Friday, 4 December 2015

A sunflower hanky

Riff Raff at work

What is the shape of a life? How do you both map and move beyond your past?

We were working with a group at The Booth Centre homeless drop-in. Tracing the all the ups, downs, detours and arrivals of a life is quite a feat in the space of one small poem. Impossible really, but in its impossibility is also its power. It can be tempting to reach for easy solutions, cliches, sentimental endings. Finding an image or phrase that doesn't feel forced or distorted is difficult. Perhaps it's even more impossible if you have been abused as a child, or blurred by substance abuse.

This was our first session at the centre for a few months and it was essentially a rehearsal, with no pressure. The group first wrote some details of their lives on cards and hung them on a washing line, in date order (see Lois' earlier blog for details of this poem-writing when tried in another workshop). Then some haiku-making:

My lost youth found, remembered
Somewhere ages and ages, hence the tears
Comfort with a sunflower hanky.

"Riff Raff"

Joan. The right direction...

What surprised me was that people in the group worked so hard to construct these little pieces of meaning. They made themselves tired and made themselves vulnerable in front of one another. But they also managed to hold in their hands some small, tough beauty. 

Haiku are poems that distil the moment of being alive. They are tiny but - like a well-designed piece of luggage - pack a lot in. In three small lines, they criss-cross boundaries between peace and disquiet, time and nature, being and non-being. Haiku originate from Japan but are now hugely-popular in the West too. I'm nervous of them because they've been colonised by so many folk that they feel overused. However, if they're tweaked around a little they become refreshed.

In our haiku retooling, we incorporated statements from Chairman Mao exhorting his followers to make the long march across history. In these tiny histories made today, the words of the leader were wrestled back into the power of the little guys, as they wrote themselves into their own handmade history, The Homeless Library.

Pointed in the right direction
Through the hills I see crimsoned colours
He is in lightness.


The Homeless Library project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund

No comments: