I was asked to write a poem from luggage tags left in the exhibition space at Wolverhampton Art Gallery for the ‘Coming Home’ and ‘Wolverhampton and Me’ exhibitions. The idea was for people to write down their thoughts about what home meant to them, so that I could then create a poem from them. I also went out into schools and worked with children, encouraging them to create poems on the theme of home. I asked them to put their favourite lines from their own poems onto luggage tags too. Below is the poem which is an amalgamation of nearly 400 responses. There were some obvious answers like ‘where the heart is’, ‘where my family are’, and there were some not so obvious responses. In between the exhibition starting and finishing the impact of the Corona Virus was starting to be felt in Wolverhampton, so this impacted upon the finished piece. An audio of the poem is to be found on social media. It had over 2,000 views in two days. Here is a link if you’d prefer to listen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3neUdy4hb-c
Wishing One and All Safe Home
Malcolm C is there right now
with a moment, or a memory,
Jade is still in touch with friends,
Iris is with family,
Simran’s feeling happy,
Bea is comfortable and curled
in a cosy bed with teddy,
E. Leslie’s shielded from the world.
Bad things won’t happen to Kadeja,
Kyle, 13, is loved and safe,
Willow, 5, is getting cudulls,
Kareena’s best people are in their best place.
And she is where her Wally is,
and Tiff is in with Dene.
Folk are hanging out with Autan,
Amy, Molly, or Jolene.
Jonny Silver-hand, is with his cat,
Patience C is in the warm.
If you’re in that house that Aoife drew
it’ll weather any storm.
And those who’ve yet to find a home
aren’t somewhere truly bad,
they’re well away from violence,
not cold, depressed or sad.
Those travellers and tourists
from Italy and España
are in kitchens in their homelands
scoffing tapas, or lasagna.
You, who mapped Nepal,
got back to loving pups.
Even blessed Baggies fans
made pubs before they shut
Boats are moored together,
away from water points, and trees.
And if home means farting freely,
being gay or eating cheese,
if it’s books or dirty bass lines
or if you live a life like Stu
with a beer in isolation
then I’ll lift a glass to you,
to your health, your happiness
to doing what you do,
to living life, and staying safe,
being hopeful, getting through.
Poet Laureate for the City of Wolverhampton
PS. Hey, Grace. You still out there being goofy? The world needs goofy, right about now. X
The latest poem I’ve been working on as part of my 52 about the city of Wolverhampton is set in Whitmore Reans. I had a great day going out and about nattering to folk about their area. Saima was my guide and we went to Gatis Street, ACCI, Gloucester Street, TLC, a mosque, and to meet a smashing family down by the race course. Everybody had something to say about why Whitmore Reans was special to them. I’ve attempted to weave a poem that includes all the places I went to. I can’t share the work yet as there will be a launch event and a film!!! Once the link is available to me I’ll post it on this blog.
The Wolverhampton Literature Festival was a great weekend. I MCd the slam with Dave Pitt and Steve Pottinger, we ran a fringe room, a writers hub, as well as bring in our regular night from Walsall for its yearly sojourn to Wolverhampton. I also got to see The Antipoet and Martin Figura. In my role as Poet Laureate for the City of Wolverhampton I presented the prizes for the Young Poet Laureate competition which was a lovely event.
I was also invited to be part of the Overhear project which ran during the festival. It is a wonderful idea. Check out the concept here https://www.overhearpoetry.com/
Some of the city’s poetry community were asked to write specific poems about locations in and around the centre of Wolverhampton. We then recorded the poems and now people are able to download an app from Google Play or Apple App stores for free, before walking to the ‘pin’ and collecting the poem to form part of their library of poetry about Wolverhampton. Get the app here www.theoverhear.app
I got to write about Light House which is one of my favourite places in Wolverhampton. It’s an independent cinema with a lovely little cafe bar. I’m often to be found writing in their anyway so that was a great opportunity for me to create a poem about somewhere I love. If you’d like to hear the piece that I wrote then download the app and pop in to Light House to pick the poem up. It’s all a bit like Pokemon Go but with poems!
2018 was the centenary of the speech given by David LLoyd George about creating a county fit for heroes. The speech was given at the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton. Here’s a link to an online article in the Express and Star.
Wolverhampton Homes got in touch to see if I’d be interested in writing a poem connecting to this. I ended up doing two of them.
Here they are…
From Bloomsbury Street, Graiseley
to First Avenue, Low Hill.
At the archives
I read of Little streets, with little courts
In their confines dark and narrow
The outside streets in squalid parts
In which you scarce can turn a barrow
and in this black stained slumland
living cheek by jowl with factory
by way of maps and censuses
I find, The Whites, my grandma’s family,
thriving there, in Bloomsbury Street
against the odds, epidemics of the flu
against typhoid, then the measles,
crushing poverty, and a war or two.
Annie, George, Joe, Selina
Doris, Agnes, James
wife, tin plate worker, locksmith,
scholars – all listed trade and name.
I dig out photographs, wonder
who was what and who was who.
They must have thought their luck was in.
A garden suburb! Spick. Span. New.
Planned on drawing board with compass
and a ruler. With wide streets! Air!
And room to breath it! Sepia shifts,
the white frocks and bobbed hair
morph to shades of grey and kids
toting toy guns and cowboy hats
on the back path edged with painted stones
amongst unnamed dogs and cats.
And then I come to colour snaps,
realize that one or another of my tribe
was, for the best part of a century,
a council tenant at 165.
Emma Purshouse (written December 2019)
With thanks to Guy at Wolverhampton Archives for sharing his
expert knowledge and tracking down my family! I assume he
isn’t named after Guy Avenue or Guy Motors….but his name seemed
apt somehow for researching connections to Low Hill.
The bits of the poem in italics are ‘found text’ from books about
the history of housing in Wolverhampton. The poem that starts my
poem was un-assigned to an author…I hope whoever wrote it all
those years ago wouldn’t mind it being resurrected in this way.
What Etta does and doesn’t know
Etta doesn’t know, as she’s stood buying tickets,
about the speech made here a century ago.
Knows nothing of Lloyd George, of his land
fit for heroes, or of slum clearances coming
after war. But she does know that she’s scrimped
(after rent) and saved to treat her family to these seats
for the panto at the Grand. Knows they’re worth it too,
her kids. Her kids who’ve let her sofa surf,
sleep in box rooms. Her kids who’ve doubled up
with squirming, fractious toddlers, without a question
or a frown when things irrevocably broke down.
It’s not just the young whose marriages don’t last.
Etta doesn’t know, as she’s heading for the bus,
anti-theft bells jangling on her bag,
over twenty thousand council properties,
are rented in this city, doesn’t give that fact
a thought as she’s returning home. Home
to the new, to her at least, first floor maisonette.
And as Etta puts her key into her lock,
unpacks her shopping, turns her heating dial
up high, she knows little of social housing history,
of Low Hill in the 1920s, or of the 1960s
Heath Town and Merry Hill high rise, or even
of modernizations when toilets came inside!
But she does know as she snuggles down
and the wind picks up outside, she’s grateful.
Pulling up her bed socks, Etta says a prayer
for happy endings, and the homeless people
that shiver on the streets, for the weathermen
being wrong about the snow. Counts herself lucky
and to sleep, to dream of grandkids’ faces
when curtains open up to show Dick Whittington
spotted knapsack, cat in tow. And as the
back gate bangs and swings on a broken hinge,
Etta sets to yawning, knows that she
can always phone the council in the morning.
Emma Purshouse (Written November 2019)
I was delighted to be asked to take on this honorary role for the City that I love. I can’t wait to get started writing poems. I’ve put out a call on social media for suggestions for subjects that I should tackle during the two year laureateship, and I’m looking forward to seeing what people suggest.
I’m also hoping to do some collaborations with people. I shall post the work that is created, or links to it on my blog and across social media. So if you’ve got any suggestions about what or who in Wolverhampton is worth a poem then do let me know. Or indeed if you’re an artist, filmmaker or musician who might be interested in some kind of collaboration then get in touch.