Jules Mann - Posting #11

August 7th 2000

Places Wrap-up

Project reports are still coming in - do visit:

"I love the unexpectedness of everything - suddenly coming across somebody on the stairs, dressed up for A Woman of No Importance, or seeing cookers and beds in the middle of the hall, or feeling the terrible first night nerves flutter around the building." - Jackie Kay at Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester (a mid-residence interim report).

James Crowden reports from his Wheal Jane Tin Mine placement: "Tin has been vital to Cornwall's economy and status for at least two thousand years. In March 1998 the last tin mine South Crofty closed and Cornwall still cannot quite believe that it has happened."

Pascale Petit's work at the Russell Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, with some poems by participants. "Some walls had been stripped back to the original Victorian plaster complete with artist & graffiti, windows unboarded letting the sea-light in, and all murals painstakingly cleaned with cotton-buds. It was a gift of an environment for writing poems..."

Some poems are now posted up from Ian Duhig's work with people at the Nottingham Drug Service - as Duhig notes, most locals there "live a very hemmed-in existence - Mansfield was at the centre of the local coal industry and nothing has replaced it".

From the Orange Tree Theatre, Leo Aylen notes "A theatre is an ideal place for a poet in residence. It is a centre for the community. It provides an attractive venue in which events can take place. There are no problems with finding it."

Lawrence Sail's intriguing project 'Out of Silence' which received support from other local arts funding bodies throughout his project. His final cycle of poems will be performed (settings by the composer Isabelle Ryder) in December 2000 in the five counties of the South West Arts region - Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Somerset.

John Gallas working with all generations and coming up with delightful descriptions of the sessions (and suggestions for future projects), at the Oadby Library and the ASDA Supermarket, where "we wrote about fruit and vegetables. Before each session, I filled up a trolley with coconuts, garlic, tomatoes, lychees, squashes, oranges, sugarcane, okra, rhubarb, melons, potatoes and some things I didn't recognise or ever want to try, including a karela that looked, promisingly for us, like a dinosaur's claw..."

George Szirtes feeling a bit like a poetry pioneer in the deepest of Norfolk (Downham Market): "It was sweet of the two members of the public to come. I got the feeling people didn't go out much in Downham, and if they were going to go anywhere on St Patrick's Day it was going to be to the pub."

Tamar Hodes and Simon Pitt write about their placement at an estate agents office: "There is a double speak here in which everything means something else, a meaning which needs to be uncovered and decoded".

"The bond within the group for each other and their sharing of experiences through their poems has been so encouraging to see. The women want the work to be published and made available through the Women's Aid network to encourage other victims of violence to write." - project administrator for Shaun Jackson's placement at a women's refuge.

Nicholas Baumfield from MidNorthumberland Arts Group describes the effects of a one-month placement of cowboy poet Joel Nelson: "Everywhere he went he started by exploring what was different and what was the same, and ended up with poetry. People who had never revealed their own writing brought it out for the first time, others who wrote or who recited (recital remains a vital part of the village shows and fairs in Northumberland) delighted in sharing their verses; new poems were composed by some; others just listened to the poetry and revelled in it. The effects are still being felt."

A poetry placement in the Balfour House with Leah Thorne, where "we amused and moved each other with our poetic takes on our culture, our religion, our heritage".

And a final report from Miriam Obrey about the Three Counties / Malverne Showground placement, where "Poetry writing workshops were scheduled alongside the November Collectors' Toy Fair, the February Boat Jumble, the March Auto Jumble and Classic Motorcycle Show, the April Horse Sale and the May Spring Gardening Show."

This posting marks the conclusion of my residency at The Poetry Society. It has been an enriching experience for me to gather the documentation of project reports from Poetry Placements, note trends and possibilities, and work with Morag McRae and Christina Patterson on putting together strategies to strengthen the potential for this sort of work to continue.

In order for an organisation to 'take the plunge' into working with a poet, it seems, there must be a spark from within. If there is an overall 'pattern' to particularly successful residencies and placements it would be the happy marriage of an enthusiastic contact person (within the organisation) with a poet who is well-organised and spontaneous when circumstances require. It is a recurring theme that poets were delighted when the placement/residency inspired participants to continue in their own writing groups.

Realistically speaking, poets in residence may only be around for a matter of weeks or months for any given project; therefore success comes in often immeasurable forms such as changing people's thinking, or introducing ways to appreciate contemporary poetry, or encouraging the hitherto voiceless to give voice.

But rest assured the Poetry Places left a very deep impression in the hundreds of communities it touched. And media who wrote about it, and Regional Arts Board Literature Officers who use it as models for future funding, and poets who may consider proactively developing their own residency ideas.

The Poetry Society itself is exploring a future role of providing fee-based administrative support for mid- to long-term poetry residencies, particularly in the areas of health care and businesses.