I recently led a group on the second of the artist walks, with the focus this time on creative writing. I'd planned a route in advance that would take us from the Church of the Nazarene in Longsight to Pool Arts in Ardwick, largely avoiding main roads in favour of side streets, with the walk being a way for us to explore our local environment, focussing on the flora and fauna to be found there and gathering material we could use to create poems.
When planning the route I'd decided to avoid obvious nature spots like parks and public gardens and instead see what we could find walking the streets of our inner city environment. This was a way of focusing on the theme of resilience that links this series of walks, giving us an opportunity to look at the ways the natural world is able to survive and thrive in a seemingly inhospitable urban context, and to reflect on the ways in which we in turn are able to overcome the challenges and difficulties of our everyday lives in the same environment.
The morning had alternated between driving rain, sunshine and hailstones, so I wasn't sure what to expect when I got to our meeting place – whether everyone would have been put off by the weather, whether we'd have to abandon the project entirely as a ferocious downpour turned our worksheets into papier mâché …. In fact, I needn't have worried: the skies had cleared and group of 10 of us set off along Plymouth Grove, worksheets in hand. We soon turned off the main road and wound our way along quieter back streets, watching, listening, sensing, and making notes, Andy sharing his local knowledge to give us a perspective on the ways the area has changed over the years.
Underlying my approach to teaching poetry writing is the idea that poems are not made from ideas or emotions but from words, so I'd designed the worksheets to help participants gather words relating to what they were seeing, hearing, smelling etc. that they could use later as building blocks with which they could construct poems. At the same time, the worksheets could help us become aware of the everyday sense data that we often tune out during the course of a typical day – help us focus on the sounds we could hear at this particular corner at this particular time, on what we could smell on a certain street in early afternoon in February after the rain, on the plants and grasses we could see breaking through the pavement in front of us … For one of the categories I'd used, 'Touching', I suggested we think not only of what we might be touching but also what was touching us (the wind against our faces, the tarmac beneath our feet, the rain dripping from the trees onto our heads), though it also inspired some of the group to use touch to explore the physical world around them, running their fingers over the bark of trees, investigating the textures of moss growing on the stump of a chopped down tree and the layers of rust growing on iron railings.
We made our way under changing skies, from dark grey clouds to brilliant sunshine, getting to know each other and the world around us:
admiring the diversity of the gardens local residents have created in the limited space available to them;
seeing plants growing through kerbstones and pavements, on walls and waste ground, reclaiming their place in the world and reminding us of the cycles of change of which we and everything we create are a part;
reflecting on how we felt in the different spaces we passed through;
thinking about the correlations between the resilience of the natural world and our own personal resilience as we live and grow in the same environment;
gathering words with which to document and celebrate the journey we'd made and the living world around us.
We reached the end of our journey just before the rain came down. Alison welcomed us with coffee and tea and cake, and we sat round the big table in the art room, turning our words and memories and reflections into poems, reading the results out loud so we could share the sounds and rhythms and sense that we made. You can take a look at some of what we created below.
Poetry Walk, Ardwick, 25th Feb 2020
Blinking, dazzled, almost blinded from below
Tar and above
Herbs are living in beds and daffodils are fully formed
And bare-boned trees, buds and white blossoms
Fir trees, cacti and mud
'Wow – look at the sky. What a landscape.'
Yes – those dense black clouds
and a tiny patch of blue
black and white
'Are you just tired?' 'Too tired to carry on.
And it's too hard to walk and write.'
And 'You learn to write by reading and writing'
and 'lyrics can be poetry too.'
When is the first day of spring?
At 7 this morning was bright light and sunshine
then hailstorms, wind and more rain
and vapes make bubbling noises and fruity smells and
howling sirens are the sounds of trauma
but today I hear them far away
touching the edge of hope and other people's lives
staggering on / limping along
plodding plodding plod on
keep on keep on keep on keeping on
in pain and hope in the connecting, touching,
whirling and whipping wild wind
A metallic forest of cranes towering above
the rubble of demolished lives now green with weeds
Claws of ivy entwined on rusted bars
rising up in the shadows of
A moss covered stump of a long gone tree
fungus feasting on its rotten flesh
Dead leaves floating in black puddles
crushed beneath unseeing feet
Memories linger, ghosts remain
Natures regrows while the estate regenerates
Life survives slumbering for spring's return
On the journey from the church to Pool Arts
Seeing houses and people and cars and buses
then seeing trees and flowers
and hearing traffic and planes and sirens and birds
and smelling leaves and car fumes
and plants and flowers and grass
Feeling the wind on my head and face
and seeing traffic lights and signs,
happy and relaxed
On the walk from the Nazarene
I see the trees brown and green
I see the puddles of rain
I hear the water drip
I hear the talking people
I smell the fumes of petrol
I touch the railings and sign posts
I feel the tree stump, mushrooms wild growing
It all ends at the Art Project –
tea, cake and coffee
No war in the world,
peace and love that heals my heart.
Heavenly love all over the world.
As Bob Marley says,
'Is this love, is this love
that I'm feeling?'
Romeo and Juliet,
why do we die?
Why are we born?
I have a dream today,
like Martin Luther King,
all of us loving together as one
On My Way
On my way, late as usual,
heavy wellies, raincoat and umbrella,
sweating, things to do I can't put off.
Ring first – Diane laughed, 'You're always late.'
Said, 'Yeah – hopefully for my own funeral.'
Nearly choked on my tooth, it broke, what
a joke, couldn't afford to wait hoping
the hail would stop. Said hello
to my neighbour – snow later, happy days.
As I looked at the dead plants in pots
on my path I noticed baby daffodils
growing like mine should have grown
on my windowsill, then trod through
the rust and grime from the workman's yard.
Finally made it to the meeting place –
it would have been a waste of time
to look for the others, they had all set off.
I was dry – I dodged the puddles and the
blocked drains, smiled as I passed the park,
nearly blooming, patches of grass near Pool Arts
where you can express your heart.
The Walk of Resilience
Resilience becomes us
Seen in the world as the birds fly
Flying in the sky covered in dark clouds
Braving the wind
Letting it lift them up
Chasing the freedom of tomorrow
From one place to the other they fly.
The clouds are heavy
Ready to cry out on the world
Spreading love to the ground below
Blooming plants crave it
The water's touch awakens them
Calling them out for the spring.
Cars sound in the distance
They splash the puddles
Rushing to and fro
Transporting people to their destinations
The cars cough out fumes
Protesting in their exhaustion
Waiting for that day of retirement.
I walk along on the pedestrian path
The wind is drawing all the warmth from me
The frost bites at my uncovered fingers
I shiver as I push against the wind
Sunny days are coming
I know this as I see the sun fight through the clouds
A world blessed with the power of resilience
I learn from nature
I take these lessons and apply them to my life
Because what is life if not the determination to stay alive?
Images by Rae