Linda France's report

My commission was from the Sunderland City Library and Arts Centre. When an old department store inside the city of Sunderland was being refurbished and adapted to be the new city library and arts centre, someone within the organisation asked me if I would write a poem that would be carved into the handrail which would run along the outer wall - the window wall - of the building; it's three different floors and about 45 foot long, an ash handrail. So essentially many people would not see the whole poem, lots of people would only see one floor of it, one stanza of it, so I had to write something that would work if they saw only one piece of it or if they read it in any order (if they could be bothered to go to the three different floors) and I only had 45 feet per verse. So it doesn't really make an awful lot of sense even though you can maybe visualise it from what I'm saying; the poem's meaning is partly how it's read.

Imagine silver -

how it shone on trees: timber

split, smooth as old seas:

pens flowed with bold words, red as

blood, white as milk - the full moon.

 

Feed your body's brave

alchemy. Keep both your feet

planted in street clay -

and never lose your lightness -

a heart, bright, brittle, as glass.

 

See how stones rise, fall

and rise again, like seeds, or

children - just wanting

sun, rain and good air to grow

into themselves forever.


I ought to also say as part of the gestation of the poem I did some research and consultation with community groups and workshop sessions with them, and my brief was to 'absorb the ethos of Sunderland' (no mean feat) so in the three floors I went for past present and future as a kind of vague theme. There are also references in it to Sunderland's ship building industry and glass industry and other things that are very specific to the place and don't really translate very easily.

- Linda France