Over the last couple of months, I have fallen a little in love with Morley. It’s partly because of the beautiful industrial architecture and the indoor market, partly because the atmosphere of the place – grand, real, unpretentious – reminds me of Bradford, where I grew up. But it’s mainly because of the people I met there, their no-nonsense friendliness, their humour.
From the initial exploration of the streets of Morley with Artist Bryony Pritchard during which, much to the amusement of local people, we bent our bodies into strange shapes to make up the letters of the word ‘shoddy’ to the first performance of the commissioned poem at Poetry At The Altar, I enjoyed every moment of being a commissioned poet for Morley Literature Festival.
Visual art was a theme that ran through much of our poetry programme, beginning with ‘Word On The Street’, a poetic art trail created by artist Bryony Pritchard and featuring a range of poetry extracts by local poets Ian Duhig, Pat Borthwick, Ian Parks, Greg White, Julia Deakin, Michelle Scally Clarke, Matthew Hedley Stoppard, Peter R White, Linda Marshall, Oz Hardwick and Steve Nash. Celebrating poetry on the streets rather than on the page, the trail took the public from the Town Hall to the park and other locations in the town centre of Morley and explored themes as diverse as mills, mines, textiles, journeys, shopping and the imagination.
In curating the extracts, I felt it was crucial that the words related both to the industrial heritage of Morley and to its present, that they were rooted in the locations chosen for them and that they spoke to and about the people who have walked those streets, passed by those buildings and gone about the everyday.
Bryony’s creation of the poetic installations referenced Morley’s heritage as the first producer of shoddy cloth by using techniques we’ve forgotten over time. Each letter was hand printed using a letterpress onto a form of felted shoddy cloth, made especially by Bryony from botany lap waste and cotton strands.
For me the highlight of the trail was the tour which included en-route performances from five of the poets and plenty of time to read and absorb the art works – a truly joyous celebration of Morley and of everyone’s hard work.
The commissioned poem – In Bloom
Read the commissioned poem and the story of its crowd-sourced conception here:
At the ‘Written in the Skies’ family workshop in Morley Library, Bryony and I worked with children and their parents to create poems that we hung from our indoor sky. We used looking tools, fished sky-related shapes out of the sky to write on and even sampled astronaut fare to inspire our poems.
Fishing in the sky, photo by Bryony Pritchard.
It was a lot of fun and we attracted around 75 people – quite a lot for a 2 ½ hour drop in! Here are some of the poetic phrases written by children that were submitted to our Sky Museum on Twitter https://twitter.com/theskymuseum.
‘I can hear the wind blowing me across the world and I have the strong and beautiful sight of night. Swirly clouds.’
‘The clouds are not clouds they are the froth from the milk in Starbucks.’
‘Clouds in the shape of a marshmallow move slow like a turtle through the blue sky.’
‘A sky recipe. A handful of fluff stir into blue paint. Let it dry.’
We even made it into The Times!
The adult workshop ‘The Art of Poetry’ had fewer attendees but it was great for me to see some familiar faces and also to work with people I’d never encountered before. Some of the poetry produced was stunning and the discussions were inspiring and moving – from photographs of houses where people grew up to tribal masks that evoked treasured memories to sculpting tools hand-carved by a participant’s father. It was lovely to see a gang of workshop participants arrive together at the poetry and music night in St Peter’s Church after working up their poems ready for the open mic element of the evening.
7 Steps to Being a Writer Powered by Pecha Kucha
‘You each offered us layers of invitation, tantalised us. It was up to us whether we took up the invitation. I loved it!’ This was one woman’s perspective on Circa’s first http://www.pechakucha.org/ show. None of the 40-strong audience had attended a Pecha Kucha event in the past and it was no surprise that the 20 slides in 20 seconds format provoked such a lively discussion at the end. How beautiful should the visuals be? How abstract? Should as much time be invested in choosing the images as choosing the words for a piece of writing? How much should be left to the audience’s imagination? Where will we be taking the show next?
Watch this space.
Big thanks to the poets and performers, everyone who attended the events, the wonderful festival team and my talented collaborator Bryony Pritchard.
Of course Morley wasn’t the only festival happening in September/October. Why do they all happen simultaneously?! Other highlights for me included the Love Arts Festival for which I was lucky enough to be involved with facilitating two workshops one through Mae Care and one through Artlink West Yorkshire again with Bryony – we are becoming quite a double act!
Flavours of Artlink saw us exploring the theme of transformation with participants from varied backgrounds. We grew transformational words with cress seeds, drew with icecubes, thought about personal growth with a guided writing activity and inscribed our most precious phrases in lemon juice, finally revealing them under a flame. One participant even put together and performed a poem using people’s transformational words as a starting point.
The same participant was at The Carriageworks for a workshop I had undertaken the previous week. It was supposed to be aimed at people over 60 but fortunately this information was omitted from the brochure. I say fortunately because this voyage through the emotions that gave opportunities to write from the self and to abstract emotions was richer for involving a diverse group of participants. I was impressed both with the emotive quality of the work produced and the participants’ bravery – the session culminated in a performance of work that was, often, intensely personal.
Another big highlight of last month for fellow facilitator Michelle Scally Clarke and I was watching the Ilkley Young Writers perform at Ilkley Literature Festival. There have been more competition wins for group members recently and the quality of the writing and performance of each member has leapt forwards since last year’s Fringe event. What’s more, they tackled some weighty issues, almost all of them knew their pieces off by heart and they performed with an admirable professionalism. An audience member unrelated to any of the young people told the event manager that she regularly attends Ilkley festival events and that this was one of the best she’d ever been to. Look out for more from Ilkley Young Writers in the near future.
Much to my delight and apprehension, ‘Skybound’ has finally been launched off into the ether. I’ve had one rejection so far which leaves four agents who are still considering it. In the meantime, I’m completing a final edit on the rest of the novel.
I’ve also entered five poems into the National Poetry Competition and three to Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg and am wondering which writing project to pursue next.
Forthcoming Performances and Open Workshops
Leeds Trinity Open Mic – I will be guest poet at The Sandbar, Town Street, Horsforth, LS18 5LJ on Wednesday 6th November at 7.30 pm. Free.
Pre-brewed Poetry – Drop in found poetry session for The Tetley art gallery launch at The Tetley, Hunslet Road, Leeds, LS10 1JQ on Saturday 30th November. Time tbc. Free. http://thetetley.org/