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.

For what it’s worth

Necklace of Stars, poetry

“Aha! Good afternoon. Very nice to talk! You’re the first voice I’ve heard today…”
(Participant)

Since the Spring, the Necklace of Stars project has reached out to older people in Derbyshire, using phone calls to write poems and make embroideries. Today I was struck again by the value of these calls to all involved, to me and to the people I speak with. In this time of restrictions, it is a wonderful luxury to spend time in the company of new people without worrying about masks and viruses.

Several people I spoke with today have been isolated since the beginning of the year. Their seclusion has continued for months, and for some it feels unending. This is no longer about simply contracting an illness, it’s about living in a new way, especially for older people. And this new way of living needs to take into account emotional lives as well as physical health.

Whether Forecast

I’m cooking up a kitchen storm, lighting a flare,
leaving the doldrums in the yellow chair.
I’m braving a peasouper, blithely unaware
of fusing blue sky thinking to navigate the dare.
And if I reap a whirlwind then I’ll take to the air.
It’s time to break through the heavy side layer.

Linda Goulden

Out of my seven calls on this day, three people told me they’d had very limited, or no, company since February.

Out of my seven calls on this day, three people told me they’d had very limited, or no, company since February. To be isolated for such a long time is akin to solitary confinement in a jail. That particular punishment is meted out because it is so psychologically devastating. If we have any hope of getting through to the other side of the pandemic without a great deal of damage to everyone’s mental health, then we need to deal with the urgent need people have for human connection.

And sometimes that’s a phone call to discuss that poem you wrote about your grandma wearing a polka dot bikini, or astrophysics and its relationship to God, or childhood journeys to adulthood, or an argument with your big sister when you were eight years old.

How much is a poem worth? Well, that’s a big question, as Hamlet would say…

The Way

I talked with me today
and we agree: the way
we say that we must be
must be the way to be.

Linda Goulden

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.

Book of Changes

A Book of Ours, poetry

When we started our mediaeval manuscript at the Booth Centre in 2019, nobody knew what was in store for the world. We knew that we wanted to make a document of the lives of people with experience of homelessness and the kind of chaos that vulnerability can bring.

But now, it seems everyone is feeling vulnerable, everyone is subject to chaos. Now our illuminated manuscript, A BOOK OF OURS, feels like a prediction. It’s not just vulnerable people who don’t know what the next day will bring, it’s every single one of us. We hide behind masks – but if we don’t we might “go under Nelson’s deck” as Jonno wrote in today’s poem.

The pandemic has of course prevented human contact of all kinds and replaced it with that nasty little pair of words “social distancing”. This has meant that for months and months arthur+martha have not been running our regular face-to-face workshops. Instead, we’ve used phone calls via our WHISPER TO ME ALONE project to reach out to people. But at last, this week we have restarted A BOOK OF OURS, with a new Covid-related chapter.

Drawing on a wealth of human experience gathered on the street, in jails, from deep in the self, from heavenly inspiration…

You never know what a day at the Booth will bring and this one was no different. An amazement of diverse stories poured onto paper. Drawing on a wealth of human experience gathered on the street, in jails, from deep in the self, from heavenly inspiration, and a certain amount of substance use… this is no run-of-the-mill writing group.

And perhaps in their uniqueness, these writers write for everyone. All the humour, courage, kindness and violence of humankind is here. It’s extraordinarily moving to witness this little gang describe their lives, often so casually and yet with so much heart. They dodge around the seeming impossibilities of their lives. In fact, Stephen (using his ever-present tablet) uses impossibility to talk about love…

Here in a room measured out in 2-metre distances our writers work, with hand cleanser at their elbows, with open windows and fans, with faces made anonymous by masks — here they inscribe themselves.

“Change can be a worry. First when it happens I feel it as a negative thing. And then, it starts to become a possibility…”

(Anonymous)

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.

Riding the tsunami

poetry, Whisper to me alone

WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers words and art from people who have experienced homelessness — and the insights of other vulnerable people in Manchester during the pandemic. Here’s WHISPER writer Anastasia:

I’m riding the waves at this very moment. It’s a Tsunami this one, but I’m not drowning. In the past I’ve hit the bottom of the ocean. This time I’m able to observe it, I am in it and at the same time outside it. Yes, I’m riding the Tsunami.

When you drown you panic, try and flap your arms and legs. But the best thing you can do is be still, stay calm. You know inside yourself that the waves will ebb and flow away, just like the clouds passing over our heads.

I see lockdown positively, it made us humans stop. Although it’s causing distress and isolation, a feeling of losing grip on reality, our whole notion of what is normal has been turned on its head – and actually that’s good. I think the positivity will continue, there are less cars for instance. Venice, New York, London, two weeks into lockdown the skies over those cities were bluer.

I’ve seen people become kinder, considerate. Customers in shops used to be demanding and rude. When I see shoppers now, they’re more appreciative, they’ve got to queue, they’ve learned patience.

It all went sci-fi. People panicked and many of us wanted to flee …

At first everyone’s reaction was panic: our personal lives and the lives of our nations, how we work, how we think, how we view things — it all went sci-fi. People panicked and many of us wanted to flee but we couldn’t because there was a lockdown and so you have to stay and face it.

But for the others, panic gradually changed into something else. Perhaps the word I’m looking for is acceptance. “I can’t flee, I’m in my house. I’m going to stop crashing about and be still in the storm. I’m just going to breathe.” Sometimes it’s all you can do, just breathe.

Then when they started lifting lockdown, the world got angry. Now they’re saying you can have some freedom, now they’ve taken all it away again. You hear the jailer come and you hear the key turn and you feel trapped.

The world is moving through a storm just like I move through my storms. People are coping. Yes, there’s been violence and despair, but also care. Support for one another gets through, like those little phone calls that mean so much between people. The world’s realised flailing and fury doesn’t work. You feel you are drowning and everything has been stripped away in the terrifying waves. But slowly, appreciation of life, of nature, of connection, is dawning. And sometimes a sense of freedom. That’s when you know you’re riding the waves.

Anastasia

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 the pandemic. The project centres on writing made during phone calls and in journal-writing, art and song, plus an embroidered quilt. The Manchester photos are by Sue Dean. Words and images from WHISPER will soon be shared on the forthcoming twitterstream https://twitter.com/whisper2mealone

This project is funded by Arts Council England and partnered with The Booth Centre and Back on Track in Manchester.

Manchester umbrellas. Photo by Sue Dean

With royal approval…

Necklace of Stars, poetry

“As patron of the Queens Nursing Institute, Her Majesty thanks you so much for your poignant verses…”

(Letter from the Queen’s Lady-in-Waiting Philippa DePass)

We are delighted that Necklace of Stars poet Neil Sessions has been commended by Buckingham Palace for his poem giving tribute to NHS nurses during the pandemic. It was the first poem he read to Phil in their first Necklace of Stars phone conversations – and now his work bears the seal of royal approval. Phil’s notes from the cheery conversation give a flavour of Neil’s mood: “Royal consent! But I’m not going to be big headed about it. I’m biting my lip as I tell you…”

NHS nurses

I call you little angels
That shone so bright
As you stood by your patients
On those warm summer nights

Words have no meaning
As life was slipping by
But there was love and compassion
As the nights whispered by

May each nurse remember
How they helped them
Slip into that heavenly night
With their last breath we all say good night.

This is why you carry a halo
So you can shine some more
To help all the sick people
That need your love and warmth.

Thank you
God bless you all.

Neil Sessions
Example of a Royal Seal, from the previous Elizabeth.

“I’m very uplifted to be acknowledged by the Queen for this poem, it’s a big honour. The poem has appeared in newspapers and magazines and online and all sorts. It is my way of thanking the nurses who look after us all. They bring you into the world and it’s often a nurse who holds your hand when you finally say goodbye. Many people who’ve had Covid describe the nurses as angels. This poem is meant for the nurses who don’t hear the NHS clapping or words of thanks – because they’re still too busy working. It’s passing on appreciation, from the heart. I’ve put a lot of heart into my poems because I’ve needed to, its my way of finding release and of reaching out to people.”

Neil

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.

Press Release

Necklace of Stars, poetry, Projects, quilts

Arts Derbyshire – A Necklace of Stars

Following on from the success of the first phase of A Necklace of Stars, we are looking for older adults who are housebound (aged 65+) from across Derbyshire to join us in a creative writing and embroidery project.

Andrea Lewis, Shooting Star

Arts Derbyshire is running a remote embroidery and creative writing project where participants receive weekly* one to one phone calls with artists ‘arthur + martha’. The artists will guide people through the process of creating beautiful embroidered stars or creative writing themed around lullabies, for free.

The embroidered stars will be brought together to create a quilt which will be exhibited alongside the creative writing and lullaby soundtrack around Derbyshire’s cultural venues in 2022. 

A Necklace of Stars hopes to increase confidence and wellbeing, reduce loneliness, forge connections and re-ignite creativity.

If you are interested in taking part in this project (whether you have no experience or plenty), or know of someone who might enjoy getting involved, please contact Sally Roberts on 07395 904386 or email sallyartsderbyshire@gmail.com 

A Necklace of Stars is an Arts Council England supported collaboration between Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health, Derbyshire Library Services and arts organisation arthur+martha. 

* Weekly phone calls for approximately 4 weeks or until you are happy with the work you have created.

Michael’s Star

Sharing a sunset

Necklace of Stars, poetry, quilts

Necklace of Stars writer Tricia Clough:

These thoughts came into my head after my husband David took a beautiful sunset photo. I’d also had a day, a few weeks ago, of sorting through vast photo collections of people and places.  With a couple of clicks I was able to share them with FB friends some of whom shared their lives with us when they were foster children. Now that gave them – and me – such pleasure. 

Sipping through time (with Tequila Sunset delight)

Browsing a cocktail of memories from morning to night
Each sip held a memory - some bitter, most sweet
A pinch of love here and a punch of happiness there
And bubbles of laughter to tickle your nose
From the hops of the youngest 
To champagne as they’re grown
But the taste buds are changing as day alters to night
So I’ll end with hot chocolate as I bid you ‘Good night’

Tricia Clough
Sweet Lullaby

Come share my sweetest fantasy
The night is drawing in 
So share this special memory
Of love without within
No strawberry hugs tonight my love
It’s all a mystery
But we’ll defy the gravity
And float away in harmony
Away from all the poverty 
Now hush lush chocolate night
Now hush lush chocolate night
 
 Tricia Clough

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.