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.

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.

Social dancing

Whisper to me alone
Social Dancing. Photograph by Sue Dean

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.

Phil writes:

The isolation that has come with lockdown has forced many of us to look at ourselves and try to understand some of our dilemmas. It’s brought the good and it’s brought the bad. For some it has felt like a prison sentence. For other people it’s been a kind of opportunity. Anastasia points this out:

“I’ve had the chance to slow down, to quieten all the noise around me. To still the voices of busyness and make myself be calm. I’ve been thinking a little bit zen these days. Taking time to exist. It’s a choice isn’t it, what you do with this moment. Maybe I’ll learn from it.”

The writing and art is part of this process, it can be a tool for holding those reflections, so they don’t just melt away but are kept and thought about. Making a poem now is like no other time in people’s lives. We’re also experimenting with making poems over the phone, the author speaking lines down to the scribe (myself) and an edit agreed by reading it back.

It’s a whole different time
It’ll be unique in the telling
A different way of looking
We’re thinking the new thinking.

Anonymous

July 13. Photograph by Sue Dean

In reflecting the world through writing and art, we look at it more closely. This can be a celebration as well as a reckoning:

The birds tweeting
The squirrels hanging out — see!
Small bird, one of the tiny ones
The owl’s fascination
The great grey bird on the canal
Encounter in the kitchen, a Queen Bee
(Got to be careful with that one)
The squirrels drop round our way
For nuts and
Since we’ve kept our distance
We’re not so close to each other
But then. I look again and
There’s a hedgehog.

Alan

And in making things, we also make ourselves.

“I’ve loved having this writing and art, it’s keeping me going. It gets stuff out of my head onto paper. The art process helps. And when I lose making art, it feels like I lose myself some days. I hang onto me through the images and the writings. It’s all you’ve got sometimes…”

Anonymous

Selfie with mask. Adapted photograph by Sue Dean

The lockdown photographs of Manchester that illuminate this blog were by Sue Dean, using her favourite camera, her phone. WHISPER TO ME ALONE 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.

During the first lockdown the Booth Centre ran an advice drop-in and accommodated people under the Everyone In scheme. At 11am every day they ran a Facebook activity session to combat isolation, which included the arthur+martha WHISPER TO ME ALONE 2-minute poetry videos.

In the sunshine you’re invisible

Here Comes the Sun, Whisper to me alone

The sun has been a symbol of hope and life to humans since the year dot. But it can also bring the harsh light of exposure. In this poem, written for our project WHISPER TO ME ALONE, Danny Collins describes the fear of being seen, when you’re homeless.

Everyone under the same sun

In the sun you are recognised
In the bright bright sun.
In the night, people don’t see
Homeless feel secure of a night.

When you’re living rough and get wet
In the rain, in the beer, in whatever
It takes days to dry out
And the sun sun don’t stay.

Used to sleep under a bridge
Ancoats to Rochdale Canal
Whitworth Park was my office
When it was warm, jumped in

And swam.
This woman asked
“Why you swimming there?”
“I haven’t got a bathroom love.”

Don’t like it when people pity me.
I said, “Listen love I feel sorry for you
You’ve got rent to pay, tax, electricity
I’ve none of that. Trees don’t have keys.”

Pulled the cover over and went to sleep
Left her scratching her head.
In the sunshine you’re invisible
But they still see you.

Danny Collins 

This poem was spoken by Danny over over the phone to Phil, who wrote it down – an example of our current safe distance working. Danny calls this method ‘I spoke it, you wrote it.’

Beryl Lott's sun1

 

If you’ve enjoyed Danny’s poem, you might like to go on one of his Invisible Manchester tours, in which he describes living on the streets and reads his poems in the places where it all happened.

WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers experiences of people who have experienced homelessness — and the experiences of many other vulnerable people — in Manchester during lockdown. We’re using journals of writing, art, songs, phone conversations and embroidery. Today’s embroideries are: Top, embroidered sun by Hazel Cawthan, and bottom embroidered sun, by Beryl Lott, for the quilt Here Comes the Sun. (Part of the Whisper to me alone project)

WHISPER TO ME ALONE 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.

During the first lockdown the Booth Centre ran an advice drop-in and accommodated people under the Everyone In scheme. At 11am every day they ran a Facebook activity session to combat isolation, which included the arthur+martha WHISPER TO ME ALONE 2-minute poetry videos.

 

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.

Happy?

Necklace of Stars, Projects

 

How are you coping

As we go through lockdown?

Perhaps you are lonely

Perhaps you are sad

Yet be consoled; this too shall pass.

 

Annie Carter

 

While we have been working on the poems for necklace of stars, the Covid virus has kept everybody shut away in their own little worlds. For some this has been a shelter and a relief, for others a prison. This time alone, or else in small family groups, has forced people to look at themselves and think about who they are. And the question of happiness has come up over and over. When I ring up participants I very often ask how are you doing? And they want to know about me — how is it today?

Questioning happiness, contentment, the striving to find peace, is traditionally the business of poets. And so some of the pieces we’ve gathered for this lullaby project are not lullabies at all, instead they address fear. And the writers look very deeply to see if they can find peace, either in themselves or in the world around them.

And, as is the way of all things, just as peace arrives, it leaves again and we see the world in conflict once more… and the words of lullabies mean more than simply finding sleep, they mean finding harmony between ourselves:

 

Hush-a-bye baby, hush-a-bye

Sleep sweet to my lullaby melody

Dream of your place in the Galaxy

Safe from the chains of old slavery

May your life be filled with sweet harmony

And your fantasy never lack sanity

May you never be plagued by poverty

May you reach for the stars as your destiny…

Hush-a-bye baby, hush-a-bye.

 

Annie Carter

Joan B, embroidered stars

Joan Beadsmore, embroidered stars for Necklace of Stars, quilt. June 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.