Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The First History

THE HOMELESS LIBRARY has come from many stories, and none of them were easy to tell. The courage needed to share is present in every single one. Everybody held within these little books worked hard to contribute. Thank you for this, and for trusting us with your words.

This is the first time that homeless people have claimed a place in that slippery thing called history. But this is more than a history book. It is a whole library, made of language and image and emotion. The poems, the artworks and the handmade books are things of beauty and of power. Because they're handmade, to pick one up and to read it is more like meeting a person, than touching an object. It has fingerprints on it, human traces left in ink and paint and pencil and words.

This has also been the most difficult project we've done. It's been hard to hear some of the stories. Both of us have gone away feeling very, very sad and sometimes very angry, hearing what's happened to people we've met. People who have been beaten, raped, urinated on, burnt, robbed, arrested, sectioned, betrayed by families and friends.

But as we've gone through this both Lois and I have also started to treasure these meetings and workshops. I hope telling these stories brings understanding and maybe some relief. Making the poems together is something I will remember all my life. I have never been more proud. We have come away thinking of people's amazing humour, kindness, generosity, ingenuity and determination. These are stories of human spirit and it has been uplifting to be part of them.

Philip Davenport, Speaking at the Launch of The Homeless Library, Manchester Central Library Jan 2017

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Thursday, 2 February 2017


The Homeless Library exhibition at Central Library, Manchester. 31 Jan-31 March.

I stopped counting after our audience filled all the seats and started standing at the back. They'd come to welcome The Homeless Library to Manchester, where it all started. What can't be counted is the affection, the interest shown, the kindness and courtesy. This was quite a homecoming; but of course this Library can and should never actually arrive home. It is an account of lives in movement, with precious little rest.

Danny, Lawrence and Gary read a scattering of the poems from the many we've gathered during the project. It's a delight to hear them breathe life into these words, transforming the page into a dance of voices. Danny is measured and precise as he reads, Laurence sparks with mischief,
Gary is gently modest. I feel bursting pride for them. Their extraordinary lives, packed with experiences both harsh and happy, are present in their faces, in their every movement and of course in their words. They command the space. When they read, the big room goes absolutely quiet for them.

Then, a wonderful speech by John Garrard, a director of The BoothCentre, who's also a historian, advising us through this project, editing and supplying footnotes. He describes The Homeless Library as a moment now that's been flash-frozen, for future historians. It is "a treasure trove, a complete world", a rich and deep source of stories. He says in his experience it's unique, the stories held within The Homeless Library invited him into places that he didn't know existed. A society with its own rules and ranks and beliefs.
John Gerrard speaking at The Homeless Library opening event

Professor Jeffrey Robinson has come from Glasgow to be here for this day and to read two Victorian poems discovered by researcher Kirstie Blair and kindly offered to us. One is by a man who died in the workhouse, the other imagines living rough. Both of them are ancestors of the Homeless Library. As Jeffrey reads them, he carries us into a sadness that's 150 years old. But told elegantly, with humour and music in the words. Jeffrey's reading is quick, darting, like a tough little boxer.

I say a few words. And then suddenly it's the time for thank you’s. Lois is thanking the many, many people who've been involved, those who could come today and those who couldn't make it. The living and the dead. People have moved on, been deported, been arrested, been rehoused. The audience, the amazing supporters of many sorts, the funders. And most of all the Homeless Librarians themselves, who opened the book of their lives and so bravely, so graciously shared their stories.

These little words we have to offer in exchange are not enough. But they are from the heart. Thank you.

Gary, Lawrence and Andy and other audience members

A new film about the project can be viewed on youtube

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