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.

Icy pellets

Necklace of Stars, poetry

From one of the Necklace of Stars poets, for Storm Christoph:

It drizzles
It mizzles
It pours and it streams
It comes down in buckets
It fills up the streams
It gurgles in gutters
It eddies and swirls
It blocks out the landscape
From clouds it unfurls

It aims icy pellets
Down on our heads
It pounds on the roofs
Of little tin sheds

It comes down too heavy
Or comes down too little
It comes down in torrents
Or dribbles like spittle

I look out the window.
It's at it again 
When will it stop
This bloody wet rain?

Annie

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.

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.