Doorways

Whisper to me alone

Our Covid Journal project WHISPER TO ME ALONE has been up and running a few weeks now. It’s a project that is growing quietly, as people gather ideas for their diaries of words and pictures. Below is the first of the artworks, from Jasmine. A haunting little pencil sketch, it’s an archway that seems to invite us to step in and yet at the same time is a barrier, a secret place.

This project of telephone calls and “one-to-one workshops” is full of fascinating conversations, of insights, openess, and the occasional blind alley. During the calls, I have got a notebook to hand and when it seems important, I scribe down what people say and then read the notes back to them. It’s a way we’ve worked for years, catching words from the air before they disappear. Here, discussing the effects of lockdown, is Anastasia:

We’ve lost so many lives to Covid. It is a catastrophe. But it has also led us to compassion, gratefulness and more humanity. The appreciation of little things that we can’t have right now. Things like hugs. We are missing contact with other people and finding new ways to connect. With each other and with nature. I’ve been looking at flowers, watching the birds.

We’ve actually got time during the lockdown. We have been given time to stop and stare. There are less cars on the road, less pollution. You can see the stars.

Anastasia

WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers experiences of people who have experienced homelessness — and the experiences of other vulnerable people — in Manchester during lockdown, using journals of writing, art and song lyrics and phone conversations. 

This project is supported by Arts Council England. Partners include The Booth CentreBack on Track, Bury Art Museum and With One Voice arts and homeless sector global network.

Writing in a time of lockdown

Necklace of Stars

Today I asked two of our writers to talk about writing poems during the time of lockdown. Has it helped their state of mind, has it hindered? This is what they said:

“I was feeling fragmented, fragile. I was working through that and trying to find strength and determination. So I grabbed onto the writing. I wasn’t aware of it at first, just playing with words and rhymes. And then it became clear to me, I’m speaking to myself and for myself… The writing has changed for me week to week, with my variable moods. Some days I thought: what’s the point? I’m stuck inside, I’m not seeing anyone or going anywhere, I’ve got nothing to say. But when I do get into it, it’s the best game there is. I’ve been swerving between those two states of mind… “

L

“I think it’s help me deal with lockdown. It’s helped me sound out what I’m thinking. I’ve been chasing a little flicker of understanding. Trying to think and digest and let it filter in. Or else you drown in your own thoughts, don’t you? If you’re left alone with them too long.

“And then it’s been great to share the poems and get a reaction, that makes it real, reaching out to other people. It’s turned this period into something creative. I love the sharing of a writers’ group, the talk around the table. But this is different, it’s a brief intensity and then the time to reflect by yourself, to learn yourself…”

M

Today’s blog was written by Philip Davenport, from arthur+martha.

A Necklace of Stars, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service.

The seeds of your thought 

Necklace of Stars

Phil writes:

For years, arthur+martha have run workshops in which a group of people sit around a table to make art and poems together. In truth, these aren’t just workshops, they are also talking shops, they’re about being in one another’s company.

Right now, this is not possible. We have to work at a distance so that we don’t spread the virus. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I ring people and we talk one-to-one, sometimes for a long-ish while. And although I miss the chatty groups, I’m starting to appreciate other qualities of distance working.

One-to-one conversations give people time and space to reflect. To question exactly what it is they’re interested in, how they write about it, to face the things that they are dodging, to appreciate strengths they took for granted.

Below, Margaret’s powerful trio of poems Dandelion time talks about exactly this struggle, to find a pattern in life, compassion and understanding in what can look like chaos. It’s a brave and rather beautiful documentary of the life of the heart. She starts by simply watching the dandelions – these very same dandelions that filled the air when the virus epidemic started. The dandelions become a symbol, they are blown by the wild winds of life and love. They’re also the seed of her daughter’s life. Then in the final section she opens her window to let in whatever life brings along next. This is a heartfelt journey, facing fears and delight equally — and it embraces both.

 

Dandelion time

 

Part I

Invading gardens

littering the roadsides

dandelions wait to tell the time

 

The tic toc of the clock

releasing seed heads,

thoughts that fly

 

It’s bare pincushion head exposed

reveals a Fibonacci spiral

nothing random here.

 

Part II

 

My thoughts take root,

bed down in my house,

the collected chaos of myself

in notebooks and files,

the library of my life.

 

How shall I bring order ?

Unlike the dandelion

my life has been

without a grand design

no Fibonacci sequence.

 

You blow the dandelion to

the tic toc of your own time

letting your seeds of thought fly.

 

I pressed my wild flowers

into heavy books

catalogued on library shelves,

crushing out the colour,

wanting to hold them fast.

I fitted passion into form

hoping to make it last.

Love and marriage

the one fought the other

the other always won.

 

My daughter you are the flowering

of that explosive mix, grown up,

un-afraid to puff your cheeks.

 

Part III

 

Your

seeds fly

through my door

opening windows in my house

as you wait for me to come outside

inviting me to take another chance at life and blow the dandelion clock.

 

Margaret Gosley

 

image1

 

Today’s blog was written by Philip Davenport, arthur+martha. The poem and dandelion photos are by Margaret Gosley.

A Necklace of Stars, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service.

Spring Greens

Necklace of Stars

“I’m still tired, but feeling positive now. I really appreciate this, the chance to write the poems. When life has been harsh to deal with, it’s helped.”

(Participant)

One of the things I have witnessed over and over again is that making art, writing poems, stitching embroidery, can help to unpick despair. Nobody really knows why, there are lots of theories. At times making a poem or an artwork is simply a distraction. It takes the mind onto other things, stops those restless thoughts chasing each other and becoming frantic.

Art can also help understanding. Writing a poem gives your thoughts new shape and perhaps allows new answers. An artwork is a representation of the world and connects you to it more deeply. Slowing yourself down to the intricate pace of an embroidery gives you time to meditate and find a richer texture in the whole of life.

“I’m feeling my way forward, using my poems as a guide.”

(Participant)

Making things not only shows the exterior world, it also reflects the inner life and makes it richer, brighter. If you can, take a little time to live with the prose poem below. It’s a celebration of trees, the wonderful, familiar friends that I often don’t give a second glance. But here they’re transformed by the poet’s eyes — into furniture, into children begging for pennies, into a swirling cloak that becomes an old coat, or into old pale bones against a winter sky. As well as trees, all the seasons of human life are in this little poem and so it helps me to appreciate my own. And for the makers of such work it is transforming too…

“I found this to be very useful. More than useful, brilliant in fact.”

(Participant)

 

Spring Greens

 

The Hollies are still wintergreen, come spring, leathery, shiny-tough, reliable as upright chairs in their utility upholstery.

Plum and cherry let the March winds take their snow and ruby blossoms from them, holding out small fingers for their fee, which came in copper verdigris and silver tarnish, well-used coins and promise of paper money for the fall.

Oak begins leafing out from nowhere, fine, fresh, lettuce-like, so young.

Sycamore sings, spreading hand spans which unfold into a summer cloak whose generous swirls conceal old mossy coat.

Beech, whose bones arched stark against the pale, cold, winter sky, now shimmers in the heat, the flesh full, lush, deliciousness.

 

Linda

 

Today’s blog was written by Philip Davenport, arthur+martha.

A Necklace of Stars, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service.

 

All these things whirring

Necklace of Stars, Projects

For some people, lockdown is a blessing and for others it’s a struggle.

On the face of it, we have peace and quiet and an ever-stretching holiday. But underneath those things are nagging worries: fear of infection, fear of unemployment, fear of those around us, fear stoked by the media…

“All these things whirring.” (Participant)

And yet birds are singing, the air is purer than it has been in decades, the roar of traffic and the thunder of aeroplanes has quietened. The timid creatures that we share our world with have started to assert themselves again. Carparks have become wildlife habitats, the woods and moors are a sunshine paradise.

Today my phone calls with participants in the Necklaces of Stars project reflected the strange doubleness of this time. People have thrown themselves into making poems and songs. They have space and quiet to concentrate and so they dig deep, take journeys, into their deeper selves.

 

fine stitching, star, Joan

Detail, embroidered shooting stars, Joan Link, A Necklace of Stars 2020

 

Their poems appear in the Inbox each day. They’re funny, sad, thoughtful, kind-hearted. Some of them have pasted a grin on my face, others touched me beyond words. It’s good work. And they are rightly excited:

“I have never had this feeling before, where I have let the poem take me over. This time I’ve trusted it and jumped in. Let the form take me and learned from it. I used to treat poems like they were a competition to win, a test. I didn’t ever really let go. Now I’ve got many, many ideas, and I want to do them all…” (Participant)

 

“I am so pleased, so very pleased, to have done this, I was unsure at first but I’ve loved it. I had doubts about myself and my work, felt silly and slow. It’s wonderfully reassuring to be told it’s good, to know it’s reached someone else.” (Participant)

Today also brought tears and shakiness from some. The disquiet underneath the quiet is taking its toll. For those who are isolated alone, solitude weighs heavily on the heart. What is life if it isn’t shared? The missing are missed terribly.

 

And so we talk about…

 

Hope to see your face again in the mirror

On reflection let’s hope the sadness is gone

From the dark shadows where hope is fading

Replaced by radiant rainbow beams of hope.

 

Tricia Clough

Joan B star embroidery

Embroidered shooting stars, Joan Link, A Necklace of Stars 2020

Today’s blog was written by Philip Davenport, arthur+martha.

A Necklace of Stars, is supported by Arts Council England, 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.

9182D83D-8957-4AED-B564-F54EF0D7569C

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.

 

 

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.

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.