So delightful this morning to have the chance to share poems made with residents of Highwell House Nursing Home on BBC Radio Shropshire with the wonderfully enthusiastic Jim Hawkins.
The link is here: and the clip is at 1hr: 39 (or listen to the show from 1h for more on poetry in Shropshire, including Jonathan Day‘s new work ‘Lyric’).
Here’s one of the poems I read. It was made by writing down conversations with the group as they happened, which then I worked into the poem, using only the residents’ words, but finding a form and line-endings for the poem. These are the voices of Jim Cecil, Eddie, Vera, Wilf, Peter, Stella, Margaret and Iris.
We’ve all scrambled through life. We don’t know why we go through it, but we do. It’s called experience. It’s been an amazing life. We don’t know how wise we are.
The children sat in front, legs crossed, looking up. You want to be a bit scared, then brought back into the real world again. He had a trail of children following him, just like the Pied Piper, all bewitched.
This week I was working in a Herefordshire care home with a large group of elderly people, many of whom are living with dementia. I work regularly with this group, and this time I took them my grandpa’s Punch and Judy puppets to look at.
The puppets were passed round, their fragile condition much remarked on, and soon the conversation was flowing. I keep the ball rolling, and do my best to write down as much verbatim, of what people say. No punctuation! Doing this work has made me inventive with a personalised shorthand…
Later, at home, I work on these notes to make poems, using only the words actually spoken, so adding none of my own. Here are some photographs and extracts from the poems.
Mr Punch looks sly. You wouldn’t trust him. He’s on the make. The Policeman did a lot of shouting. He wags his finger at Mr Punch.
This ghost is a bit menacing. Feel that rough carving. It’s been handled such a lot. That skull’s all shiny with people smoothing its head. He’s bad before you look at him.
Next week I’ll be back in the care home to read the group the poems we made together. And make some more.
I turned off the engine. The car informed me it was 9 degrees outside on the Stiperstones. Visibility was down to 20 yards, but I could just see a few cold-looking people pulling on extra layers in the car park.
#5Sites5Senses is a collaborative project which takes people with severe disabilities, with their carers, out into the nearby countryside in the Shropshire Hills. It’s called Five Sites, Five Senses to reflect the nature of the places we’ve been out to visit, and bearing in mind the various and differing capacities of the service users. My role is to make poetry with everyone, capturing voices and creating a record of our experiences together in these beautiful places.
Unsurprisingly, the state of the weather had put off some of our regulars, but here we all are (except me, behind the camera) at the start of our expedition along the all-access trail.
We told stories of the Stiperstones, of how the devil comes to sit on the Devil’s Chair when the cloud is down (so yes, he must have been in residence), of 11th century Wild Edric, who it is said sleeps with his soldiers under the hill, ready to protect this place from harm. Bob the artist, who comes along as a volunteer, asked if we knew how to make a fairies’ handmirror.
Do you know how to make a fairy’s handmirror? His waterproofs crackle as he bends to pick one green stem from flowering reeds beside the path
& twists it to oval. He grips the flattened swirls of his handmirror’s handle. He dips it, once, twice, & a third time, through rainsilver folds of cobweb
while out on the steeps & crinkles of the moor the fairies tread the heather, unseen in fog: Cherry, Tamarisk, & Toadflax Pug.
Jenni Tibbett from Natural England, was walking with us. She told us about the three Exmoor ponies that graze on the Stiperstones. Their names are Cherry, Tamarisk and Toadflax Pug.
We focussed on what was close at hand. The marvellous September cobwebs. The brilliant strangeness of Fly Agaric fungus. The brightness of rowan berries.
When everyone was starting to feel cold, we scarpered down to the Bog Visitor Centre, who gave us a most warm welcome, hot tea, and homemade cake, while we told stories and sang songs. Later, I put this together. Maybe we’ll sing it together next time we meet.
When dragons died of fighting on this hill they smashed down on the ridge & left their bones for Shepherd’s Rock, for Devil’s Chair, for Manstone Rock, for Cranberry Rock, for Nipstone.
When simple giants were tricked and shamed they dropped their loads of stones along these paths for Shepherd’s Rock, for Devil’s Chair, for Manstone Rock, for Cranberry Rock, for Nipstone.
When Devil was fooled his tears of molten lead seeped down through hill to mines. He flies in cloud to Stiperstones by Shepherd’s Rock, by Devil’s Chair, by Manstone Rock, by Cranberry Rock, by Nipstone.
Men last no longer than snowflakes in summer. Nights fog tugs at your clothes, you’ll catch a stink of sulphur by Shepherd’s Rock, by Devil’s Chair, by Manstone Rock, by Cranberry Rock, by Nipstone.
For three years I worked as a freelance poet for In The Pink, a poetry and dementia project managed by Courtyard Arts in Hereford. As the project reached the end of its funding cycle they made this little film, which focuses particularly on the work I was doing in one of Herefordshire’s care homes. I like the film because it demonstrates the joy and engagement of these very elderly people with words, and with each other.
Today I had a lovely time at Helena Lane Day Centre’s Open Day in Ludlow. They invited me along (in association with Creative Inspiration) to set up with my 1932 Good Companions Portable (Very Slow & Noisy) Typewriter. Then all sorts of nice folk dropped by to order a poem. In no time I was clattering away making poems with them on requested subjects including:
Being a chef
Being on the beach
Here’s a few! I photographed them, then we tucked the poems into the envelopes and away they went.
I’m working on a great project with partners Shropshire Hills AONB, the Vision Homes charity in Ludlow, Loudwater Studio and all-round dynamo and now good friend, Julia Walling from Woods for Wellbeing. We’re taking people with severe disabilities, with their carers, out into the nearby countryside in the Shropshire Hills. It’s called Five Sites, Five Senses to reflect the nature of the places we’ve been out to visit, and bearing in mind the various and differing capacities of the service users.
In this way, for example, at Carding Mill Valley, I went with a blind man and his carer up a steep short path and over a plank bridge to reach a bird hide. His carer walked backwards over the plank bridge, holding his hands to guide him safely across. Once we got into the bird hide, it struck me that of course we were not going to look. We listened.
We’ve made visits now to three of the Five Sites: Carding Mill Valley, Gleanings Rural Study Centre and Brynmawr Care Farm. Our big scrapbook record is taking shape. It includes photographs of participants, artwork by both service users and carers, my poetry drawn from conversation and observation, and artwork by Julia Walling.
Lillian cups a tiny bird’s nest in today’s session in a Hereford Care Home. She isn’t able to speak much, but she was utterly delighted. It was marvellous to be able to bring such pleasure.
What bird lived here? So sweet. Soft. Keeps warm, I expect.
I don’t think we could do that. They’re so clever. They just do it with their beaks.
true true true off they’ll fly look there, look there
I also brought in a little RSPB blackbird, complete with song. He sang to everyone in the room, and prompted some marvellous language, which I transcribed on the spot and later worked into poems, adding no words of my own. Here is Paula’s poem.
Oh I’ve got him, I’ve got him. He says, you’re nosy, just mind your own business. He has a pearly eye. He sees everything. He misses nothing.
I look in his eye. I look in his eye. Tweet, tweet, tweet.
He lifts in the air. He rises to a height. He flies away.
He didn’t tell you what he said. He’s coming back another day.
We met in Loudwater Studio in Ludlow to work on various kinds of art reflecting the project ‘Loudwater Studio in the Shropshire Hills’. All these different pieces will form part of a three-dimensional sketchbook recording the visits of Loudwater Studio clients to five different and special places in the Shropshire Hills.
These beautiful birds are made from paper and Modrock plaster of Paris, with wire for feet. One of the Vision Homes residents was painting them with her carer, while Julia worked on a huge Red Kite.
Here he is, having his wings fitted.
And below is a shrew that Julia found, very dead, and which she most resourcefully pressed into a clay block to create this, erm, shrew death mask.
I worked on sorting out the words I’d gathered and tinkered with while we were up at Bury Ditches.
Here’s part of the poem. I made it into what will become a path winding through the bottom of the Bury Ditches ‘page’ of the three dimensional sketchbook.
I’ve just finished working on Poetry Partners, alongside Cree Valley Woodland Heritage Trust. WhatPoetry Partnersaimed to do was to bring together two different generations of local people to celebrate the woods. There’s a Bigger and Better Blog about this project here.
I was brought on board by Cree Valley Woodland Heritage Trust to work with P6 of Penninghame Primary School, and with the regular visitors to Riverside Day Centre, Newton Stewart. At first I worked with each group separately, but then I introduced them to one another and we met together to share the poems they were writing, their new impressions and their long memories of the beauties and realities of the woods in all their lives.
‘The bluebells gave a hue that seemed to shimmer and shine.’
At the end we held a Poetry Partners Celebrate the Woods Night! at Penninghame Primary School in early June. Bunting was made, tea and biscuits organised, and P6 welcomed in nearly 50 people – parents, grandparents, friends, other members of the Day Centre and anyone else who wanted to join in.
It was wonderful to see the warmth of the welcome that the children gave to their older visitors – and how the smiles spread as the children and their older visitors recognised each other from their previous meeting. The children stood up with their Poetry Partners and read each other’s work aloud.
The Poetry Partners booklet
We published all the poems written by P6 children, and all the poems written by the regulars from the Day Centre in this little book.