We tell it with a big heart

A Book of Ours

A BOOK OF OURS illuminated manuscript, made by people who’ve experienced homelessness and other vulnerable people in Manchester, is currently being exhibited at Bury Art Museum. On 9 July a group of the makers (and others) from the Booth Centre and Back on Track came to see the exhibition. A selection of 20 pages is on the walls and in cabinets — only a fraction of the whole number of pages which will be bound into the book. Here below are photos from the day, plus some of the group’s comments:

“When you look at this work, you don’t see the circumstances of the people. You don’t see how they were living or how they was suffering when they made these pages. You’ve got to look deep inside these pictures and these words. Then you get the true story of what is being told here, it is told as it is, it is the truth. I have witnessed it. There is a fearful judgement put on people when they live homeless. But these pages don’t say it’s good or say it’s bad, they just say it exists. They are stories deserving the telling.”

Above: Roy, Kayleigh and (in bottom right photo) Shannah, Bury Art Museum July 2020

“I don’t read so well, it takes me a while. It’s brilliant to have the pictures as well as the words, then I can guess bits of what’s going on. The colours dance for me. Now I did get that poem about Dolly Parton, I love her songs, she comes on like a joke but she sings the saddest songs. I’m looking at this one here and I can read all these words myself. They speak to me about suicide. This is how it is when there is no road left to go. Looking at that page made me feel something, to be honest it made me feel terrible. But then two pages along down is this one about hope. The one about the Satellites coming. I like hope coming in at the end. It’s part one and part two of a story. That’s how it seems to me.” Anonymous

From Office of the Dead, A BOOK OF OURS
From The Joys, A BOOK OF OURS

“Phil, it looks great. You know that and I know that and now everyone else can see it. I’ve come a long way to see our story on the wall. All the gang here, we look like bankrobbers with our masks on. Makes me smile, we look so dodgy. And the gang has done great, every single one of us. We made it together, the Collective. Here we are together again, I’d like to have a picture but they’d probably arrest me. Wouldn’t be the first time.” Chris

“It makes you feel good at the time when you’re doing the art, you get lost in it. And then when you see it again, like this. I don’t have the words. And other people’s work too, all those people from the day centres. It can be a lonely world out there — when you’re really out in it, when you live outside. Sometimes, times like this, you’re not so alone.” Anonymous

From The Joys, A BOOK OF OURS

“People never knew about us. Never knew it was there did they, this story of ours? It was written by a bunch of down and out pissheads, as people call us. Bums, to put it mildly. But I been round this gallery today and we’re in there too now — and we are just as good. With the top artists and sculptors. We tell it with a big heart. A bunch of down and outs is what you get called. The harsh judgements. And sometimes we judge ourselves even harder. When you’ve lived this life, you don’t feel always good about yourself. Know what I’m saying? But here — you do feel good. When you ask me is telling this story worthwhile, I don’t even hesitate. Of course it is, of course it is!” Roy

A BOOK OF OURS, Bury Art Museum

Gallery photography by Julia Grime. Page close-ups, Lois Blackburn.

People who have experienced homelessness, and other vulnerable people, have made a medieval-style illuminated manuscript A BOOK OF OURS describing their lives, hopes and dreams in a 2-year project in Manchester, which had its public debut at Bury Art Museum in May and runs until July 2021.

This arthur+martha project took place at the Booth Centre, Back on Track and other support centres in Manchester, along with virtual workshops with (Invisible) Manchester and Inspiring Change Manchester. Much of this work has been inscribed into the illuminated manuscript, and many extra pieces are to be found here on our blog and as songs in a forthcoming CD. The book pages and songs were made collaboratively by people with lived experience of homelessness and other vulnerable people 2019-21.

Supported by Heritage Lottery Fund

Jakir and Phil, pondering

The Umpire of Heaven

A Book of Ours, poetry

Richard writes about a day in heaven, for our project A BOOK OF OURS. His heaven is simply a day spent with his father, watching cricket on the TV – and yet the affection with which he describes this day makes it so much more than “ordinary”…

Umpire

Sat there, my dad watching telly
His favourite commentator
Reporting the cricket. And dad
Big smirk on his face
Engrossed in the match
But he wasn’t the only one —

We were all there
And England was back in the game.
One of the boys hit it for 6
You can tell by the sound of the 
Ball on the bat
It was going for 6
A perfect moment. Heaven.

My dad doing the hand-signals
Signal for 6, signal for 4
Signals for “Out”, for “Wide”
In cricket, he knows it all.
And he’s got a sense of humour
Takes the mickey out of me, I tell him:
“One day you’ll talk sense.”

Football I’ve studied 20 years.
Learned — big teams are always beatable
If you play like a team without fear.
Get knocked down, make your comeback
Everyone’s got to struggle. Me, I’ve
Had my dips and in the biggest 
I lost everything. It caused me to rediscover 
Myself. My progress now is more and more —

And my dad is having a cuppa, eating sandwiches 
Sat there talking cricket, he’s got me intrigued.
Biggest smile on my face —
A family outing round the telly.

Richard

People who have experienced homelessness, and other vulnerable people, have made a medieval-style illuminated manuscript A BOOK OF OURS describing their lives, hopes and dreams in a 2-year project in Manchester, which had its public debut at Bury Art Museum in May and runs until July 2021.

This arthur+martha project took place at the Booth Centre, Back on Track and other support centres in Manchester, along with virtual workshops with (Invisible) Manchester and Inspiring Change Manchester. Much of this work has been inscribed into the illuminated manuscript, and many extra pieces are to be found here on our blog. The book pages and songs were made collaboratively by people with lived experience of homelessness and other vulnerable people 2019-21.

Supported by Heritage Lottery Fund

Star Travellers

Necklace of Stars, poetry

From Jackie, one of the writers on the Necklace of Stars project, a journey deep into the sky and into the deep past.

Oh how the stars have shaped our lives
We gaze upon history.
See -

Great ancient cultures were born 
Of their worship
Of celestial ancestors

Rediscovered over generations
To be themselves revered as epic
Monuments of lost civilisations.

We gaze upon the same 
Wondrous interstellar light show 
As did the 

Pharaohs, Aztecs, Maya; we gaze upon history
As we strive to join our brethren
The sky gods.

Jackie

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.

Starshine

Necklace of Stars, poetry

From TS, one of the writers on the Necklace of Stars project, an imagining of who wears the necklace. And who is watching...

A necklace of stars sparkles, 
Gracefully around the neck  
Of this cosmological goddess 
Holding her supreme position 
In the firmament; she reigns 
Over her subjects
As they move, almost indiscernibly 
Across the skies.  

The goddess moves her elegant hand 
Across the glittering jewels 
Adorning her throat 
Realigning them to create 
The most favourable conditions 
For earthly followers who scrutinise 
Every change and charm.
Step by step, she strokes each precious piece 
Until the ultimate arrangement arrives.

TS

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.

For reading on clear, starry Spring nights

Necklace of Stars, poetry
Herewith, for reading on clear, starry Spring nights. Full of hope as we come out of lockdown -- two poems from AOS:

A necklace of stars,
Interspersed with dreams,
punctuated with memories
of beautiful themes.

Moments to treasure,
A joy to recall
Filling my life with pleasure, 
A sense of peace overall.

Gathering these  fragments
A delicate task,
Storing them  carefully
Seems a lot to ask,

But the happiness they bring
As I turn to reflect,
Give  me   Moments so beautiful
Life seems  quite  perfect.

AOS.

And next is a “simple thank you”, dedicated here to a son – but for everyone who helps us get through difficult times.

I need to thank you for being
my son,
I need to thank you for the things
you have done,
Taking time to talk when my spirit
is low,
means more to me than you will
ever know.

Thank you for the love you have
given without measure,
for this is a love only a mother
can treasure.

Thank you for all the  help and care,
Thank you for always being there.

AOS

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.

The making of a page

A Book of Ours, Projects

Artist Lois Blackburn describes some of the processes in the creation of a page of A Book of Ours.

Creating the artwork for the Book of Ours has been a true collaborative process. Occasional pages have been made by one person, but most have the hands of 2 or 3, some pages have multiple artists and writers. This is a fitting tribute to the Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts that inspire our book. Each element was created by a different person (in the Western tradition usually monks) the parchment, the scribe, the illuminator, the book binder… For us, it means we can offer many ways for people to shine, be it writing, drawing, calligraphy, painting…

The illustration in the medieval manuscript was functional as well as decorative, marking the beginnings of important texts, and helping the reader to find their way around the book. The illustrations worked together to inform the reader, to tell the story. The Book of Ours, borrows from all these traditions, with artworks inspired by the poetry, or by themes and images directly from the medieval manuscripts.

During the last year, under lock downs and Covid restrictions, we have had to adapt our workshops, with smaller groups when we were lucky enough to meet at The Booth Centre and Back on Track, and remote ways of working, using on-line resources and the post. I contribute with themes, inspiration, resources, examples, creating a page template with space for illustrations and text. Sometimes I have much more input into the book pages. For instance one of the last pages in the book ‘The prospect of a bath’.

My first step was to block out the page, with space for the illustration, and space for Andrew’s beautiful poem, ‘The prospect of a bath’. Using transfer paper, I copied Andrew’s hand written poem onto the manuscript page. This in turn was written over with calligraphy pen and ink. I will always use people’s own handwriting where I can, and keep spelling and layout as unedited as possible.

I had been sent in the post a tender angel drawing, from C Blackwood, which I copied onto the page, creating the image in inks rather than felt pen, but keeping it as true to the original as I could.

Looking at medieval manuscripts for further inspiration, I found an image (see below on the left) that irresistibly fitted the theme, and one that could showcase C. Blackwood’s angel. The resulting page has perhaps more of ‘me’ in than I would like- normally a page like this would go backwards and forwards to various makers more often. However it does showcase the Andrew’s poem, and C.Blackwood’s angel, so I hope they will be pleased.

arthur+martha work with homeless and vulnerable people to participate in making the illuminated manuscript BOOK OF OURS. This project is partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track and supported by the Heritage Lottery.

Between the trees

Necklace of Stars, poetry

Raindrops hang like tears

from the solitary tree

outside my window.   

                                  

Its bare cold branches

heavy with the falling rain.

It weeps for the world.

A blackbird perches

on the drab, grey leafless branch

And sings its heart out.

The gentle snowdrops,

Their innocent heads held high,

Swaying in the breeze.

Petals like teardrops

hang down, clustered together,

a pure, white, delicate gown.

Their tender green stems

Stand proud, they do not falter,

Defying the wind.

Day is almost done.

Between the trees, soft lights shine.

The world looks softer.

Anne

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. Here, Anne’s haiku sequence tells a story, moving from a dark mood towards the light — as the day itself travels in the opposite direction.

The song of twilight

Necklace of Stars, poetry

Three poems that sing, by Necklace of Stars writer Paula Elizabeth Tate:

Skylark 


Oh such pleasure from your songs
Listening to your silver tongues
Let me ride upon your wings
Hearing all the joys you bring.


Or I shall float as a cloud
Side-by-side with you reside?
For all the treasures of the world
Do not compare to thee, as none has thy sweet harmony.


And I shall polish stars at night
The moon will beam with sheer delight
But only when the skylark sings
Dancing round a million springs, for my heart’s a-flutter, a sky of wings.


Paula Elizabeth Tate


——

After Shelley

"We look before and after
And pine for what is not
Our sincerest laughter 
With some pain is fraught
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought."


Yet on we strive with songs of love
Hoping that one’s soul be reached
Never sure what would inspire
Knowing only our own desire
Until we hear that voice from thee, then all our dreams lie — silently.


Paula Elizabeth Tate


——

The Song of Twilight


The distant calls enchanted
As birds sang from a tree
No tender words were needed
They were in the melody.


Joined by sudden ripples
From the singing brook
In that fleeting moment
In that fleeting look.


The breeze was also humming
In a gentle way
For now’s the time for twilight,
The closing of the day.


As soft grey shades of evening
Make silver threads on leaves
Twirling to the music
The flurried dance of trees.


I stopped to search and listen
Some precious time I took
In that fleeting moment
In that fleeting look. 


Paula Elizabeth Tate

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. Paula Elizabeth Tate’s poems are chock-full of rhythm and melody. Whether she’s taken flight with a skylark, in mid-conversation with the ghost of PB Shelley, or listening to the sounds of evening, she is a poet whose words sing.

Hearing WHISPERS

Whisper to me alone

Whisper to me alone is a song and poem cycle made collaboratively during the pandemic with people who’ve experienced homelessness and with vulnerable people. Songwriter Matt Hill and Phil Davenport made many hours of phone calls with participants, gradually piecing together this material. Here, Matt writes about the experience:

Despite the limitations under lockdown this has been a project I’m really proud of. I worked over the phone with the writers, gathering their input and recording their voices. You will hear some of those voices in the finished recordings. I have come to know these voices so well and yet we’ve never met face to face.

The recordings were done at home, directly into phones, and down phone-lines. Although it wasn’t the best quality it captures the sense of isolation we were all feeling as we tried to find connection over the phone. There are other sounds here too, electronic sounds of dial tones and beeps merged with the sounds of bird song, from that remarkable period in early lockdown when the traffic stopped and the birds returned to the city.

For a project born in an urban cityscape, nature and birds are ever present in this material. We hear of the arrival of seagulls into Manchester and the mysterious disappearance of the pigeons. The reality of lives affected by homelessness and mental health challenges comes through. In times of trouble we all find our own ways to cope. Some of our writers found comfort in childhood or times of family gatherings and community.

As I struggled with my own mental health during lockdown I was able to find a strong personal connection to these songs. This song cycle give us glimpses of other lives but there is universal truth here, as we all try to adapt and shift to this new reality. Even though these are not the stories of my life, there is much here we can all find connection with. You can stream the songs on Bandcamp here.

Cover of forthcoming CD, designed by “SPD”

#WhisperToMeAlone is a cycle of pandemic poems and songs, which give tiny glimpses of homeless and vulnerable lives, in rooms, on streets, isolated in hotels… The project was devised and directed by Phil Davenport who worked with songwriter Matt Hill in collaboration with participants in Manchester. WHISPER was funded by Arts Council England and partnered with The Booth Centre and Back on Track in Manchester. Contributors include members of the Inspiring Change Manchester group, associated with SHELTER, and MASH (a charity providing non-judgemental services to women working in the sex industry). Visual tweets for the twitter stream were designed by the poets Tom Jenks and Nathan Williams. A CD is coming soon...

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.