Tag Archives: Erbacce

StAnza 2014: The Lightfoot Letters

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We set off on Tuesday morning, with all the art work for the exhibition, ‘The Lightfoot Letters’, neatly stacked in the car. Wednesday morning was spent putting up the exhibition in the Preservation Trust Museum, assisted by the curator, Sam, who was a fantastic help. It took over four hours but we were very pleased with how it all looked. A lot of people came up to me during the week wanting to discuss the exhibition, which was lovely. It really was an amazing co-incidence that Maria Walker had purchased the letters long before she met me and we had both produced work on the family prior to starting to work together. As I said at the artists’ talk, in a sense both of us were collaborating with the letter writers as well as each other. Maria often used words from the letters as a title for a work, or included the words on the art. I referenced the letters a lot in the new poems I had written for the project, for example, in my poem about my grandmoher Ada Lightfoot, nee Woodward, whom I never met as she died in 1933, I synthesised details from her marvellous letters.

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We managed to hang these large versions of the letters, scanned and printed onto cloth, above the door lintel in the Preservation Trust, with sterling work from my husband scaling tall ladders to screw the battens in. One of my grandmother’s letters is on the right. The one on the left is from my grandfather, and includes the words about the hot pot supper he is attending: I will have to use a knife and fork but I would rather have a spoon’. He always liked his food, but was tall and slim all his life. Maria produced two stunning pieces inspired by his words; you can just see the spoons piece to the left of the doorway. 

Maria had not yet done any work on the theme of skating when we met, as one of her main research interests is women’s lives. But my dad wrote three letters to his older sister during this intense 3 month period when she was away from home, and in all of them he is obsessed with skating. I worked hard at a poem to do him justice, and Maria found it a good way in to produce several wonderful pieces about skating, culminating in the amazing hanging she made, which appears to be floating from a typewriter.

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Eleanor Livingstone, the Director of StAnza, suggested that my poem, ‘Father, Skating’ be displayed on a window in The Byre, as a trail to the exhbition. It’s the first time that the poem has not been in large vinyl letters in the actual exhibition, but there would not have been space in the actual upstairs room where everything else was shown, so this was an inspired idea. I am grateful to Anja Konig for noticing it as at that point I had not been up to the studio theatre, so I hadn’t actually spotted it. 

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It was gratifying to have pointed it out to Paul Muldoon as we were walking past it discussing his masterclass, though I did not of course mention the fact that I had submitted the poem to The New Yorker, with a disappointing result! It’s more important to me that people tell me they love this poem, and the main thing for me is that my dad skates on between the lines and is still 12 years old and carefree.

This was the first time the exhibition has been shown outside of Cheshire, and it is also the first time it has featured at a Poetry Festival. Maria and I will always be grateful to Eleanor for noticing the art and poetry collaboration in this way and inviting us. She is truly a director with a finger on the pulse of poetry. We would love it if other poetry festivals would take up the exhibition. We also offer an artists’ talk and workshops if required. And of course I love performing the poems in the sequence, which appear in my book Paper Patterns (Lapwing 2012) and the chapbook The Lightfoot Letters, which also includes the text of some of the letters themselves (Erbacce 2011). Maria and I still dream that a big publisher will one day be interested in publishing a book of the letters, poems and artwork. The letters themselves are amazing social history and there is still a lot in them to be mined.

 

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Hallowe’en

Hallowe’en is a festival I feel strongly should be celebrated. It is based on the Celtic festival of Samhain which honoured ancestors and marked the passing from summer to winter.It then became subsumed into the Christian festival of All Souls, which serves to remember people who have died. November is the month of the dead in Christianity.

There is a wealth of Literature, much of it from the Romantic Movement, which concerned itself with the world of the imagination, among other things. From this period we have texts like Dracula, Frankenstein and many more. This period also saw a revived interest in the traditional tales and ballads from the past. We love the thrill of being scared, safe in the knowledge that it is not real.

I fear that, in the increasing commercialism, the festival itself is being lost. Dressing up (in home-made costumes), carving a turnip lantern (nowadays pumpkins are favoured), bobbing for apples and telling stories were all delightful ways to have inexpensive fun. Trick or treat is a fairly new idea, but there is a misconception about it: as the dressed-up children come, the idea is to give them a treat or show them a trick. It is a pity that visiting each other has almost died out and people lack the ability to interact with their community, seeming to privilege the internet over flesh and blood friends.

When I was teaching I always used to tell my classes the wonderful Hallowe’en story of Tam Lin and Janet. It’s a Scottish ballad and tells how Janet meets a beautful knight in the forest and falls in love with him. She has to free him from the Faery Queen on Hallowe’en before he is sent to Hell as a tithe. The Queen turns him into several scary things but Janet holds fast as he has told her and eventually the Queen gives up.

There are many poems and short stories too, which are worthy of reading aloud by candlelight, to create magical memories for children, friends and family. Here is one of mine:

 

White

 

White Face at the window.

White face in the hall.

White sounds in the garden,

seeming to call.

 

White skin in the glooming.

White teeth in the night.

White moon in the darkness,

a world–weary sight.

 

White bones of the forebears

buried in clay.

White tomb stones standing

against the day.

 

White Face in the garden,

white hands scrape the latch.

White Face coming closer

with sharp nails to scratch.

 

White feet are mounting

the stairs one by one

searching for something

or maybe someone.

 

White fingers feeling

for the key and the lock;

White Face is greeting

white veil and white frock.

 

White two united,

they join their white bones

their faces meet lightly

to silence their moans.

 

White lovers meeting-

their time apart done,

they drift away hellwards

before the first sun.

 

 

This poem appeared in Kids’ Stuff, my Erbacce chapbook for children.

 

 

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Kids’ Stuff

Cover design of my children's chapbook, out tomorrow

This one even surprised me! I wanted to have a cheaper book for schools readings as well as my beautiful Salt children’s book The New Generation, as not everyone can afford that and I can’t always afford to sell it at a discount. I still hope to have a second Salt collection for children one day, but in the meantime, this little 36 page chapbook, which has a cover price of £4.50, will prove a nice addition to what I can tote around schools. I was bowled over when Erbacce, a Liverpool-based publishers who produced The Lightfoot Letters, wanted to take this on as well. and it has been done in record quick time, so I can take it to my poets-in-schools March placements.

It is all different poems to my Salt book, and I still have plenty for further collections. Here’s one that is included:

My Thumb

My thumb

tastes

of chocolate

warm milk

salt

 

My thumb

feels like

hugs

birthday parties

warm baths

 

I think better

with my thumb

plugged into

my mouth

 

So why do

some people

shout and say

Take that thumb out?

 

I have always been fond of this poem, though I was never a thumbsucker and neither were my daughters. But I think children’s comfort habits should be respected. If left alone, they will grown out of them. Except dummies – I hate them.

I did the cover design myself. That’s the very first time I have dabbled. I took the photo at Whitby Folk Week last year. I have always loved carousels. Most fairground rides scare me.

 

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