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
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.
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!
On International Women’s Day, March 8th, we’ll be doing a series of guerilla poetry readings along the number 19 bus route in London, supported by funding from Grants for the Arts. We’ll be hopping on and off the bus, reading poems about women in Islington and Battersea to the unsuspecting public. Eek! So that we’re identifiable as poets, we’ll be wearing specially designed London Undercurrents sashes. Joolz will wear a north one and Hilaire a south. Will we swap at the end, like Premier League footballers? Possibly.
We’ve had fun using the interactive tool on the sash manufacturer’s website. Then the thorny issue – should the sashes be different colours? Should we invoke the north/south of the river rivalry? We headed to the International Women’s Day website for ideas. It was obvious – both sashes should be the same colour, we’re standing together. Not on different sides of the river. Purple sashes ordered, we can’t wait for them to arrive so we can try them on for size.
…well, on the train. Thankfully the rail strike didn’t stop us from reaching Loose Muse, Winchester. So that’s one New Year’s resolution off to a good start – we promised ourselves to get out and about more, visiting new parts of the UK and experiencing poetry readings at places and venues outside of our usual haunts.
Winchester was rather pretty, with the cathedral lit up in the 5pm winter darkness and lots of interesting architecture. The Discovery Centre where Loose Muse holds monthly readings for women writers, is a fantastic facility, with tourist info, libraries for adults and children, an art gallery and a range of educational classes. Winchester also was the home of Queen Emma – wife of both King Aethelred and Cnut – who put in place a succession of monarchs that lasted for nearly a hundred years, making her ‘possibly one of the most influential women in the history of England’.
After a quick bite to eat, it was time for us to head to the Discovery Centre and share poems based on London women who, if not as influential as Queen Emma, still have powerful stories to tell. You can read a more a detailed account of the evening on host Sue Wrinch’s blog. On the train back to London, we read through the feedback forms members of the audience had kindly filled in for us – a very encouraging experience! We must get out of London again soon…
Loose Muse, Winchester, January 8th, 7:30 – 9:30pm
Winchester Discovery Centre Jewry Street, SO23 8SB
We’re thrilled to be taking London Undercurrents out on the road and doing our first out-of-London reading. We’ll be showcasing new poems and revised drafts of older poems – the results of our first two mentoring sessions.
Our second ‘Guest Feature’ will be two poets from London, Joolz Sparkes and Hilaire bringing work from their exciting new project, ‘London Undercurrents’.
Six months. That’s how long it took us two London Undercurrents project co-founders to fill out and submit our bid for Arts Council Funding. Six long months. We agonised over every question – what did it mean and what was the ‘magic’ answer that would guarantee success? And whhhhhyyyy were there so many questions in the first place?
We spent hours on the phone to each other and going back and forth via email. We spoke to poet friends who had been successful in their Grants for the Arts funding bid. We met with lovely, encouraging people in positions to help us understand what it is the Arts Council are looking for in an application, and how to give real value for money to any recipient of the activities the funding would support. They championed us and gave us such a boost in confidence. And on top of that they were lovely people, to boot. But most importantly, we interrogated – between the two of us – what we both really wanted the grant for, so that if we were actually – gulp – successful, we could be 100% sure of enjoying the activities we had proposed. Because this wasn’t just an exercise in form-filling. It was a real chance to work out why our project matters to us, why we must keep on going and why we feel it’s vital to share everything about London Undercurrents with the whole wide world.
Hilaire kindly said she’d be the primary name on the application, which meant she took the brunt of Grantium tedium. Joolz cheered her on from the sidelines, and provided an ear to lean on as Hilaire…err…what’s this bit…is this where I fill in…where on earth is…damn and @@@**!!! -ed over the phone. Together we took what felt a lifetime to finally….press….shall I press it? OK I’m going to press it…I’m pressing it….to press SUBMIT.
Screeeeeeeaaaaaam. We did it. We submitted what felt like a strong proposal which we really, really want to go ahead and deliver. We crossed fingers, toes and anything else that could be crossed. And waited…
Five weeks later, an email arrived with the enticing subject line Your decision letter is available for review. With shaky fingers and pounding heart Hilaire logged into Grantium and found her way to a screen where… DRUM ROLL… those magic words Offer letter danced before her eyes. Success!
All that to-ing and fro-ing, asking and listening, refining what our project is about and how we want to move it forward has paid off. We have funding for a mentor and for some time to research and write new London Undercurrents poems. We’re going to share our progress via this blog and other outlets, and we have a few activities planned for early 2018 which we’re very excited about!
Thanks to everyone who has helped us get to this point, especially Laura at Spread the Word. Now all we have to do is deliver!
Fourth Friday has relocated to Bar 48 in Brixton during the Poetry Cafe’s hiatus, and promoter Hylda Sims was worried that FF’s loyal fans wouldn’t be tempted out to this new venue. Her worries were unfounded – a warm and eager crowd turned up, and the hustle of the bar and relaxed atmosphere (comfy chairs!) added a ‘proper gig’ vibe to the evening. Lively. That’s how we like our poetry readings.
Seeing as it was our second feature at Fourth Friday together, we decided to mix things up a bit by reading our solo stuff as well as London Undercurrents poems. I read first and unleashed a new set of poems about the sea onto a guinea pig audience. This included a bawdy sea shanty, which I greatly enjoyed reading. Then Hilaire read a batch of beautifully crafted and lyrical poems about gardening and gardens. Lastly we both read north and south London Undercurrents poems that have been published most recently (Lunar Poetry and Brittle Star).
The other featured artists were fabulous – folk singer Leon Rosselson‘s satirical songs were deceptively cheery while delivering relevant and timely social and political comment. Poet Abe Gibson delivered deeply moving poems with a delicate musicality that was spellbinding. To top the evening off, the food was amazing. It’s well worth putting this monthly event in your diary, every fourth Friday.
We’re delighted to have been invited back to read at Fourth Friday again, this coming Friday 23rd September from 8pm. As the Poetry Café is closed for refurbishment, Fourth Friday is taking place at a new venue – Bar 48, a wine bar and Eritrean tapas restaurant, at 48 Brixton Road SW9 6BT. Nearest tube is Oval.
With the change of venue, we thought we’d mix things up a bit too. We’re planning to each read some of our own non-LU poems, and finish with a few London Undercurrents poems. Poetry tapas, in other words! It should be a tasty evening, with more poetry from Abe Gibson and music from Leon Rosselson, plus voices from the floor. Entry is £6 or £5 concession. Hope to see you there!
We’re delighted to have two London Undercurrents poems published in the latest issue of Lunar Poetry. With Joolz away at the Ledbury Poetry Festival, it was down to Hilaire to fly the flag for both sides of the river at the launch reading on Tuesday evening. Here she reports back.
The event took place at the Peckham Pelican, a light and spacious café bar with a relaxed atmosphere. Lunar Poetry editor Paul McMenemy started proceedings by picking out the opening of Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra on an upright piano – an acrobatic feat as he had to stretch across a table to reach the keyboard.
I was first up on the stage and read both poems included in the current issue: In the Ether, which reflects the experience of a young woman working in a gas mantle factory in Wandsworth in 1931; and Joolz’s poem Coining factory, N1, told from the point of view of a 13 year old girl helping in the family coin forging business in the 1880s. Staying north, I performed Joolz’s Thames freeze, north side, 1814. I love the young maid’s voice in this poem, so it’s a pleasure to read it aloud, despite the maid reporting that her ladyship is loathe to cross to the south / at all costs. I returned south with my poem Lady Cyclist, whizzing around Battersea Park in the summer of 1895.
There were strong readings from several other poets in this issue, including Lizzy Palmer, Rishi Rohatgi, Dennis Tomlinson, Gboyega Odubanjo and Christopher Williams; and a real mix of voices from the open mic readers, covering topics from the EU referendum fallout (in a haiku sequence) to a Dulwich Hamlet fan’s search for a plain honest Shippam’s Paste sarnie. Paul rounded the evening off with a few of his own fierce and funny poems.
The magazine is a bargain at £5 or £2.50 for the ebook version, and is back on track to publish monthly (hence ‘Lunar Poetry’). Launch readings are on the first Tuesday of the month at the Peckham Pelican, free entry, and plenty of open mic spots. Definitely worth checking out!