Listening for pleasure

A Book of Ours, Projects

The making of the Book of Ours is a favourite moment of the week. On Wednesday we were based at Back on Track It is impossible to predict what will happen next. Some days, like today, it brings together people in extraordinary closeness and kindness. Other days, the gates of mayhem open, letting anger and despair pour through — and we work to stay afloat.

We are helping to document the lives of people who are up against it, people who’ve experienced homelessness, supporting them as they filter their experiences through artwork and poems. The book starts with a calendar, a whole year with six words dedicated to describing each day. The days that people write and draw about often delight in life, particularly times of new growth. The days that children were born, the flowers and budding trees that mark the start of Springtime, times of recovery — and always the great joy of sunshine. But they also talk of deaths, of times spent living on the streets, of addiction, of violence, of incarceration.

Today’s was a day for Springtime. The gentle pleasures of a garden being jump started by daffodils, the trees returning to life like old friends. A grandfather busying among the flowers. It was a quiet session, punctuated by people making little affirmations of happiness. Two of the group members said they were surprised by how energising the work was, how it brought pleasure rather than tiredness. And listening to them was, in turn, a pleasure in itself.

Sue

Sue working on the September page of ‘A Book of Ours’.

 

This arthur+martha project is the making of an illuminated manuscript, at Back on Track, the Booth Centre  support centres in Manchester. It will gather together 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. Supported by HLF.

 

Slow rollercoaster

A Book of Ours, Projects

The Book of Ours is growing into itself.

 

Each week, a handful more images and more words. This isn’t fast work, it needs to be slow and intricate. If you contribute to this book, you sometimes need to dive in deep and take time to look inside yourself, to record carefully and then report back. Or perhaps it’s a gentle meander, like going for a pleasant walk, but still it takes time.

Every page is wreathed in flowers, trees, the detail of many tiny worlds. Every written line has been hard-won, too. The experiences they record are often hard — and then reshaping them as a poem or prose also takes hard thought.

Bella and Chris @boothcentre

Making this work is not only an act of self-expression, it brings relaxation, companionship, laughter, empathy too. These are all words I’ve heard used today, as people describe the process of making. Here are some snapshots from the day, in both photos and words.

In the morning, one of our “regulars” at The Booth Centre was making a piece for a friend who’s just died. The funeral was in the afternoon. We talked about Scottish James and gradually a piece was written for him, which will be inscribed into the Book of Ours. As he wrote, his face was shadowed and he took many pauses to reflect, silently. Once we’d done, he shook my hand and gave a brisk nod.

“Nice,” he said.

Andy @BoothCentre

One of the artists hadn’t been in for a while, due to personal circumstances. He grinned from ear to ear when he came in the room. We told him he’d been missed, we’d been concerned.

“I’m here for the full day,” he said. “I’ve missed you. I’ve missed this.”

He sat down, picked up a pen and got to work, drawing as if his life depended on it. The colours that erupt on his pages are dazzling, gorgeous, sunshiney. In between working he told us about being bounced between accommodation, falling through gaps in the system, struggling to find space for his life to continue.

“I don’t know how I manage to keep positive,” he said. “But somehow, I do.”

A final snapshot. Two of the writers involved today had to go early, for various unavoidable reasons. Both of them complained bitterly as they left. They didn’t want to leave, it was being forced on them, too soon. Like waking up too early, from a dream that hasn’t finished yet.

 

It is the morning, the mourning

In the morning. Mourning. It’s sad,

The word we use to start

Every day is a word for

Death. Get on the rollercoaster.

It is the morning, the mourning.

 

Group poem

 

April

 

Let the ice melt everything

A Book of Ours, Projects

Farewell to Jon, still seeing everything

Farewell coldness, let the ice melt everything.

 

Something about today made it a quiet one at the Booth Centre, the frantic buzz of the last couple of weeks had quietened. It was a gentle, reflective atmosphere upstairs in the art space too. We sat at a table with at most eight people gathered around it at any one time. Moments like these are ideal for exploring the deeper layers in ourselves, for seeing what’s there, and perhaps for sharing.

Roy writing

Today’s workshop was poetry only. Most of our working days are a mixture of art and writing, but this one was expressed in pens and paper and ideas. Which brought out a different quality in people; using language rather than gesture, vocabulary rather than colour. It also brought with it intimacy. We talked about things that slide under the surface of the everyday to remain hidden. We wrote about loss and about the losing of things we’d like to see the back of. And as we talked, we wrote. A group piece, extracted here. And individual poems too. Six line poems, six words per line. Enough limitation to bring focus, enough looseness to let it flow.

 

In the lunch break I met someone who’s often worked with us in the past. Bandaged up to the elbows on both arms, cheeks puffy and bruised. This familiar face grinned at me when I to join in the writing, “Can’t mate. I’m hoping I’ve got a place in rehab today. But thanks for asking.”

I said I hoped the place came up, that it all worked out. Bandaged arms, pyjama trousers, bruised cheeks. I’ve thought about that short encounter the rest of this afternoon. About that smile. It was as if I was a messenger from a far off world that’s thought of fondly, but currently unreachable.

“Join us again, when you can,” I said.

The reply: “Thanks for asking. I mean it.”

 

Farewell sweet love, you won’t be alone

Farewell everyone supposed to be home.

 

From Ballad No. 4, group poem

 

The kindness of gangsters

A Book of Ours, Projects

Our project a Book of Ours at the Booth Centre is a kind of seismograph, measuring tremors. Some workshops are stable and we make work in tranquillity, others bring earthquakes. Today we started with the earthquakes. We had someone screaming out their anguish at the top of their voice. We had verbal aggression. We had tears, of course. We heard a heartbreak from everyone there, or so it felt.

But we also witnessed many small victories and it’s those I want to honour. The slow determination of people beaten down by violence, addiction, depression, fear — and yet still they bring themselves here to focus on these fragile pages. And, more and more, they listen to each other, help each other through the bad moments.

As I write this now, after the latest session, I can still see one particular person, who until last week was living on the streets, beset with drugs and mental health difficulties, with their face full of peace as they paints. Their page is a rich weave of colour, image, writing. Each element is part of a little world, into which they dive, and into which they invites us. This page is one of the most fought-over spaces I’ve ever seen. Some weeks they manage to join us, to work on it more. Other weeks they’re missing in action. To have them with us today was not just a personal win for them, but the winning out of hope over despair, art over violence, living over ending. We keep score of such things.

Today we also had a return visit from one of our occasional group members. Many of his stories of street living are too harsh for him write, just the telling leaves him shaking. But he did make the poem below, that gives the title to this blog post. It’s about the arrival of hope, just when you think all is lost. And how the cavalry sometimes arrives from unexpected places.

When he’d finished working on the poem, he was insistent it acknowledged not just himself, but also the other seven people sleeping out on that street that night. He checked it over, nodded his approval. “It’s my tale,” he said. “It’s good.”

 

 

The Kindness of Gangsters

 

Faces.

Simple fact: you’re lying there, pavement

Looking up, watching faces.

Tales of good to evil to evil to good.

The Gangsters of London

Heard our tales.

The Door Boss of London and his boys

They were giving out fish and chips

Pulling up in the flash car, giving positivity

From a 4 by 4.

Giving money, maybe felt guilty, listening to the

Tales of people sleeping on Russel Street

Tales of good to evil to evil to good

Babies born in doorways.

 

Me, I’m

Not just telling the tale, I’m living it

Whilst looking up at the stars — and tell me

What are they looking at?

These walls are recorders for history

The girl selling oranges got stabbed

And the baby’s brought to rest.

Faces,

I’m looking up

Every person is a face, has a heart.

The Gangster of London

Maybe was homeless himself

Tales of good to evil to evil to good

The Door Boss of London

Came in his car. Put his boys out

To look after us, to give. Love.

 

Anonymous

(This tale could be told by any of the seven men sleeping on Russel Street that night)

Karen

Karen

arthur+martha are making an illuminated manuscript, at the Booth Centre and other support centres for people with experience of homelessness. It gathers together significant events, dates, people, celebrations and memorials, all in one book, (‘A book of ours’) 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. Supported by HLF.