Tag Archives: The Lightfoot Letters.

StAnza 2014: The Lightfoot Letters


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.


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.


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. 


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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StAnza 2014

I have never been to StAnza before and had been hoping to fit a visit in this year, so imagine my delight when I was actually invited to attend as a participant, an honour I had only previously dreamed of! Eleanor Livingstone, one of the directors, had seen information and artwork from The Lightfoot Letters exhibition, which was a collaboration between myself and textile artist Maria Walker.  The exhibition has been shown at The Brindley, Runcorn, Visual Arts Cheshire in Northwich (the kind and generous poet John Hegley came to the private view on that occasion) and Waterside at Sale. But StAnza is the first time it has been shown outside Cheshire.

The exhibition will take place throughout the duration of the festival at the Preservation Trust Museum, with the artists talk taking place on the Saturday afternoon. My poem ‘Father, Skating’ will be in the Byre, in vinyl letters (which I still think of as a form of magic), acting like a trailer for the exhibition.

So this week I am busy preparing for the festival, sorting out my itinerary (because I hope to immerse myself in poetry and attend as many events as possible) and making notes of where I need to be and when.I hope to turn up to open mics to join in, bump into lots of friends and drag them back to the holiday house for coffee/wine/supper. I’m going to Paul Muldoon’s masterclass and John Greening’s events. Normally the exhibition has been mounted for us, but for the first time I am going to be involved in the curation, which was the best logistical way to do it this time.

I know that StAnza is a wonderful festival. Everyone has told me how much fun I will have. I am really grateful to Eleanor’s keen eye and awareness of what is going on, even in distant Cheshire. The programme is very full with lots of variety and many wonderful poets. And yes, I’ve been warned to take lots of jumpers and woolies! Image



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Reflections on Being Writer-in-Residence at Gladstone’s Library


I left home after lunch on 10th October, with some excitement and a little nervousness about how I would cope being away from my family for a whole fortnight. I returned on 24th October having completed a huge amount of work and having made some new friends.

I have learned I can be self-motivated; that I can achieve a lot when not distracted by Facebook, Twitter, day to day life and chores and all the numerous calls on my time which occur randomly. I finished my John Clare book, I put together an anthology of poems based on Austen, Shakespeare and the Brontes, I typed up poems from my notebook, I started writing a book on Faerie Tales ( done about 7 thousand words so far) and added a little more to my children’s novel, which I am writing to prove to myself I can do it.

I’d like to think I could be so disciplined every day, but the reality is that the library is a bubble of peace and bookishness. Meals punctuate the day, and pots of tea are available for tea breaks. My routine was to wake around 8 am, skip breakfast ( I am never hungry first thing), work in my room on the laptop for a while, and pack a bag to go to the library for about 10am. I would then work all day, sometimes in the silent and beautiful library, sometmes in the noisier annex where there was a computer I could use, and activity all around me. Sometimes after lunch I would take my pot of tea into the Gladstone room and work there at the lovely old table, where newpapers appeared daily. I’d then go back to my room for a rest before dinner, then pack a different bag with my knitting and a notebook and go and seek company or relaxation. I did go out for a few walks and had two poetry-related trips to Chester, but other than that I rarely left the comfort of the place, wanting to make the most of my residency.

I loved doing my reading on the first evening, before dinner, with the coal fire glowing in the background. My day workshop was invigorating and I was delighted with the standard of work produced. The Lightfoot Letters talk was a treat for me, and those who attended seemed to enjoy it. I don’t usually have the chance to read from the letters themselves and I newly marvelled at how funny, touching and detailed they are.

Now I am back in my own little library, with my own coal fire, with some new projects started and some old ones finished. I do encourage writers to spend time at the library, which is free to use if you sign up as a reader, or go and stay there if you want to wallow in its clubby atmosphere. Consider applying to be writer in residence. The scheme is expanding and there will be nine writers-in-residence, who write a range of different genres, next year.

I certainly feel enriched by the experience!


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Gladstone’s Library

My residency at Gladstone’s Library is fast approaching and I am looking forward to spending time there away from the hustle and bustle of my daily life as a writer. The library is doing marvellous work with these residencies, and I have enjoyed attending events led by Ian Parks and Katrina Naomi since the scheme started.

I have three very different public events during the residency, so there is something for everyone. on 10th October there is a free early evening reading at 5.30 pm wth the option to book dinner at £12. This does need to be booked ahead.

On 12th October, I have planned a rich a varied day long writing workshop 10 am- 4pm. This is focusing in particular on writing poetry for children but we will be writing poems and learning techniques as well. The price of £28 includes drinks and a generous lunch. Pre booking is essential. It is a Saturday so hopefully people will be able to attend.

Lastly on 17th October, I am giving a talk and reading poems from The Lightfoot Letters, and showing slides of Maria Walker’s artwork as well as photographs of the letter writers, who happen to be my father’s family. Until I met Maria Walker, I had no idea these letters existed but they do offer a fascinating insight into 1920s life in a working class family.

In addition to these events, I am looking forward to focusing on writing some new poems and tackling a new critical book I am planning, if I can finish my John Clare book which is almost ready now.

The resources at Gladstone’s are amazing, and the peace and quiet of the surroundings very inspiring. I feel a little like I am going to live in Chrestomanci Castle! The food is absolutely lovely, and my only worries are putting on too much weight and missing my family – but then it’s not too far away so hopefully they will come and visit. I’m also planning to take my watercolours as painting helps me notice things.

Do consider coming to some or all of the public events. The library deserves everyone’s supportImage

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Cornwall Tour

In Cornwall I will be working with six schools. One of the days is for Able Writers, when I am teaching Persuasive Writing through poetry. The others are working with the University of Famouth, doing a really fascinating project with the art department inspired by The Lightfoot Letters collaboration with Maria Walker. on 12 March, I will visit the university and work with a year 9 group. After a presentation and reading, I will work with half the group to write some poems based on memories while the other half collage, swapping over and repeating the writing workshop with the other half of the group. It has been really interesting planning this work as I am also making some links to the set poems they will be studying for GCSE next year. I am also doing four outreach workshops for them with different ages, all on a theme of the environment, and again leading to collage.

I haven’t been to Cornwall for a very long time, and I am hoping the weather will be a lot more spring-like down there. I will be doing a reading at an Arts Centre in St Ives on Thursday 14 March, and going to Penelope Shuttle’s book launch in Falmouth on 16th March. After all this excitement I will need the week’s holiday we have booked! I am very excited to see Rupert Loydell again as we have not met since 1997!

Hopefully some sightseeing will happen and some poems will get themselves written too. If anyone has any recommendations of what to do in and around Falmouth, do let me know.



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The Lightfoot Letters in Northwich


The collaborative exhibition, The Lightfoot Letters, which Maria Walker and I created together, is currently visiting Northwich, in a brand new town centre art gallery. Maria likes to use text in her work and we decided to collaborate so she could use my poems. Maria had already created some pieces inspired by some 1923 letters she had purchased in an antique shop, and I had already written poems about stories my father had told me about his childhood.

A few months in to our collaboration, we met up again to see some of her work in an exhibition. It was then we made the amazing discovery that the letters which had so impressed her had in fact been written by people in my family, including my dad. This lent our collaboration new wings and we both created further work. The suitcase installation was my idea and we made it together, and Maria also taught me how to collage and how make button bracelets. We bounce off each other really well and love working together.

The exhibition premiered at The Brindley in Runcorn in 2011, and will be showing at The Waterside, Sale, later in the year. It came as a wonderful surprise that Visual Arts Cheshire wanted it to be the very first exhibition in their new gallery, which unfortunately might not be staying open long, as the space is only on loan. 

It is a wonderful space and the exhibition has created a buzz in the town, the like of which I have not seen for a long time. The opening night was packed with people who were interested in either aspect or both. There have been a lot of people with the surname Lightfoot (my maiden name) coming in to check out the family history aspect. Maria gave an artist talk, I read poems, and we are both doing workshops to pass on our skills. I was amazed to see John Hegley attending the opening – and he made some very supportive and enthusiastic comments, which I really appreciated. Poet Lindsey Holland came as well, which made me really happy.

On World Book Day/ International Women’s Day, there will be a poetry reading with me, Sean Body, Lindsey Holland and Gill McEvoy, starting at 5pm. This is a perfect chance to come and see the exhibition outside its usual opening time, and to listen to some contemporary poetry from carefully chosen guests. 

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The Lightfoot Letters

Well, the chapbook arrived yesterday and I am delighted with it. The publishers, Erbacce, have done a wonderful job and Maria Walker’s cover design is really beautiful. I have dedicated the book to my brothers and sister and I am looking forward to presenting them with a copy. I wonder what my dad’s family would have thought if they had known their letters would one day be published, revealing so much about working class life in a Northern industrial town in 1923.

Maria wants me to write more poems, so my work is not yet done, but at least I have a publication to include in the exhibition at The Brindley, which will be happening in late summer this year. I have a feeling I will need to order another box of books by then as so many people have shown an interest in this project. A friend only remarked yesterday that Maria and I only discovered the connection of the letters in October – what a lot can happen in such a short time!

The discovery of the letters, and my doing some work in Widnes at my old library and Farnworth Church, has brought me back in time and back to Widnes in a very curious way. Having not thought much about the place for years, and recently severing my links with it when my in-laws moved away into a retirement flat near us, I suddenly feel closer to the place than I have for a long long time, even though I am a bit of a stranger in that it is all so different these days. The busy town square is pedestrianised, Simms Cross school has gone and the market has moved. The library now has a coffee shop – we would have loved that – and the road home past the foundry where my brother worked is now a dead end. Roots are so important and you can never dig them up.

£5 from me or from Erbacce


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The Lightfoot Letters News

Beautiful cover for my book, designed by Maria Walker

Maria and I had a very successful meeting at The Brindley last week and the project is all coming together nicely. We have seen the exhibition space and Maria is full of ideas for further artworks. I have typed up nearly all of the letters and these have been put into a book with 5 brand new poems and 5 older poems which were in my book The Fiddle, written before the discovery of the letters gave me new insights into the family situation. I have interspersed the poems with the letters and ordered the book person by person in what appears to be the most logical order, so that the narrative unfolds as the reader moves through the pages.

I have worked closely with Erbacce Press who are bringing out the book. We have endeavoured to keep the cost low so that hopefully people who do not normally buy poetry books will be prepared to invest their income for the sake of the letters themselves but will then enjoy the poetry.

The Brindley will organise an opening, at which I will read both poetry and extracts from the letters. It will be a gala occasion and I hope to see many of my blog followers there.  Many friends have told me they will be coming. There will be a video installation of my reading as part of the exhibition, and I am hoping to commission some commemorative bookmarks from Sumptuosity, who have already made bookmarks of quotations from my work in embroidery on silk, with appliqued motifs using vintage fabrics. The Brindley shop will stock all my books for the duration of the exhibition, which starts in July. Maria will be providing postcards of the artwork for sale. And we are offering workshops as well. These will be advertised in The Brindley brochure nearer the time.

I still can’t believe my luck that all this has happened. It’s brought me closer to my dad, even though we were very close when he was alive. My siblings too are very interested, if not fascinated, with it all and it has given us all a great deal to talk about and share in these past few months. Maria and I are firm friends as well, now. So many positive things have come from a strange coincidence, and it’s all down to the fact that my dad’s family were so tight knit that they write frequently to their sister in Manchester in the winter of 1923-1924, giving us a detailed picture of working class life at the time, which is of interest to those of us who came from a working class background and are now reclaiming our histories, as the histories of the real people behind social change.


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