Friday, 20 June 2014

Speaking on tongues

Rizla papers are an icon in the ritual of smoking. The little green packs are a staple part of every roll your own ciggy smoker's toolkit. Being pieces of paper, they can also be adapted to the job of writing.

Today, equipped with Rizlas, we visited a Residential Care Home in Oldham in the morning and a social tea-drinking group for older people in the afternoon. We wanted to make work that conjured memories of pubs - starting with drinking, cigs and snacks - gathering thoughts from the groups. Pubs can be heaven, or hell, depending on your disposition, so we were wary with this subject matter. In fact, everyone took a shine to it, while acknowledging that uneasiness.

We brought in beer glasses, ashtrays, old cigarettes (Senior Service, an unsmoked box from circa 1960) and made notes based on the conversation. We then asked folks to pick lines or words that they liked and rewrite them on the Rizla papers. Lined up in random order, the Rizla lines made little poetic jigsaw pieces that, in a few sharp details, evoked a much bigger world, but one that is now the past.

Below is one of these poems, written in several hands. It starts in the pub, of course - the Hen and Chicken - before moving onto the Spotted Cow and then discussing the various pipes smoked by 'my husband's gran' and favourite tobacco smells, before concluding 'I'd rather have a cheese and onion pie'. It's a pub crawl in miniature and the paper it's written on carries overtones of taste, smoke - and the act of making language, on the tongue.

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