Tag Archives: poetry

Liftoff!

Our book is now officially published! We launched it into the world last Thursday, 28th March, and what a joyous occasion it was. Holland Park Press hired the beautiful Gradidge Room at the Art Workers Guild, and we were overwhelmed by the number of people who came along to celebrate this milestone with us. The wine flowed, the room filled with laughter and chatter, books were bought and signed; and before we got too merry, Bernadette hushed the crowd and we gave a short reading from our collection. Then, more book buying and signing! More wine! Amazingly, by 9pm virtually all the books that Bernadette and Arnold had brought along to the launch party had been sold.

Our thanks to everyone who came along, especially those who travelled from outside London; those who sent congratulatory messages and bought the book online; and of course to Bernadette and Arnold at Holland Park Press for organising such a lovely party.

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Look at those books! Photo: Nick Rogers
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Ready for our guests Photo: Nick Rogers
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Photo: Sarah Sparkes
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Photo: Holland Park Press
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Reading at the London Book Fair.

The London Book Fair attracts over 25,000 visitors. Who wouldn’t want to read at one of the publishing industry’s main trade fairs? When our publisher Bernadette at Holland Park Press suggested she could pitch for a slot for us to read from our forthcoming collection at this year’s fair we jumped at the chance.  Continue reading Reading at the London Book Fair.

A blue plaque, and a knees-up

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

Drumroll…

…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.

Thank you all at Spread the Word, for writing space and encouragement and to Arts Council England for the research and development grant which really propelled our practice forward.

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.

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Photo by Roven Images on Unsplash

Workshop warriors

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.

 

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Writing in another woman’s voice

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.

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Researching and discovering London women

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!

Ding ding! Next stop – 
unearthing women’s voices

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!

19 bus route

Poets on the road

…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…

 

A sit-in down the road

Where do we find our London Undercurrents women? As Hilaire writes, sometimes it’s pure chance:

I was searching for something (now forgotten) in Wandsworth Libraries’ online catalogue.  As I typed, one of the suggested titles that popped up beneath the Search box caught my eye: Dispute at Decca’s: An investigation into a sit-in by Asian women workers. I clicked on the record for more details and discovered it was a 13 page pamphlet published by Wandsworth Council for Community Relations in 1975. There were two copies in the Heritage Service, based at Battersea Library, so at the next opportunity I walked up there determined to find out more.

Dispute at Decca's coverI’d made a note of the catalogue reference, but as I couldn’t find the pamphlet on the reference shelves I asked the friendly archivist for help. She hunted through a number of cardboard magazine holders before locating the item on a shelf where a lot of Wandsworth Council’s records are stored. I settled down at one of the tables with my notebook and pencil and immersed myself in this snapshot of 1970s community – and industrial – relations. One of the first details I read excited me – the Decca factory was on Ingate Place, a stone’s throw from where I live. But this was not a dispute on the same scale as the Grunwick strike, as I had briefly imagined. The sit-in lasted just over 7 hours from the evening of 14th August 1975 until the early hours of the following morning.

The Decca company manufactured weighing machinery, radar, radios and colour TVs at several factory sites, including Ingate Place. Earlier in the summer of 1975, management had decided to cease production of TVs at Battersea due to a downturn in demand. This affected about 400 staff, from a mixed workforce of West Indian, Asian and white workers. Initially the union had tried to oppose the closure, but judged that there was little appetite amongst the workforce for industrial action, so eventually accepted the decision. Then two weeks before staff were due to be made redundant, 70 Asian women workers attended an offsite meeting where they decided to return and occupy the factory, demanding redeployment or a shortened working week.

There are a number of factors identified in the Wandsworth Council for Community Relations (WCCR) report which I found fascinating. The majority of the Asian women workers were Gujarati speakers and had minimal or no English. They were also primarily Ugandan Asians, so likely to have arrived in Britain a few years earlier following the expulsion of Asians from Uganda under Idi Amin’s regime. Although several meetings were organised by management and the union to explain the closure and resulting redundancies, no official translator was brought in (despite this being recommended by WCCR) so the women relied on colleagues who spoke both Gujarati and English to translate for them. In interviews WCCR conducted in Gujarati with women who took part in the sit-in, it emerged they had not been aware they were going to lose their jobs until the offsite meeting (organised by the International Socialists) a fortnight before the closure. Apparently the Gujarati word for ‘redundancy’ carries a strong social stigma, so in previous meetings and discussions only the English word had been used. There was also confusion as the women believed management had promised they would be offered other jobs, whereas management said they would TRY to find them them other roles.

From stumbling across this blink-of-an-eye dispute, it feels like I’m uncovering dozens of interesting threads. There’s definitely the language/mistranslation angle, which could provide fertile poetic material. Then, once I realised the WCCR was not a department of Wandsworth Borough Council, but an independent organisation funded partly by the borough but also supported by the then Commission for Racial Equality – that opened  another strand of research. On a subsequent trip to the Heritage Service, I looked through a history of WCCR, published in 1976 to mark their 10th anniversary, and learnt that as well as work on housing and employment issues, the WCCR ran a free nursery in Balham primarily for single parents, and published a controversial comic strip, Don’t Rush Me, promoting sex education to young people and using multi-racial characters. I returned the next day to read their 1973 report on Uganda Asians in Wandsworth, and in the same archive folder came across an undated leaflet requesting donations of money and supplies for a Hostel for Belgian Refugees on West Side Clapham Common. This probably dates from the First World War, and is another reminder of the long history of local people welcoming and helping refugees.

But then I’m drawn back to the Asian women who staged a sit-in just down the road, and their less than half-told story. Can I trace any of those who took part, or anyone who knew them? Would they want to talk to me? I’m thinking about ways I might be able to contact them, through community centres or Facebook. And there’s a bunch of WCCR papers in the National Archives at Kew – I wonder if they contain transcripts of the interviews?

One other thing I had to, once I’d established the exact address of the Decca factory as 15-17 Ingate Place thanks to the 1970 Kelly’s Post Office London Directory in the Heritage Service, was pay the site a visit. I’d never been this far into Ingate Place, and it’s another world! There’s a huge Edwardian curved building, dating from 1901, originally a depository for Hamptons and Sons furnishers, now a self-storage concern. Opposite is a small business centre in a number of units that were also originally part of the Hamptons empire. And, very briefly, in 1975, somewhere in this complex, 70 Asian women staged a sit-in. I couldn’t help but express my solidarity.

Support the sit-in