Thursday, 14 July 2016

LOVESHIP: The Homeless Library at the Festival of Love

The Homeless Library at the Southbank, 2016

The Homeless Library had its public launch on 11 July, at the Poetry Library, Southbank in London. I have rarely been at an art event where so much goodwill shone on so many faces. The exhibition is part of the Southbank Festival of Love and it felt to me that our launch lived up to the name. 

Five participants in the project came to send their books, poems, interviews and artworks out into the world. And an audience of 70 well-wishers arrived for the event, which included a public workshop to demonstrate how the books and poems were made.

Jack Quashie reading at the Southbank
We gave a short tour around the exhibition in which different participants spoke about their work, the making and the meaning of it. There were some tears and a lot of banter too. There were also some heartrending moments. Jack Quashie read a short interview extract about walking for ten days across desert as a refugee and the crowded room went silent:

"When you are walking on sand, you cannot lie down and go to sleep. Even if you are tired, you cannot sleep. The sand moves like waves on water, if you lie down and sleep it will bury you. When people died we did not dig graves for them, we left them on the sand and it covered them. Sometimes the skeletons come back up again. And then they sink under the sand once more. I try not to think about it."

We ended our tour with a reading of the poem above, by Peter Twigg. It is a sweet little piece about human connection and Peter read it with such warmth that I think he charmed every listener.

Peter Twigg and Christine Hough mid-workshop

Phil Barraclough (in orange coat) explains his work, to Lorraine Mariner far right and others
We then ran a workshop for an hour or so in which our participants shared their skills, encouraging the audience to become makers. It was a big pleasure to be with such a mixed group of all ages and all backgrounds and make work together, peacefully. To sit around a table together while making poems, writing, art, is an activity that has been part of my entire life. When I was a child my mother would sit myself and brothers and my sister around the kitchen table with paint, paper and bits of cardboard to keep us amused and to keep an eye on us. While we sat around that table the arguments would stop, the worries would stop, and a kind of busy calm would descend on us.

The same magic occurred again at the Southbank on that July afternoon. Maybe it was because our band of bookmakers have now become so confident that they happily encourage others. Or because the Library staff and the audience were open-hearted and keen to join with us. Or maybe it was because both my mum, Shirley, and Lois' mum, Pat, had come to the launch and were lending extra support. For a short time, I felt I'd come full circle and had arrived home.

Poem on pillar by Paddy; booklets on bookcase various participants
On behalf of all the Homeless Library team, we would like to thank the staff at The Saison Poetry Library, Southbank for their extraordinary kindness and support. We would particularly like to acknowledge the help of Chris McCabe, Lorraine Mariner and Pascal O'Laughlin for their skill and enthusiasm. It means a great deal.

The Homeless Library is on exhibition at The Poetry Library, Southbank until 18 September 2016. This project is supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund.

Photographs by Julia Grime, 2016

Book by audience member made as a 'reply' to the exhibition during the workshop

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