shelter
Go to sleep my baby
Close your tender eyes.
Lullaby singing.

Born 1934
I was five when it started
Wasn’t time for laughing
Dad worked in the steel
Mum in munitions
Wasn’t much time for
Stories and sitting on laps.
Jesus friend of little children
Dear friend to me.

Wondering after the next bomb 
Sirens call gives you a funny feel
Is your house still standing
Or not? Underground
Someone played the accordion
Baby, how I wish I was
Up above the bright blue sky.

Anon
Embroidered Stars, by Frances Cohen, for A Necklace of Stars quilt. (catch a falling star)

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 – phone conversations and post.