Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Illuminate me

The Homeless Library is an attempt to record the lived experience of homeless people, using interviews, poetry and artwork. Part of the Library is also this blog, a diary of our own everyday triumphs and disasters while we work. Here is January 14 2016, a poetry workshop at The Booth Centre.

Phil writes:

The weather is on the turn. As I cycle to the Booth Centre, pendulous grey clouds hang in the sky threatening snow. When I arrive the place is packed. I see Amanda on my way in and she explains that if there is a severe weather warning of three days or more they go into emergency measures to try to get rough sleepers off the streets and under a roof. Today the centre is not only a place for food and rehabilitation, it is also a lifeline to shelter. 

The canteen is dense with bodies. Everyone seems to be wearing dark clothes - ancient overcoats and denims and anoraks - further darkened by dampness. I feel as if I'm caught in some old black and white documentary about refugees. Colour has been sucked from people's skin; the expressions on familiar faces look odd because they are more etched. Someone nods over to a friend - "They found him sleeping in a park..." 

We set the tables upstairs for a poetry workshop. My assumption is that no one will be interested today, it's not the right moment. In fact a large band make their way wearily up the stairs, sit down and look at me expectantly. "Go on," says James, "illuminate me."

Phil and Lawerence

Sometimes the best thing we can offer to other human beings is a distraction. For the next two hours I deliver the best poetry workshop I’m capable of. Not because I'm particularly good, or inspired, or full of profoundity, but because today the need is particularly great. 

They work quietly and with massive concentration. I think I will always remember the quality of concentration in that room. Not a single argument, no one carping, no one playing the fool. It is with great dignity that they write, even with their bad spellings, bad educations, "bad" English, even when it is difficult to hold a pen in fingers disfigured by cold. 

I cannot think of a poem I have read in the last year that moved me as much as seeing writing happen in that room.

The Homeless Library project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund

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