The sun, our closest star

Necklace of Stars, Projects, quilts

The Sun

 

In the morning the sun rose in the East and lay

Pale and delicately formed, tentatively

Regarding the tasks for the day.

Wakening, warming gently, watching attentively.

 

Then, growing in strength and sullenness

Swelling, reddening and ageing,

Began to dry, to burn and scorch;

Settling finally in a deep burst of anger in the West.

 

Maxine Broadbent

 

 

Our new project Necklace of Stars is our first project under the restrictions of lockdown, so our usual workshops have been replaced by phone calls and emails. We’re working with older people in Derbyshire to make a collection of poems, writing, songs themed around lullabies and the night sky. These words will be recorded and exhibited in conversation with a quilt that is stitched with stars.

 

Lullabies often explore themes of safety and danger. The hush-a-bye baby has the cradle rocked gently by the tune of that old song, but then the cradle falls. In some of the poems that are starting to emerge, there is also a hint of danger. The bursting anger of the sun. Beyond the safety of our walls during lockdown lies threat — and yet those safe walls hold us in, can become prison-like.

 

The writers have all used their words to stretch out beyond the limitations of four walls, to dream of the wide world, floating like seed heads beyond all restrictions, or else travelling in memory to other times. Because of lockdown, and the sunny weather, there’s time for some people to really throw themselves into this work:

 

“I’m delighted. I’ve been out all day in the garden photographing flowers to inspire my writing. But now — I’m knackered!”

(Participant)

 

detail, design board

Liz Jennen’s embroidered star square, and fabric ready to be stitched.

 

Above and below, we have two poems from the growing collection — one a whole lifetime, told in the rising and setting of the sun, the other a lullaby of pure delight, a celebration of sunshine food:

 

 

Kingston Lullaby

 

Hush little baby don’t you cry

Mama’s gonna make you a plantain fry,

And if that plantain fry don’t please,

Mama’s gonna rustle up some rice and peas.

 

And if rice and peas don’t have appeal

Saltfish and ackee will be your next meal.

And if saltfish and ackee comes too slow,

Mama’s gonna pick you a ripe mango.

 

And if that mango’s not your wish,

Mama’s gonna make you a breadfruit dish.

And if that breadfruit dish is raw

Mama’s gonna find you a nice pawpaw.

 

And if all this ain’t got what it takes

Mama’s gonna fry you some jonnycakes.

And if even jonnycakes make you frown,

You’ll still be the fattest little baby in town.

 

Glen Mulliner

design board, NOS

Necklace of Stars, quilt in progress, samples by Lois Blackburn and Liz Jennens.

 

Todays blog was written by Philip Davenport, lead writer arthur+martha

A Necklace of Stars is a collaboration between housebound, isolated older people in Derbyshire,  arthur+martha,  Arts Derbyshire   DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. 

A space to be normal

Necklace of Stars, Projects, quilts

All the structures of everything have gone. My brain space is in a muddle, little decisions have become difficult… I’m finding my brain is to busy- this (A Necklace of Stars) has given me space to be more normal. It’s a very interesting effect, it’s kick started me again.” Participant.

 

So much of this new project  a Necklace of Stars feels so familiar, the wonderful mix of participants,  bringing a wealth of different skills, experiences, levels of confidence, everyone bringing something different to the mix.

Many of the participants haven’t done any embroidery for many years. One women sounded very unconfident at the beginning of the conversation, not even wanting to do her own drawings:

 

I’ve not done any embroidery for donkey’s years, I used to do tray clothes, and ragging- hearth carpets. I’m not crafty-  but this sounds brilliant.” Participant

 

Jennens Liz

Liz’s embroidered square for a Necklace of Stars

 

Then much is surreal- our encounters are over the phone, through the post, our phone conversations move from life in a time of Covid, to embroidered tray cloths, lazy dazy stitch, grandchildren, to the fear of shopping, fear of the virus.  Occasionally it is painfully sad, the lady who was isolated, not just by her health conditions, but by the virus.

 

“I’m very lonely,  the only person I see is once a week, and that’s at a distance.” Participant

 

But everyone I’ve spoken to so far is keen to join in with the project. There is an innate understanding that keeping busy, keeping the hands and brains occupied doing something creative is a positive thing, now more than ever.

 

Before I got married, I used to embroider tray clothes. I’ve started knitting again for charity, the Red Cross.”  Participant

 

There is a real delight in the idea that their work will join others, combining together to create one piece. And always the excitement that the individuals will one day have an opportunity to get together, meet each other and celebrate their achievements on the project.

I might not have seen anybody stitch yet, but it’s still been a brilliant start to a project, full of hope. We’ve had our first embroidered square sent back to us from Liz, pictured above. We weren’t expecting any to come in the post for a while, so this was an extra special delight.

And selfishly, it’s helping me get through these times too. It gives focus to my days, something to look forward to- new ways of working, full of excitement and delight.

 

You’ve made my day.

“I’ve absolutely loved talking to you.”  Participants.

 

Lois Blackburn. Lead artist

star solar system

Lois’s sample solar system, for a Necklace of Stars

 

A Necklace of Stars is a collaboration between housebound, isolated older people in Derbyshire,  arthur+martha,  Arts Derbyshire   DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. 

 

 

The dandelions of time

Necklace of Stars, Projects

Today was the first writing day for our new project Necklace of Stars. And this of course is new in another way, it’s the first project we have run under the restrictions of lockdown.

We are aiming make a collection of poems, writing, songs all themed around lullabies and the night sky. These pieces will be recorded and exhibited in conversation with a quilt that is stitched with stars.

Rather than meeting face-to-face with the makers, we’ll use phone calls and email to communicate for the time being. 

All of which means this is the first time I have run a poetry group without seeing anybody’s faces, simply responding to their voices over the phone. But what friendly voices! And what stories I have heard already! 

I have been on a flight over and African lake, brightly lit by the reflected moon. I have visited a soup kitchen. I have spent some time in a blacksmiths smithy watching the horses being shoed while barges pass on the nearby canal. And I’ve heard the first verse of a poem about the dandelions of time, that mark all of our days…

A Necklace of Stars is a collaboration between housebound, isolated older people in Derbyshire,  arthur+martha,  Arts Derbyshire   DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. 

Combatting isolation with a Necklace of Stars

Necklace of Stars, Projects

A Necklace of Stars  LAUNCH

Older adults aged 65+ from across Derbyshire are being invited to take part in a new project ‘A Necklace of Stars’. During the Covid-19 crisis, instructions and support for making embroidery, poetry and lullabies will be provided via post, on-line and on the phone for those who are housebound. 

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. Collectively, we will make an embroidered quilt with a poem and song soundtrack, inspired by lullabies. Lullabies bring calm and comfort, and also tell insightful stories that pass on the depth of human experience from generation to generation.

 

cross stitch star

 

Using embroidery, poetry and repurposed bed sheets, pillow cases and pyjamas, stars will dance across the quilt. At a time when so many of us are suffering the negative effects of isolation lock-down, this project couldn’t be more timely. It will help to build confidence and wellbeing, reduce loneliness, forge connections and re-ignite creativity.

This project will culminate in a 12-month exhibition showing the quilt, poems and soundtrack in a variety of cultural venues across Derbyshire. 

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 You can also look at our page a-necklace-of-stars/ to find out more.

Crosstown Traffic

A Book of Ours, Projects

 

Our new volunteer Gary writes about the most recent illuminated manuscript workshop for the project A Book of Ours, at Back on Track:

Everybody is serious today. There’s only one more session at Back on Track, and pieces need to be finished in time. People very quickly sink into their own projects, painting, drawing, writing, calligraphy; everybody working quietly either with Phil, Lois or Steven, or just getting on with things by themselves. Mark opens the window because it’s so warm in the room, and you can hear the gentle hum of traffic outside, birds wishing it was spring.

I’m painting squares of black ink for Chris to try out as backgrounds for his amazing runic lettering. You’d think black was black, but no, there are lots of different shades, textures, depths, to play with. Chris opts for the blackest, and his red runes really shout from the page.

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Across the room, Lawrence is working on ‘Greed’ – Steven with his new lightbox helps focus and trace the Gothic script to tremendous effect. The finished page looks amazing, small imperfections, smudges and idiosyncrasies adding spontaneity.

Shannah and Mark can mostly progress their work alone: Mark’s calligraphy skills are growing fast and Shannah’s poem ‘Clarissa, Mother’ is simply beautiful as she scribes it. The letters make bright paths on the page.

The quiet and concentration is only broken briefly when Phil mistakes NWA for Madonna, and the room cracks up. It’s an easy mistake to make.

Later, as I sketch Jimi Hendrix as a saint, with an enormous afro halo, I wonder what miracles he performed in order to be sanctified. The song ‘Cross-Town Traffic’ runs through my head and mixes with the sounds of construction work and car engines coming through the open window.

Then suddenly time is up, and we’re all snapped out of our individual bubbles, to share with the group what we’ve been working on. Every piece is so completely different, but linked by experience, the experience of being human I suppose, and we’re all very rightly proud of ourselves. We leave the window open for the next group to listen to the hum of the traffic.

This arthur+martha project is based on the making of an illuminated manuscript  A BOOK OF OURS, at Back on Track, the Booth Centre and other support centres in Manchester. It 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.

We are often helped by skilled volunteers who bring varied life experiences and insights.

A BOOK OF OURS is supported by HLF.

 

 

They bid me take my place amongst them in the Halls of Valhalla

A Book of Ours, Projects

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It’s a strange thing, how joyful it is to be a maker. Even when what you’re making is about sadness, or pain, often joy pops up in the mix like a spring flower. Unexpected and yet just at the right time. Perhaps it’s what gets us through.

Today we worked on the Office of the Dead for the illuminated manuscript A BOOK OF OURS. This section of our handmade book contains a long poem about grief authored by many, including some of the people in this group.

At the top of this blog Kris is designing a page of runes, an original translation he’s made from the Viking phrase, “They bid me take my place amongst them in the Halls of Valhalla.” It’s what Vikings would say before they die, apparently. As he worked away on this piece, he joked with his neighbours, chatted to me about favourite reading (Nietzsche, Marcus Aurelius) and drank coke, all done with gusto. 

Crucially, he also worked with Stephen Raw our resident calligrapher, building his already significant design skills. Stephen helped him push the design itself, but also think about his posture, how he places items around him to aid working effectively, and how to use the materials in his hands with awareness: “The ink should do the work, not you. Let it fill the spaces between your movements. Breathe with it…”

Making art is a glorious distraction, that’s for sure. It’s also a good icebreaker, joining people together who sometimes have got frozen into solitude or depression. There are lots of theories about why art is therapeutic. The ancient Greeks scratched their heads over it, particularly Aristotle in his Poetics. Perhaps making art, or simply taking it in as an audience, really can lighten the load as Aristotle said — the bad stuff is carried away with a cathartic moment. The beautiful truth is that nobody knows.

Alongside the lettering, poems were being written with the same gusto. We’ve decided to write celebrations of the seven deadly sins for the next section of A BOOK OF OURS. The poems are of course a play on the word seven — they must contain seven lines and 49 words. Here’s one by Shannah, which began as a little joke about the deliciousness of not getting out of bed and gradually grew into a deeper questioning of why we rush life away, and how to join it without losing yourself — especially if you’re actually a sloth, not a person.

 

Sloth

Dawn to dusk I lay in my nest prepared for comfort

Smiling and letting all things be

Happily and sleepily, see the world pass by me

Having the dragging yawning time of my expected life. Slowly

One makes sense of what one could contribute

To the fast-paced world.

Unsuspecting of the human being.

Shannah

 

9182D83D-8957-4AED-B564-F54EF0D7569C

 

In the corner, Lawrence and our new volunteer Gary busied on another poem celebrating Greed, pulling lettering ideas from the ancient Book of Kells. Heads together, they worked slowly and patiently, in a concentration broken occasionally by cackles over a particularly good pun. 

Bringing together art and writing in this project, we deliberately blur the edge between what’s a poem and what’s art. As Lawrence said, “I want to draw the writing. I want the letters to make the shape of what I’m thinking.”

In the sunshine of this January morning, as we broke the rules, there was a cheery camaraderie. It was a playground, not a schoolroom and within it, for awhile, we were ourselves. At least on paper.

 

Chris

Hello to love

A Book of Ours, Projects

Stephen Raw was our expert guide today, leading us into the complex mystery that is calligraphy, particularly the discipline of the medieval script.

 

“It’s the curse of making the word visible,” as he says cheerfully. “How do we see our thoughts? What colour and what shape? And how do we get that onto paper? That’s where it takes the time…”

 

All of the group plunged into that inky ocean to make their pages of calligraphy. Like learner swimmers, they started cautiously but were soon splashing about, making a glorious mess and making beauty, often on the same page.

 

caligraphy practice

 

Chris developing his Viking runes, stretching out across the page. T at first wrestling with the lettering, and then tracing and retracing, selecting the best letters, seeing the page transforming to her touch. M working long and hard at the correct order of setting each letter down in the right proportions — and then suddenly a phrase has landed in the middle of its page, scripted so beautifully it’s a poem in its own right. Hello to love.

 

Chris

But today contained other kinds of writing too. For one of the other group members it was an opportunity to write about experiences of homelessness, to write at high speed, with a simple biro. To put those experiences down on paper, and to consider them for the first time. Sometimes putting experiences down on paper can be like putting down a heavy weight. Afterwards comes relief. The memories are part of this project too and in due course they’ll find their expression somewhere in the pages of the illuminated manuscript A BOOK OF OURS.

Slowness is the beauty and the curse of getting words down on a piece of paper. We speak very quickly, and think even more rapidly. Writing down those words is a long process, which can be slow, frustrating, exhausting. But that’s also the beauty — working and thinking in slowmotion. There is time to enjoy each stroke of each letter, the choice of colour, the density of the ink, the music and meaning of each sentence, each word. And perhaps with this, comes more understanding.

Lawrence looked up from his paper, hands blotted with ink.

“I love all this,” he said.

 

 

With thanks to everyone at Back on Track and to all the National Lottery players and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

I am your fan

A Book of Ours, Projects

Hello dude

Hei hvordan har du det

Hello anyone

With a kind heart

Hello peace of mind and good times

Babies, opportunities

Hello Mother Earth

May I be your son?

Hello to a job with decent money

Hello Hong Kong

Hello children

With my family, I dance in the rain.

 

Who do you treasure? Who are the people who’ve made a mark on your life — and what is that mark? Can you find their traces in the things that you believe now, the things that you have said and done? Last week at Back on Track, people wrote a poem about hellos and goodbyes. Some of lines are commemorate the dead, others commemorate significant farewells. It also welcomes in the new, opens a window to the living.

 At the top and tail of this blog entry are extracts from the poem Ballad No. 4. It’s a long collaborative poem for The Office of the Dead, the last section of A BOOK OF OURS. It is a response to Ballad IV by the medieval poet Christine de Pizan — a poem that’s a list of farewells. Every few weeks we come back to this poem and add some names. Sadly some of them are recent names, claimed by drugs and street life.

Alongside poetry making was art making. Lawrence, a longstanding member of the group, arrived early and was working on his page before we had even had a chance to unpack all the art and poetry equipment. His latest page is taking shape, he’s been adding colour to his page, flashes of gold,  the luminosity of the inks, it’s reminiscent of stained glass windows. As the session went on, we observed Lawrence going through many emotions; frustration as a colour smudges, delight and pride when the artwork develops. The design of the page is directly inspired by the medieval manuscripts we have been studying, but with Lawrence adds twist of humour, his own story, his way of looking at the world, a boldness of ink and pencil.

Chris was working on his calligraphy skills, also riding a roller coaster of learning, of emotions. The members of the group are finding new skills, surprising themselves, the Book of Ours is truly a thing of delight.

Lawrence

The rest of the morning was spent making triolets, painting portraits with words — portraits of people we care about, people who will stay with us forever even if they’ve gone.

It was only the second time this group has worked together and it was already an day rich in making connections and making art. As we work, the group are starting to bond, to trust one another. And as they do so they’ll encourage each another to go deeper, to be more daring, to expose the heart.

 

Farewell Dreadlocks

“Farvel, friend.”

Farewell Man City,

Away matches, blue moon

Farewell Davs, fair friendship

Farewell cheekiness, smile and aura

Farewell graceful dewdrop

Farewell Sean B, dodging the dream police

Snows of yesteryear

Lead you to sleep

Farewell to arms, put down your axe

The music’s over, let your plectrum rest

Wave bye bye to

Wounded fingers

Farewell to my sister

I remember

Her smile. Where is she now

Whose beauty was more than ours?

my guardian angels

 

 

Phil and Lois

 

My mind is slowly opening

A Book of Ours, Projects

 

James. JPG

12 December. The Booth Centre.

Today’s session in the Book of Ours project was not only our last one of the year, it was also the last time we will be in the Booth Centre until February. And happily it was a wonderful, productive day, full of concentration and gentle good humour. 

We’ve been researching the Suffrages, books of saints in the medieval books of hours, and rewriting them for this project. People have looked at medieval poems and then written about now — about people who have come to their help. Some of the poems describe personal encounters, others are about being inspired by an icon. It’s an instance of how engaging with heritage can help us to know ourselves. We now have the Saints Mike Tyson and Jimi Hendrix among our number. 

 

Born on Boxing Day

 

From darkness the lightning strikes light

Power and agility unchains your liberty 

Mike Tyson to some, to others Iron Mike

From darkness the lightning strikes light

Undisputed the world is yours truly

From darkness the lightning strikes light

Power and agility unchains your liberty.

 

Anonymous 

 

This suffrage for Mike Tyson is not only about boxing, it touches on racism and personal pride, on not compromising your inner self, on agility and danger. The piece is a triolet, a song-like poem form based on the older medieval rondel. Then in the afternoon the writer began transcribing the poem into the page setup designed for our saints, which is also based on medieval originals. And so he became an artist too.

Another of our writers described a woman who helped him at his most desperate. “It was my worst time. I was literally in a ditch, out of my head on substances. And she helped me, fed me for days, bathed me, got me on my feet again, ready to face the world once more. I’ll never forget, it’s moment that I always carry with me, how she helped a complete stranger. Me.”

He transcribed the poem onto the page and then began to illustrate it. He met himself again, in that moment. Saw it in the third person and was shaken, left deeply affected. And joyous too:

“I found arthur+martha to be an amazing experience. It is the first time I have expressed my emotions — it evoked profound feelings that I consider positive and a different outlet than that I would usually take to deal with my issues.”

Anonymous

As I left the Booth Centre today, our session support worker Louise told me that one of the participants had said, after making work with us, “My mind is slowly opening.”

It gave me the image of a flower opening, despite the rainfall, despite the desperation many homeless people experience, despite everything. 

And then my last encounter was with a person who told me, “I’m buzzing, I’m buzzing. I’ve just been given accommodation. I won’t have to sleep out tonight.” Gesturing at the downpour and the puddles. “Know what I mean?”

In fact, in some ways, it was a perfect day. 

Self-made mountains

A Book of Ours, Projects

 

Booth Centre, 5 December 2019

 

Asking for help can be the most difficult thing. It seems simple, but there’s a million reasons not to, infinite excuses.

“You’ve got to be ready to ask,” says one of our regular group who’s come through addiction and out the other side.

“It’s not easy, admitting you’re weak,” observes someone else.

“But is it really weak? Everyone needs help, it’s human,” says someone who’s just got a new flat. “I’ve been living out on the street, I needed a lifeline.”

It’s a morning of dancing around these tiny self-made mountains, delicate but terrifying.

Then in the afternoon we start with tears, as occasionally happens. The person next to me is literally shaking. Eyes dark with worry. Tears flood and emotion floods the room. Somehow these tears liberate everyone else, bring them closer to their feelings. And so we write together.

It’s a brittle atmosphere like a family argument, a storm waiting to burst. There’s sadness and anger, lightning strikes of shouting. Then between it all poems grow. People write about letting in simple pleasures. They talk about sunshine, the silliness and joy of just being. Little lines that are fought for so hard, shared and appreciated. Then shouting stops, the tears ease off, we have a strange peace. 

 

Help is too big to put in words

Naked in a big world

Myself to get off the drugs 

Help is too big to put in words

Myself to get off the drugs 

Mum and dad and me

Naked in a big world

Help is too big to put in words.

Anonymous 

I’m touched beyond words by these words. Their makers are so proud, yet embarrassed, yet delighted. There’s a shy grin.

“Maybe I’ll be back next week,” says a new member of our ongoing little club.

“Was it a bit much?” I ask another regular. He shrugs.

“It’s all part of the cake mix,” he says.