Last Friday was the centenary of some women being able to vote for the first time, and also the first time women could stand for election to Parliament. In Battersea, Hilaire attended two events held to honour local suffragette and campaigner Charlotte Despard, who was one of the 16 women to stand as candidates in the general election held on 14th December 1918. Continue reading A blue plaque, and a knees-up
On a chilly and windy November day we met with poet and photographer Naomi Woddis at Tate Modern to have headshots taken for our book cover. Naomi has taken several celebrated shots of contemporary poets (Malika Booker, Raymond Antrobus, Rishi Dastidar to name a few) that currently grace biogs, book jackets and social media profiles. Naomi made the experience of being photographed great fun, and calmed our nerves. It was a laugh trying to work out what a poet should look like in a headshot – smiling? Serious? Quill in hand?
The results? All will be revealed on our book cover in March 2019.
…our poetry collection, London Undercurrents, will be published by Holland Park Press in March 2019. Whoop!
We are beside ourselves with excitement. Over the moon, to quote Imtiaz Dharker. Thrilled to bits, jumping for joy…
Huge thank yous to everyone who helped us get to this point, especially our wonderful mentor, Jacqueline Saphra.
And a big big thank you to Bernadette and Arnold at Holland Park Press for taking us on. We can’t wait to be one of your stablemates, alongside such illustrious names as Norbert Hirschhorn, Marilyn Hacker and Deema K. Shehabi (another poetry collaboration), and Vicky Grut.
Joolz writes: Seeing as some of our London Undercurrents poems came into being well over 3 years ago, there are some titles that we’ve grown accustomed to, and have got ‘stuck’ with. So much so, that we’ve never stopped to ask – is this the right title for this poem? Because – of course it’s the right title; it’s been there since the beginning of time.
Now that we are nearly ready to send out mentor-honed and newly reworked manuscript to publishers, we’ve taken time to stop and think. To think about titles and what they add to a poem. And how we can make all our titles their best selves. Continue reading Tightening up our titles
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Hilaire joined a guided walk focussed on Notable Women of Lavender Hill. Here’s her account of an illuminating tour.
Jeanne Rathbone led this informative walk around the Lavender Hill area, organised as part of the celebrations of the centenary of some (not all) women getting the vote. Jeanne is a member of the Battersea Society, and a formidable champion of women who have made a significant impact in our area but are now largely forgotten.
The tour began outside Battersea Arts Centre, as we assembled on the steps and donned Votes for Women sashes. The vast majority of blue plaques in Battersea honour men so Jeanne had smaller blue plaques made up, which were held up at appropriate locations along our route. The first of our Notable Women was Jeanie Nassau Senior, who lived at Elm House, on the site of what is now Battersea Arts Centre.
Sunday 22nd April, the date we’d chosen for our workshop, Exploring women’s history through the power of poetry, as another of our public engagement commitments for our Arts Council funded Research & Development project.
Our north London venue was just round the corner from the Emirates Stadium and we’d checked there was no home game. Then we invited a small group of women to be our guinea pigs. With only a few days to go we discovered Arsenal’s home game against West Ham, originally scheduled for Saturday 21st, had been moved to the Sunday, kicking off at the same time we’d planned to start the workshop. Don’t panic! We would start an hour later, once the game was underway, and then we’d finish well after the match was over. We emailed everyone with the new start time, and assurances that the football wouldn’t interfere on the day. But would they still come?
Yes they would. They braved the vagaries of Sunday travel. They soldiered through the unseasonably hot weather and London marathon crowds. Across London they came; our five intrepid workshop participants, undeterred by the Premier League football match taking place only a few streets away. And once everyone was settled round the dining table, we were off, delivering our first London Undercurrents workshop.
We warmed up with five minutes of free writing, and then spent some time looking at poems each written by a female poet in the voice of another woman, rather than their own voice. In particular we discussed the poet’s choice of writing in first, second or third person and how this affected us as readers.
Another exercise involved choosing two postcards from a pile spread out on the table, all of which featured a woman or women from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and eras; writing in the first person as if you were the woman in one of the cards; and then writing in the second person, as the woman in the other card addressing the first. This generated some great responses and interesting discussion.
Before a break for tea, coffee and biscuits, we shared some of our London Undercurrents experiences researching women in our patches of London, with examples of materials and books we’ve used on hand for everyone to browse. Then after the break, it was back to more writing, with a wonderful focussed hush in the room, and the occasional roar of Arsenal fans in the background.
Who won on the day? Poetry!
Let’s read our poems along the 19 bus route, we said. It joins Islington and Battersea together – the two areas that we’re writing about, we said. It will bring the women we’ve researched and created to a wider audience, and help support and celebrate International Women’s Day 2018. We said.
As we got ready to embark upon the outreach part of our ACE funded project, we wondered why on earth we had said this. It seemed slightly crazy now. We joked that the most we could hope for was that someone would actually glance in our direction for a second then look away. We couldn’t begin to imagine that a 5 or 6 stanza long poem about a woman from the past would be welcomed during the wait for the bus to arrive.
With trepidation we donned our purple sashes outside Finsbury Town Hall, almost chained ourselves to the railings in an attempt to avoid having to read poems to complete strangers out in the real world of London town, but resisted. Instead we read a London Undercurrents poem each – one from north London, one from south – about suffrage to mark the beginning of our journey. Our official photographer for the day, Rene Eyre, geed us on with words of encouragement. Galvanized we headed off to the bus stop.
It was 11.30am and we’d both not had nearly enough coffee. It was cold, windy and threatening to rain. What’s more the next 19 bus was 5 minutes away. Just enough time to give an impromptu reading and get warmed up for the day ahead. Joolz tentatively asked a young woman who was waiting for the bus if she’d like to hear a poem about an Islington explorer called Mary Kingsley for International Women’s Day? The young woman looked up and said yes. Over the next few minutes as Joolz read the poem, the young woman looked almost directly into Joolz’s eyes, listening attentively and earnestly. What’s this? Eye contact with a complete stranger in London? At a bus stop? When the poem came to an end, the young woman said thank you, then got on the bus and went on her way. We felt emboldened – an audience that may not be expecting poetry on their commute were actually receptive to the idea if you approached them nicely.
Next, Hilaire read her poem about a female clippie in the First World War, as we stood up on the bus (holding tight of course). A couple of passengers watched bemused but interested. So Hilaire asked one of them if they’d like a reading. They said yes. Again, a complete stranger, who may or may not be interested in poetry, gave us the time of day and actively listened as we shared our poetry with them. Then another passenger asked us about what we were doing so we handed out our flyers so that they could find out more about our ACE funded project. They took them, read them then put them in their bags. No discarding, or leaving them on the seat. It was all really touching. It was empowering. It was also great fun.
During the rest of the journey south, time after time, we got the same response from the people we read to. There were a couple of firm ‘no thank yous’ but no rudeness or ignoring us. We hopped on and off at several stops along the way we finally made it over Battersea Bridge in the afternoon. Then we headed back north.
Join Against the Grain Press and our fantastic guest readers at the launch of S. A. Leavesley’s pamphlet at The Poetry Café on the 31st March. A little bit of Easter magic for all!
S.A. Leavesley (Sarah James) is author of four poetry collections, two pamphlets, a touring poetry-play and two novellas. Her poetry has been published by the Financial Times, the Guardian, The Forward Book of Poetry 2016, on Worcestershire buses and in the Blackpool Illuminations. She runs V. Press poetry and flash fiction imprint was Overton Poetry Prize winner in 2015.
Linda Black is an award-winning poet, a visual artist and a dyslexia specialist. Her pamphlet The beating of wings (Hearing Eye, 2006) was a PBS Pamphlet Choice. Her fourth collection, Slant, was published by Shearsman in April 2016.
Hilaire’s poetry and short stories have been published in both British and Australian magazines and anthologies. Her novel Hearts on Ice was published…
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Catch us if you can! On Thursday 8th March – International Women’s Day – we’ll be doing a series of guerrilla poetry readings along the route of the 19 bus. Why this particular route? Well, the 19 bus runs between Battersea and Islington, connecting our home patches. We’ll be reading to passers-by and waiting passengers, sharing poems based on some of the amazing local women we’ve unearthed during our research into our two areas.
Starting out from Finsbury Town Hall around 11 a.m. we’ll be hopping off at bus stops between there and Battersea Bridge South Side, and as far north as Finsbury Park Interchange. Look out for us along the route – we’ll be the ones in purple sashes!