Tuesday, 31 May 2011

me red hair always got me in trouble

The cliche of being restricted to your house is that it's tragic. In fact, the soundtrack to the session we've documented below was laughter. There are many housebound people tucked away in our communities who have a great deal more to offer than misery. This is not to belittle the difficulty of their situation, just to reaffirm that determined people can rise above circumstances. As part of the project at Four Acre, we've worked one-to-one with several house-bound older people. At this particular 'one-to-one' there were in fact five people present. Phil, Owen and I sat with Joe and Joan, who shared some of their stories while we made notes. This material was then edited into a poem by Joe and Joan the following week. 

and Joe


I can remember my dad coming home, rifle in his hand. He used to paste me, didn’t half lay into us. He went over to Europe in the war. He was strict, we could do with a few like that now.



Well-behaved. Catholic, every Sunday morning get up, Sunday clothes on, to the church, in the winter a red coat, black skirt, Sunday shoes. Easter - egg, paint the face on. My dad told us to come to 11 o’clock mass and we’d never heard him sing like that – we couldn’t stop laughing. We didn’t half get in trouble – ‘You’ll go to 9 o’clock mass in future.’

I had an old bike, riding around on the slopes, all the tyres were popped, no brakes, no spokes. I had more bruises than anything. Went to Downies, all hills and grass. Went there to play rounders. Southport without brakes. Over the red rocks, through the cemetery. Did a lot of walking – a bottle of water and a jam butty, go to Taylor Park.

When I grew up we took our kids to Colwyn Bay every week. The kids loved it, sandwiches and pop. (When we was young we never went.) Colwyn Bay, open air swimming. It was a change, we worked all week, it was our day out on a Sunday. The kids’d play on the sand, they couldn’t go far and it didn’t cost a lot. Splashing and racing. Now they take their own children. They remember, ‘We loved it. Didn’t want to come home.’


My old chap died age 56, I hated him but I loved him. Joan and I married 1961, fifty years. What’s the secret of a good marriage? Fighting. She was always throwing coffee at me, I had to keep decorating the house. It’s been alright cock.

I was a loose pattern maker, been made redundant 6 times, some hard times. Last 15 years we’ve done a lot of travelling. Used to go to Spain once every 5 weeks, have the cases packed ready. When the kids were little we’d go to Colwyn Bay – they still do it now cos they remember it.

Only went to Blackpool a few times. Went there and parked accidentally in the police compound – and I had two bald tires and a licence out of date. Went to Frodsham Mill, Delamere Forst with no brakes – needed an up hill to stop the car.

I was goalkeep for the Town and a man asked me how old I was. I said 15 and he said, ‘It’s a pity, it’s a pity.’ I always wondered was that my big chance?

My dad had two heart attacks watching Saints, he got that excited watching Saints. Saints was everything. When we meet Wiganers we still argue about it! I could have played, went for trials, but was to small. Fit as a butcher’s dog.

Used to go swimming in the Hotties Water. Hot water coming off the tanks at Pilks, sprinklers into the canal water. Pilks, that was the town. All went into Pilkingtons, Ravenhead. In the 50s or 60s at the Hotties, people going with nets for the tropical fish. I learnt to swim in the clay hole from the brick works- Shirley Pitt in the Delph. Used to climb up the walls, 200 yards high. Everything was dangerous in those days, they’d put a rope round you and throw you in the water- you soon learnt how to swim. I learnt in half a day. If you didn’t do it, you wouldn’t go back again. Used to climb up the walls like spiders, you had to do it or you’d be out of the gang. It was nothing, just an everyday thing.

There were bridges across two old slag heaps and we hung swing ropes, 20 feet up- how nobody got killed I don’t know. The mine was shut but the shaft was still left open, we used to climb down the rope to a big tied knot and swing across the shaft- 600 feet deep. We used to throw things down it and wait to hear it plop. Used to think if we ever fall down there, you’d be dead.

I remember em saying, “I’m going to hit you now, not for what you did, but for getting caught.” Playing on a haystack in Shirdley Park, fell right through it, Police chasing us right across fields, right through Parr, right back to our house- ‘Him with the red hair - he’s been in trouble again - been at it again.’ Me red hair always got me in trouble.

The Last Supper carved onto a pearl

As part of the project at Four Acre, Phil was lucky enough to meet an amazingly well-travelled man who shared some of his story:

Australia is the biggest beach in the world. But they’ve got Great White Sharks. I used to swim every day... and the city gents, the office workers they’d all go for a swim. Beautiful water. This one fella had been swimming 16 years and one morning he went in and a Great White bit his leg off. Though his mates dragged him out the blood loss killed him. But the people still go swimming and surfing and the Great Whites still come circling.

We went up to the tropics and I made friends with an Aboriginal man. The Aboriginals are allowed to hunt any animal... We hunted with them, catching turtles. They cut them open then we had to look away cos the killing is sacred – the spear goes through the shell with a hook and they use that to pull it on its back and kill it. They gave us turtle meat, meat off a shark, Manatees, doogong, they spear and eat. Whatever they kill they bring to all the families.

...Live on the beach, throw a fishing rod and catch my tea, then move on to the city. Torpedo Rocks. The sky gets strange colours in Australia. Green, blue, pink, the whole place on fire. I saw an Aboriginal man dive in the water with a 20-foot tiger shark. They know the behaviour of the animals, the spiders size of my hand, the striped sea snakes.

How extraordinary that some people will never envisage what you’re missing, what you’re going to miss. I’ve not missed it, it’s changed me. I appreciate both humans and animals now, what good they do. It’s been a wealth. The Aboriginies are great taxidermists, great carvers. I’ve seen the Last Supper carved onto a pearl...

Chiropody and art?

It's a winning combination. Last Thursday, we worked with people waiting for the Chiropody clinic in the Four Acre Health Centre. As in our previous session, they were quick encounters, so we devised an activity that was easy to achieve in a short time.


There can be a price to pay working in this manner; the depth of the work can suffer, it feels at times as if you're surface-scratching at the subject matter. We have set ourselves the aim of creating a large community artwork, so there is also a building pressure to get making.

However on the plus side, there's an opportunity to meet and talk to people who might not normally partake in art events, (some of whom may join us again at future sessions). Also, something rather wonderful happens when placing arts and reminiscence in an unusual setting - a subtle change in atmosphere, a lessening of tension. Doctors' waiting rooms can have an air of apprehension; to find yourself taking part in a conversation about childhood games is welcome distraction - perhaps even gives a medicinal lift in well being.

We noticed a general hush when the participants were talking, as other occupants in the waiting room quietly listened in. Conversations would sometimes start to spill, with those listening joining with their own contributions whispering amongst themselves. 

We created little flags, one side naming a childhood game played by the participant, the other side the location the game was played at. Names of roads and games sounded poetic, they seemed to conjure up more than they actually said.

lamp to lamp
from there to there
McColloh Street 
Finger Post
stonies we called marbles
July Street
lemonade power at Carr Mill
Happy Valley
tin can bongo
pie crust jump on your back
ginny can or piggy
Stanley Park
knock on the door
and run away

The flags we plan to place in sandwiches at a teaparty event, any excuse for lunch... more photos of the evidence to follow another day.

Friday, 27 May 2011

the tide took all the sand away

get on the sands at Blackpool buy a jug of tea and paper cups for threpence... Irene

Our theme was childhood holidays, our target group 'over 60s', our materials paper plates and we were sustained by cups of tea, donuts and chocolate mini rolls. Yesterday morning Phil and I were based at Four Acre Library, joined by Owen from the Arts Service and a wonderful new addition to our group, Tabitha Moses.

We've gone away with five children and this is the Gods truth, with £5. Five of them, two children in nappies. We got off the coach in Blackpool, it was throwing it down, we went for plastic macs in Woolworths... Irene

This was an informal drop-in session: over the morning 8 participants 'dropped', some staying for 10 minutes, some an hour. Everyone gave generously of their memories and selected single lines to create circular poems, written on paper plates. The paper plates will be used as designs for ceramic versions.

The photograph I have, my younger brother, I can see to this day, my brother and the other is sat down on the sand on New Brighton eating butties... Sid

The benefit of a drop-in session is that spontanaeity helps to take away some of the apprehension about making art and writing poetry. We regularly work with older people who haven't done any art or poetry since school. Many were put off it at a tender age. By working in a familiar environment  and approaching the art and poetry through reminiscence, we seem to be winning over a little gang of makers.

As ever, our topic travelled far from seaside sun to include many other subjects; some were chilling recollections of poverty that brought back Tuesday's session with Rainer Ganahl:

There were seven of us in the family. Two up two down. Two sisters shared one bed, then 3 boys shared a bed with me mum and dad, an army jacket on the bed to keep us warm. When you couldn't afford coal you would burn anything. Once we tore the linoleum off the floor  to burn, anything to give you some heat.  Alan

More photos at  http://www.flickr.com/

Rosy Lee

We're aware of tweeness and the dangers thereof. We've been putting little pieces of poetic writing about childhood onto cakes and doilies and tablecloths and we've got our eye on bunting. It could all get hopelessly rose-tinted, couldn't it?

But these are St Helens childhoods viewed through 70-80 years of living, sometimes hard living. Many people talk of happiness, but they also talk of lack.

if there's stress in anyway a cup of tea...

We'd decided to talk about tea-drinking, that Great British Staple - and especially teadrinking when faced with a crisis. Tea is a big part of our shared culture, a fondly-held tradition. It's often delivered with little frilly extras, like teacosies, doilies and iced cake as ornaments. But what I'd not really considered was tea as a means of just getting through the day.

During our drop-in at our regular library haunt in Four Acre, we encountered several people whose thoughts on tea were anything but rosy. B told us about working 12 hour shifts, grafting from light to night on one meal a day. The tea trolley at work was the thing that kept them propped up, a pick-me-up and an appetite suppressant.

My Mrs is a bugger for tea

Tea is also the Great Comforter as another participant said. 'When someone died we were awash. Would you like another drink?'

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Rainer Ganahl, Fred Engels and the Red Door

(Typed from Phil’s rough notes.)

Walking over to The Red Door, feeling nervous. Don’t know what this meeting will be, it’s throwing dice. We’re bringing artist Rainer Ganahl into a homeless drop-in centre in Bury. Rainer is obsessed by Marx and Engels, he’s locked into the books, into that moment, floating it alongside our own time. His work in Bury shows the Marx/Engels classics heaped in vitrines, with similar literature.

Engels’ work describes the plight of a whole people, the working people of Britain, as they struggle to feed the industrial processes of the 19th century – and desperately to feed themselves. Engel’s The Condition of the English Working Class is an angry book, outraged by the stories it tells – people living in holes in the ground, dying starved, diseased, trodden down by the ‘good’, or ignored. It’s Darwin’s fight for survival on a human scale, and like Darwin it is the beginning of a theory that’ll change everything.

In 2011, the British people who live the life closest to Engel’s descriptions are the homeless.

The group at Red Door shape-shifts around Rainer G as he leads a reading aloud of Engel’s words. Two young girls sit on a sofa; they jolt involuntarily when we read a section about prostitution. A leans back in a nearby armchair, his expression veiled, but listening intensely. He won’t say a word until the teabreak, away from the others. K and R sit at the table with Rainer, Lois and myself. A volunteer who’d recently been homeless comes in and out of the room as his chores permit.

Ganahl is an imposing character, brimmed with mischievous energy, his head planted with a bright blue woolly hat like his own personal blue-sky weather system. He’s such an alien presence that people don’t quite know what to make of him, unsure what signs to read.

What we do read is Engels. The stunning brutality of those little vignettes send us into a horrible lulled trance. (A woman found dead under a blanket in her room, with her children, all starved.) People abused and abusing to the point of raw mind-sickness. Between the readings come back parallel stories from the people in this room, this NOW. Tales of streetlife, blurred with shaky emotion, drugs and shock.

For myself, the most moving point comes when I go away from the table to stand outside for some air with A. Between drags on a cig, A tells me about the hostels and rough sleepers he’s met in North Manchester, on the same journey he himself has made, with nowhere home. ‘People under umbrellas, people in plastic bags, anything, trying to keep warm, keeping dry. Seen them at night, some died. From the 19th century to now, it’s not long is it? Not a long distance we’ve come.’

Through the 2 hour session, K sits directly opposite Rainer, listening and responding to the history book with his own life. When Rainer talks about the rough clothes working people wore, K shows us his fleeces, jammed under his anorak in layers to keep in warmth. He’s sleeping on cardboard at the moment; when he gets too cold he’ll walk around town to restart his circulation, recharge the warmth in his muscles. As the session continues, details of K’s life emerge: successive jobs, redundancy, substance abuse, a spin down into homelessness. K reiterates many times that he has a drink problem. Eventually Rainer interrupts: “Is the homelessness your responsibility alone, or is it systemic?’ He repeats the word SYSTEMIC.

K shakes his head, unable to accept this new possibility: ‘I’ve gotta problem.’ It’s a saddening moment, the nastier side of psychotherapy culture, of ‘owning’ your problem. I think back over the many conversations we’ve had during this project around the crucial question: why are you homeless? How many people pin it to their own personal failings – marital breadown, substance abuse, job loss, bad health, bad timing? But is that really the whole chapter and verse of the story? The society system we live in has a part. Shouldering the thing yourself is a crushing burden.

After the session, Rainer and I talk about how it went. He chides us for being sentimental. I chide him for not listening to people as fully as they need.

Evening, I come to another Engels reading that Rainer has convened, this time with artists from Manchester. There’s a student-ish atmosphere and I take great joy in close-reading the text, a process I’d usually apply to a poem. We touch on Engel's dubious references, naivity, and the naturalisation of predjudices against the Irish. It’s a pleasantly academic discussion, though once again dominated by one person. A large Germanic art pixie, the charisma gathers round Ganahl like a crackle in the air. Likeable/dislikeable, charming, pissy - a man with enormous focus, though one who doesn’t listen well because his own head is raging with ideas. He is a lightening conductor, but this second group contains no real electricity; the charged moment has already occurred. What fixes in my memory is walking with him through that red-painted door.

At the exhibition launch, Rainer dresses a young artist, Laura, in pages from Engel's book, ceremonially recalling the fustian clothes worn by the poor. But it also harks to K's layered fleeces, proofing him against the night chill. The performance is a witty piece, sharp and rather knowing. I wonder if K will have to walk around tonight to keep himself alive; the day's been rain-drenched and the evening clouds are ominous.

Rainer Ganahl’s exhibition Engels Engels Engels (co-curated by Maurice Carlin and Helen Kaplinsky) is showing alongside the a map of you exhibition at Bury Transport Museum as part of the international Text Festival. Works by homeless and vulnerably housed people in Bury and Manchester are part of the a map of you exhibition.

Monday, 23 May 2011

come ere, I know yer Dad!

Thursday afternoon in Four Acre.  The risk of isolation for 'housebound' older people is increasing. Changing family structures, geographical mobility and living longer all contribute to greater levels of loneliness in hidden segments of society. For a while Phil and I have wanted to work again with older 'housebound' people, and this project in St Helens has given us an opportunity. And what an opportunity - the most fantastically funny, warm-welcoming group of people.

Joan Ellam

Our first hosts were Joe and Joan, who regaled us with childhood adventures. Joe recounted with glee: There were bridges across two old slag heaps and we hung swing ropes, 20 feet up - how nobody got killed I don’t know. The mine was shut but the shaft was still left open, we used to climb down the rope to a big tied knot and swing across the shaft - 600 feet deep..
Joe Ellam

I met up next with Mr and Mrs Clarke, who continued the thread of childhood adventures and mischief outdoors. I only got into trouble once - I was just a good runner they never caught me!  Mrs Clarke

At the Hotties, you’d strip and dive into the water, Pilks Police would call ‘come ere, I know your dad’ no towels or anything, just pick the clothes and start running…Get chased down the street with all me clothes tucked under me arm. Mr Clarke

Mr Tommy Clarke

As with the morning there was talk about poverty. Mum said: ‘If I don’t come back in half an hour come and look for me’. It was gone three quarters of an hour, and we found her, she was sat on the train sleepers laughing in hysterics, ‘They’ve took me bag of coal off me, the bleedin little monkeys.’ She was took to court and fined 7&6. She said in court: ‘Before I give you the money, can I have the bag of coal back?'  When you’ve got 5 kids and your cold- what your going to do? ‘Who’d of fed you if I had gone to jail?’ Mrs Clarke.

Mrs Margaret Clarke

The one-to-one sessions let us open dialogue with people who get missed, not just the immobile, or ill - but people who're shy, those whose experiences put them outside the norm, people with over-protective relatives; there are many reasons why voices don't get heard. These unheard, possibly isolated, people often have been desperately starved of human connection. To tell their stories and to be acknowledged is an opportunity to stand outside their own life narrative and think about the shape of it, perhaps even rewrite it.

In the course of today, we talked with a woman who told us she's so short of company she rides the bus to town everyday simply to be among people. Another person was overwhelmed by their (very vocal) partner. Another was piecing together confidence after a nervous breakdown and marriage split. As he talked, we heard him tentatively shift from a depressive cast to celebratory. It was, as they say, the sun coming out.

A big thanks must go to Val Guard from Helena Partnerships and Pat and Les Andrew for their hard work helping to set up these sessions. Without these people to make introductions, there would have been no sessions.

For more photos, please visit http://www.flickr.com/

Tuesday, 17 May 2011


Thanks to the wonderful mailout.co participatory arts magazine, for writing a feature about our project a map of you. You can see it on line at http://mailout.co 

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Bury Text Festival: a map of you

Philip writes:

...There are two satellite exhibitions to the Text Festival: Requiem in the Fusiliers' Museum and a map of you in Bury Transport Museum. I've guest curated the Transport Museum show, using a selection of works by visual poets and artists placed as poetic interrogations of the exhibits and the visitors. Where are you heading? What space do you carry in your head, what kind of map?

The exhibition includes work by seminal poetic experimenters Robert Grenier, Bob Cobbing, Paula Claire, bp Nichol as well as noted artists Jurgen Olbrich and Rainer Ganahl. But two pieces are especially worthy of mention in this dispatch – one is a miniature tour de force by Marton Koppany, the other a sequence of outsider-ish pieces made by homeless people.

This show takes its title from the arthur+martha visual poetry project a map of you with homeless people in Manchester and Bury. These postcards in bus windows carry tiny handwritten stories,  fragmentary reports of homeless people's lives in Manchester and Bury. Funny, troubled, elusive. The modest pieces are adapted tourist postcards of Manchester with landmark buildings removed and text written into the white space that's left. Like the works by Widener and fellow outsider Harald Stoffers, they're emotionally direct, powered by focussing instinct and the moment. They sidestep the self-regarding careerism that sometimes hangs around galleries and instead substitute honesty and even a kind of grace.

These are works made in extremis, not in some academic snug. They speak their vulnerability with their own material – the scurrying handwriting, the cheapness of the found objects they're scribed upon, the mis-spells, the brevity of expression – as if they know all too well their place in the pecking order... (Essay extract)

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

a map of you: postcards from the homeless

Homeless people in Manchester are writing themselves into the public eye, creating ‘customised’ tourist postcards of Manchester, in collaboration with arts organisation arthur+martha. The postcards are currently exhibited in Bury Transport Museum and can also be viewed at BBC Online website. Poems from the project will be shown on the BBC Big Screen in Manchester city centre and tweeted by advertising company LOVE.

a map of you postcards carry tiny stories, little snatches of homeless people's lives. In the white space between the buildings, the stories appear, some stencilled, some handwritten, some self-explanatory, funny, dour, elusive. The cards are designed to bring attention to a group in society who are often overlooked, but have much to offer.

L, a homeless person in Bury, said: 'People who suffer have knowledge.' The skin of these writers is thin; through it they feel the world intensely and report with great vividness.  

The arthur+martha experimental arts organization works with people who are often pushed to the margins of society - older people in hospital, excluded school pupils, children with special needs and many others. The Bury Text Festival pioneers unusual and radical use of language - in this case, helping homeless people find opportunities for self-expression. International poets Geof Huth (USA) Steve Gaisson and Derek Beaulieu (both from Canada) are involved in the project, leading sessions as guest artists and helping to edit work. 

a map of you has been supported by Arts Council England, Bury MBC and The Lowry - and is working in partnership with The Big Issue in the North, The Red Door Housing Concern Centre, Brighter Futures at Bury Adult Learning Service, The Booth Centre and LOVE Creative.


A slideshow featuring a map of you is at BBC online:  http://www.bbc.co.uk
A BBC Radio Manchester feature can be listened to at http://www.arthur-and-martha.co.uk/ The a map of you postcards are exhibited as part of the Bury Text Festival at Bury Transport Museum until 26 May 2011.

To read more about the project please visit http://arthur-and-martha.blogspot.com
To view more of the postcards, visit http://www.flickr.com/
For more information and to obtain free copies of limited edition concertina postcard packs of a map of you- contact project organiser Philip Davenport on 07951 233953 / philipjohndavenport@hotmail.com

Friday, 6 May 2011

a map of you: BBC online

I'm very pleased to share this link to a slideshow feature that went live yesterday on the BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-13281902 for our project a map of you.  Its wonderful to get another high profile showing for the work of the homeless and vulnerably housed people of Manchester and Bury.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

We are all space

The exhibition a map of you at Bury Transport Museum will continue until 19th June. As well as featuring the work of iconic visual poets like Bob Cobbing and Robert Grenier, the show also contains works by homeless people from Manchester and Bury, in the form of customised postcards. These were made as part of an ongoing arthur+martha project. Below is the text from the exhibition handout, together with some photos of the works displayed.

The best views... (Anonymous) from the a map of you project

// a map of you //

Where are you heading? What space do you carry in your head, what kind of map? In this exhibition, works by visual poets and text artists are placed in the Transport Museum forming a conversation with the permanent exhibits. The exhibition is part of Bury Text Festival, which brings together poets and artists from all over the world to draw new maps for language.

Main Hall
// Still, Marton Koppany and Go, Fatima Queiros = the contradictory tug of travel. // a map of you, various. These postcards in bus windows carry tiny handwritten stories, snatches of homeless people's lives in Manchester and Bury. In the white space between buildings, stories appear, some self-explanatory, some funny, troubled, elusive.

STILL, Liz Collini

The Manager’s Office
// ETCETERA (1970) / A ROUND DANCE (1976) Bob Cobbing. Cobbing’s spirit is felt throughout the Text Festival – his poetry delights in nonsense, but also travels far into abstraction. He has mapped some of the wildest reaches of the English language, often using office equipment like photocopiers and typewriters. Poets Claire, bp Nichol, Davenport and hundreds of others were published by Bob’s press Writers Forum. // Coverpiece (2005) Jennifer Pike-Cobbing. An extraordinary mixer of the verbal and visual, Jennifer also had a profound creative influence on her late husband Bob Cobbing. // Codesigns (1976) Paula Claire. Punning the ‘lines’ of wood grain with the lines of a poem. // Lament (1969) bp Nichol mourns a passing. // Space = the soldier who died for perspective, Tony Trehy. Using strips of poetic text like measuring tape, Trehy calculates human loss. // STILL (2011) Liz Collini = astonishingly elaborate construction drawings of words, Collini's work is often transitory, like this chalked piece. // Blueprints, Andrew Topel = half-visible in the office drawer, halfway between diagram and stanza. // Spoken Landscape A, Basinski = inserted in typewriter. // Typewriter Poems, Geof Huth = giveaways.

Visual Poem Boxes, Matt Dalby

Right Platform
// Visual Poem Boxes, Matt Dalby = escape attempts, fleeing the boxing of language and logic. // THE SECRET Marton Koppany's large perspex piece in the goods wagon holds the viewer’s reflection in brackets, like a typographic trap. // APPEAL IN AIR, Philip Davenport = a poem held within a spreadsheet, mourning the human rush. // Stephen Butler’s three arches lead into an elegant maze of misunderstandings and gobbledegook. // Newtonian, Zeynep Cansu Baseren = a mini-me of the architecture around it, shrunk to the scale of a model train. // Concrete, Andre Topol = reference and deference to the original 60s concrete poets. // Also/postal, Reed Altemus = a salute to postmarks and the sadness of suitcases.

Left Platform
// Poems, Robert Grenier = haiku-ish meditations on the momentary. This sequence was written in and about Ramsbottom, near Bury. Bob is one of the seminal figures of American L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry. // Leftovers, Louise Woodcock = word fragments left from a performance in which Louise ate books.

Guest curator = Philip Davenport

Spoken Landscape A, Basinski

a map of meself

As part of 'a map of you' our art/poetry project with homeless people, we've invited guest artists to run some sessions, or edit work. This has been made possible with the help of Bury Text Festival, whose support has been tremendous. The Festival brought poet Geof Huth over from the USA and Geof spent some time working for 'a map of you.' Below is an extract from his blog describing the session. We worked with four vendors: Chris, Scotch John, Tim and Mircea. Each encounter brought moments of tenderness anger, sweetness. Tim introduced us to his dog Charlie, Mircea displayed his method of learning English - by embroidering the words onto himself. Daniel Cenna from BBC Radio Manchester recorded the session and the broadcast feature can be downloaded from our website. Over to Geof, as they say.

Friday, April 29, 2011
A Full Day and Life
Hilton Deansgate, Room 920, Manchester, England, UK

Today was too big a day for me to recount everything that happened in any detail at all. This will be just the roughest of notes on today's events, those of the day before the official opening of the Text Festival, a celebration of the text as art, in Bury, England. All of today's events, however, occur in nearby Manchester.

I started the day with a big breakfast, a huge British breakfast with lox and sausage and eggs and fruit and toast and tea. Then I took a cab to the Manchester offices of magazine The Big Issue on Swan Street, and my day began.

The start of the day was quite remarkable. I met up with the poet Phil Davenport, Gemma from The Big Issue, and Daniel from the local station of the BBC, and we visited four homeless men who make their living by buying copies of The Big Issue for £1 and selling each for £2, thus making a 100% profit. These men we met make their living that way, and exist in various states of homelessness, some having made it into flats they share with others.

When I started the day, I wondered if we were, somehow, taking advantage of these gentleman, by talking to them about their lives in order to learn about them and to find two or three phrases that actually map their lives, document them. This proved reasonably easy, because everyone makes poetic statements. It's just that we don't usually attune our ears to them, and Phil and I tried to do this today, and Phil especially succeeded. In the end, we had some beautiful statements from these four gentlemen, and I learned that we had given these men something. We'd given them the opportunity to tell their stories, and a way to document them. Ours was a human exchange of interest and attention. Even on a coldish morning in Manchester, the living human heart beats warm...

Geof also documented the experience as a poem.

Friday, April 29, 2011340.

A Map of Meself


teeth that tell of you
(through the gap)

to be wearing a mask
to have in the wearing of the mask a hiding

of the stigma
of the mark

(on a corner as a marked person
not one of the crowd
apart from society

someone discarded)

might let the mask slip
to show

hating the interiors of

just a white note
in the movement

just a white note
in the speaking

just a white note
lost in the chorus

of who might pee on you
swear on you
hit on you
set you on fire

it’s okay putting it in words

but words are not going to change anything
words won’t change a thing

just as a little light in the middle of a great ocean

and at night


from the Helms
not at the [singular]

man of faith
but not religion

come on out of a hard life
walk on up a hill

season of sunshine upon it
and green for it

rain comes down upon
then again sun

rain comes down upon again
then again sun again

water of life

(he said)

it pissed down twice

water of life

he said


a cigarette gets rolled small like a toothpick
doesn’t make much smoke or smell

is slipped between the lips
as words slip out between

(quietness verging on silence)

decades on the street
and “it’s not bad”

with a grave gentle dog
“Charlie” (a she)

the wander from town
to other towns
sometimes to avoid the troubles

always a chance to start a life anew
in a new place

old though they be

“I’ve got my travelling boots off”

Mancunian now and for good

“I’ve got my travelling boots off”

“It’s harder to sell on sunny days”
he says

people think your life is fine in the sun
if the sun

people think you’ve lost your problems

“But more hassle on a bad day”

people understand their own problems then
and don’t care about yours


come bearing paper flags
on the day of a wedding

one side Union Jack
one side an ad for a prince and princess married

patriot from Romania
and still learning this English
into him

“ni” sewn onto his right knee
“ni” sewn onto his left

he learns phonetically by the repetition
of wearing these jeans
the repetition of living

an engineer by training
and learning to draw with his hands

very bad on sleep
“keep fear”

keeps fear very close

pink fingernail polish flaking from fingers
erosion from the edges

on these sturdy hands

(a tall man)

“elbau” sewn onto the elbow of his jacket
“koff” sewn onto the back of his legs (the jeans, for “cuff”)

Logo for Barbie sewn upside-down
on his T-shirt so he could look down on it and read

mind wandering into conversation
or through

the intensity of compulsion

to learn the words
to learn the words
to see the things the words say

he says
“I decorate my life”

two narrow strips of cardboard
sewn onto the back of each pants leg
and he can slip the stem of a small hand flag
between cardboard and denim
his shins waving the two flags

“I decorate my life”
he says
“I decorate my life”

and written above the word “Barbie”
so written below the logo upside down there


his body

changing as it doesn’t change.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

BBC Radio interview

Whilst Catherine and William were busy getting married last week, Phil, Gemma and American experimental poet Geof Huth were out on the streets of Manchester working with Big Issue venders, capturing moments of their lives. Daniel Cinna from BBC Radio Manchester caught some of the day in an interview that was was aired on the BBC today - many thanks to all, especially Geof who was dropped into the situation with little prep and took all in his stride.

You can hear the interview on our website.