I enjoy the challenge of a commission and the connections they can make happen. Public commissions often enable me to write with and for specific communities whereas private commissions are an opportunity to bring joy to individuals and families on special occasions.
I was commissioned by Leeds 2023 to be the Festival Bard for a day of sports and games in Alwoodley. As part of my role, I attended events, spoke to festival goers and produced this piece of poetic reportage in response.
Imagine a man of any age or appearance, head back in an armchair in an Alwoodley semi-detached, listening to leather on willow, a commentator’s comforting tones. Another runs the circuit of the reservoir, fragments of The Ashes blowing out from his phone. Hundreds of trainers race. We clap them on at Goodrick Lane, recalling numbers pinned to vests, how we fared before knees gave way. Walkers listen for long dead languages and living bird call, rebuild Alwoodley Hall in their minds, watch for changes seasons bring to the surface as a black lab leaps like a high jumper onto a wall. In the church with a silent copper bell above the door, thoughts fly into the blue horizon on wings of gulls and song. Tai chi takes Lara’s worries away. We are forgetting our injuries, seeking contact and connection, peeling the onion of ourselves, of the form, waiting for that magic itch. We touch fingers together in our chairs, movements mirroring the weather, almost convinced they can grow clover in the rain. Meanwhile, Jerry’s playing table tennis with Bowie in the void, so close he notes every smile, every scowl. Don’t pick up your bat in anger; today he’s Ziggy, a planet on his forehead, wrist flick nifty. But this is no mime – the ball is Mars forced into unusual orbit, out of play. Is it possible, Reuben wonders, to hear the pop pop pop, ping pong ping pong sound in space? Back to the earthy rugby player I meet mid bench press, muscles and game fed on carbs and meat, favourite matches at The Lakes with big lads, farmers. You can try for the main clubs but there’s no place like a home club. Roll call of heroes: Christie, Jordan, Akabusi, Hoy. Muhammad Ali who refused to take his fight to Nam, was punched, instead, with the weight of hate, but this war is against the teachings of the Holy Qur’an. Sport can make us better people if we let it, like You Go I Go at Shire Fit. Tommy doesn’t believe he can lift the barbell but his team raise their voices, his faith. Go on Tommy! Tara’s in his head, We all have our challenges but I am drawn to the impossible. Then the bar is airbound, improbable but certain. Rubber mats catch what might be sweat or tears. Hoops jangle their cheers. Kindness lands on a board of faces before fluttering out into the world. At Alwoodley Cricket Club, a boy spins on the pitch, arms outstretched. A woman taps her bat on the ground. The chant springs up, Bouncy Castle, bouncy castle, bouncy castle! Mothers confess their desire to shed, for a while, shoes and duty, jump on rubber, Total Wipeout style. Food from the barbecue you can hold in your hands – burger, sausage, samosa. Cricket attracts people from everywhere – The Caribbean, Tamil Nadu, Pakistan where a girl is heading on her imaginary bike, through nature to hot sun and grandmother left behind. She knows, like the climate host, we must use our bodies to power our lives, that this is where our future lies.
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I have written poems for weddings, birthdays and other occasions. I aim for all commissioned poems to be well-crafted and original – it is important that whatever I create is tailored to you and the person or people the poem is for. If you’re interested, email me to arrange an initial chat.