On 10th July I was asked to do two events on The Wirral to celebrate The Victorians as part of the wonderful PAGES AGO reading promotion. PAGES AGO is happening across the North West to promote historical writing, both fiction and non-fiction, and including my passion, poetry.
The beautiful Birkenhead Library, which is the most fantastic wedding cake building with a glorious stained-glass window dedicated to Wilfrid Owen, had planned a whole day of fun. The foyer was decorated as in the photos below, taken by Julie Mann, Team librarian at West Kirby library.
Added atmosphere was provided by a pianist, which made everything exciting and jolly, and I found it hard not to take up a position by the clavinova and start singing, especially as I knew the words to nearly all the songs. I’d been booked to do poetry though, so I managed to hold back.
I’d arrived in plenty of time, and so was able to enjoy a cup of tea, though being wheat-intolerant I had to say no to the tempting cakes in the foyer tea room. I did enjoy looking at them though.
I was made to feel very welcome and there was a really festive atmosphere. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and there were lots of families catching a cuppa in between choosing their books. It did my heart good to see children sitting beautifully at tables eating cakes and I went round and asked if I could read some of them a poem.
I was doing a workshop in the meeting room on Victorian children’s literature, with a few craft actvities and discussions included. A lot of memories were sparked off by my reading an extract from Alice Foley’s autobiography A Bolton Childhood about the street games that used to be played, with singing rhymes attached. I read Matthew Arnold’s beautiful poem ‘The Forsaken Merman’ and some poems from my own collection out soon from Salt, The New Generation, as I often write about things drawn from the world of folk and fairy tales which The Victorians collected.
I did all my events in costume:
I’d prepared a sheet of Arthur Rackham drawings, which the children enjoyed colouring, as well as identifying and telling the stories they depicted. I included some storytelling as well, with my version of Cap O’Rushes, the English Cinderella.
After performing some poems in the children’s library and the foyer, I then had to hot-foot it over to The Williamson Art Gallery for my next event. I had been asked to put together some readings both comic and serious, which reflected the paintings in the gallery. I had spent an enjoyable time researching and now have a portfolio of relevant literary extracts which I would love to use again if anyone would like to run a similar event. It is a small but wonderful gallery and I do urge people to visit it. It even has a car park! If only they had a tea room as well.