Thursday, 26 January 2012

Poetry recording at the Geffrye Museum

Stephanie Turner and I from the Keats House Poets were commissioned to write and record poems for the "At home with the world" exhibition at the Geffrye Museum, which is part of the "Stories of the World" cultural Olympiad exhibition. The exhibition looks at how in the 18th century homes in London were influenced by the expanding empire, and how living habits and furnishings along with political ideas changed.

Our recorded poems are going to form part of the exhibition that will run from Tuesday 20 March - Sunday 9 September 2012. Here is one I wrote about the new habit of tea drinking that swept the country and changed the way we organise our homes and days:

The ladies will take tea

Teetering the rims of polite musings,
softening the bitterness by shifting
Demerara gold into the brewed potion
from places further than holidays
and hidden from myths and novels.

They have been adjusting the day
around an import, delighted that three till five
would be served in porcelain rituals
that pour out chattering, all the faster
and more dangerous because of the caffeine.

They can skim between jittered sets
of mismatched saucers, compare the cake
of several homes, and how the maids manage
the Pekoe, Assam and Darjeeling ,
and keep the water near boiling
for the newly opened time zone
where the ladies will take tea.

Humanitea Rooms poetry!

Young Professionals in Human Rights, bought together two sacred things at their Humanitea Rooms event in a pop-up cafe in Richmond: human rights and tea.

At the closing event on November 5th 2011 I curated and hosted, poetry that reflected human rights issues was added to the mix and a packed audience heard headliner Martin Powell and Julian Moorman perform.

This piece on divided communities was performed. 

The Party Wall Surveyor’s Report

Planning permission ignored

(despite something said in a small Flemish hall

about tulips growing pale in the shade).

For a large fence is blocking

my  client’s sun

and his children can’t grow

and have lost their kite

over the other side

where the neighbours dog

eats kites.

My client states

that you built a wall

through his living room

splitting the sofa in two,

so his wife never saw

the end of the news.

My client knows

about your unlicensed sprinkler

that is making grass hay

and turning dinner dessert.

His water feature is clogged

and the koi carp were algae-gagged

then fished by you.

His orchard has been lopped,

trundled by heavy wheelbarrows

then levelled to marmalade,

that not even bees touch-

as they are not allowed in

without your permission.

My client asks

for free bee passage ways,

as his flowers are bypassed

and are feeling small.

There’s a noise complaint too,

beyond ASBO severity,

for the fireworks that invade his dreams

and are burning him.

He still resents that you watch

from your roof whilst his roof

falls in.

We know you need gravel

for your garden path

to your pine pagoda,

but would appreciate

you not grinding up

the walls of his house.

My client’s drive is blocked

by your errant kids

who check his identity

each time he tries to live.

My client fears

he has no mans land but yours

and no ones word by his

but I speak for my client

and you should let him live.

Turning grenades into pineapples

In 2010 I volunteered as a Bollywood dance teacher at a youth arts festival in Bosnia with a UK and Bosnian charity called Most Mira. We used art workshops to inspire and bring children together, and recruitment is currently underway for the 2012 festival.

Since 2010 I've been helping with the organisation of the festival, travelling to Bosnia numerous times, learning as much as I can and putting together a small collection of poems. The first of these was commissioned by Keats House as part of the "Stories of the World" project funded by the Cultural Olympiad is called "Turning grenades into pineapples." The title comes from an anecdote about a child who came to the peace festival with a grenade drawn on his t-shirt, one of the Most Mira volunteers spoke with him and helped him colour the grenade in yellow, then add leaves.

With the help of the Keats House Poetry Forum who  meet fortnightly to discuss poetry projects, and an on line poetry forum organised by Harry Giles a small collection of poems about the stories and memories I have heard during my visits to Bosnia is forming. With a bit more polishing, it might reach daylight...

This is one of the first poems I wrote, about a families memories of the war.

The Only Photo

This was all your aunt had saved,
when you met her in Sarajevo;
the picture corners curl
like the drying edges of pastry
your mother still rolls
out with a broomstick.

There is a pensive you,
held just out of focus.
Your brother is clearer,
and guilty only right now
of having ears that point
out like signposts.

Everyone dressed up and lined up
by your father’s walls,
that now haunt the new mortar
your brother stuck the old bits to;

once he’d fought his way back
to the family rubble, which held
the coffee grinder like a silver miracle
-with a few unground beans
that your mother had roasted before she fled.
Not knowing she was leaving a device
that would defeat everyone,
by just waiting for you all to come home.
By staying hidden from shells, boots
and the grabbing hands that tried to hoard

With his ears now stuck to his head,
your brother fixed the dent in the grinder,
built up the walls, sawed down the shotgun
and trained his Alsatian to hear a false “good morning.”

Your sepia mother stands in the centre,
holding you high with her chin lifted slightly.
There is no one who remembers her being that young,
but everyone knows she loves that scarf
and you are the only bald one in the frame
wondering what paisley tastes like,
as you try to worry your first tooth out of gum.

You can’t count yet, but you will have twenty years
from when you unfreeze from this photo
until you forget how to sleep.
Your fan-eared brother will have twenty years
until he learns he needs to be a builder,
after he’s learnt how to fight.