Thursday, 18 August 2011

News from the 'underclass'

"walk past a restaurant // smile @ them thats th mask // I wont let them see me hungry #rainer" (Tweet from Engels)

Tweet From Engels is an 'anti-epic' poem made from encounters with homeless people. It's another phase of our a map of you project, working with homeless and vulnerably housed people in Manchester and Bury. The overall a map of you project has so far encompassed an exhibition at Bury Text Festival, screenings of short animations at the BBC Big Screen in Manchester city centre which will run over the course of the next 12 months, and two sequences of 'concertina' postcards. The raw material of all of this is the lives of homeless people, which in some cases are as harsh as the working class lives Engels described in 19th century Manchester.

missing outside beyond reach

"my friend got murdered ystrday backdoor open lights on = stoppd // that was th last time I // spoke 2 her he batterd her again #rai"

Tweet from Engels, which is disseminated through our Twitter feed, has now been running for several weeks. It's been getting some very emotive responses; people react to the plight of the 'writers'. And having something as big as this arrive in instalments is a good bite-size way to read, little verse fragments incoming as mobile phone updates or emails. The verses become surprises; some of them jolt because the stories they tell are so sad and sore. They are tales of the so-called 'underclass', a term that's started appearing in the papers again, in post-riots jargon.

"I wake up + think oh no another day will I walk in2 sum1 whos generous //? //or a fist #kit"

It takes time to find a shape that's suitable for material as emotive as this, to give it balance. Julia, my partner, suggested we try Englyns to glue the poem together. They're an ancient Welsh poetic form, the closest thing that we have to a homegrown haiku - fantastically complex to write, echoing and re-echoing resonances. But the tightness of them suits the tight restraints of writing a tweet - 140 characters or you're out. And the pun on Engels was too good to resist. Throughout the poem we've scattered quotes from Engels (as #fred) so that he is in conversation with the homeless people of today.

"yr info about conditions in #Manchester is of gr8 interest 2 me// th newspapers having chosen 2 draw a veil #fred"

In the end, we've kept it formally very loose, breaking up the interviews and poems we'd gathered into little tweet-size chunks. In the background, the maths of the englyn applied to the poem as a whole rather than each verse and instead of rhymes we have erasures, to underscore the idea of people being societally excluded. The Manchester poet copland smith helped to create this overall shape. Dropped into it there are little 'pure' englyn moments.

"[cant go on th balcony fleein // vision of walls fallin // split second 2 get back in // gettin too old for fightin] #sal"

The final piece is a collaboration between homeless people, who spoke and wrote the work and poets who acted as editors and instigators. High up the credits in this are Rebecca Guest, Steve Giasson, Geof Huth.

"wots th magic word? // please? abracadabra? #anon"

Some of the piece simply describes everyday routine, some of it is angry, some scared, some visionary. Although the poem is of course made of words, and I've talked about the technicalities of word-making a great deal in this particular blog, the chance to hear these people and to help them be heard has affected me beyond words. Working with these folk and helping to shape this many-handed poem has left me hearing and re-hearing them.

"Id giv anything 4a #normal life 50 million id turn it down u cant buy a normal life #lev "

(Finally, a special thanks for kind support from Penny Anderson, Catherine Braithwaite, Matt Dalby and Ed Richardson)

1 comment:

Penny Anderson said...

Thanks for the 'special thanks.' This project is amazing. I wish it wasn't needed, but hope it keeps running.