Caroline Hawkridge was the winner of the Julia Darling travel award and Poem of the Month will feature one of her poems later in the year. A very interesting older woman who was born in what was then called Rhodesia to left wing parents who couldn’t countenance what Ian Smith was doing to the country so exiled themselves and their young daughter. Caroline is using the money to go back ‘home’ to Zimbabwe and will explore issues of exile and identity I believe. She said she felt a great affinity with Julia and I know Julia would have been delighted by Caroline’s plans.
I’ve been busy with teaching my classes at the Lit and Phil and also working as part of the Brains Steam and Speed project, celebrating famous engineers, designers and scientists from the Heaton area. I worked in Chillingham Road primary school with my son Johnny exploring sound. Their school was researching Sir Charles Parsons, most famous for his ship Turbinia, powered by steam. But he also patented the auxtephone, an early attempt at amplifying recorded sound. We’ve recorded 5 soundscapes all imagined and created by the class: Dinosaur world, Victorian docks, scary woods, Space war and a mining disaster. Every scenario ends in disaster in fact! These are going to be on display at the People’s Theatre Foyer from 6th July along with other exhibits from the four other schools involved who made pinhole cameras, maps, automata, concrete poetry, and metal sculptures. At the same time there will be a play, written by Peter Dillon and called Heaton! on from 17th to 21st July at the People’s which again has a theme celebrating all the famous historical Heaton folk, with film, music and a time travelling couple.
We raised money to put the whole project together: the schools work, the artists, visiting engineers and the play. We raised the main amount from Heritage Lottery Fund and some from the Joicey Trust, and Heaton History Group. We asked to be part of the Great Exhibition of the North, and applied for funds but were told we were outside their remit, but we could be mentioned in their publicity.
We were all very disappointed as we thought our project would sit well with the theme of celebrating northern creativity. We weren’t the only artists and creative local people to be turned down for money or overlooked to be part of the whole shebang. I have to say I’m disappointed by what appears to be the top down corporate approach of the whole event.
Looking forward, I’m hosting Robin Moss’s launch of his first full collection Mastering the Art of Imperfection at the Lit and Phil on Wednesday 18th July, which will be a great evening of poetry.
I’m also involved with a wonderful woman artist called Lesley Wood, who is mounting an exhibition at the Gosforth Civic Theatre about her matri-line walk through the country to her home in Newcastle:
Dates for your diary:
July 20th, 5.30-7.30 pm, Preview night and drinks reception
July 26th, 6.30-8.30 pm, Artist's talk
Sept 2nd, 2.30-4.30 pm, Garden Gathering, a fundraising bash for Parkinson's UK (because her Mum has Parkinson's)
And on Thursday 13th September I will run a workshop in the afternoon and host a reading in the evening in response to the themes in Lesley’s work. I’ll be sending out more details to publicise it, but it should be a fascinating experience.
I’ve got more exciting developments in the Autumn but I think I’ll leave that to a future diary entry. Now I’ve got to hunt out the bunting because we are having our annual street party today. Unfortunately it clashes with the England v Panama world cup match. There’s talk of rigging up a big screen in the street. It doesn’t seem quite the point of an outdoor party but it’s hard to resist the rise of the screens.
The Late Shows, when galleries, museums and venues are open late and free, in mid May always bring a sense of excitement to the streets as families, young and old wander around seeking and enjoying new experiences and this year we had warmth and long evening sunshine - at last!
My companion grumbled about the glow sticks handed out - ‘more plastic to throw in a bin at the end of the evening’, and she’s right; perhaps we need a more eco-friendly light to guide us and show we ‘belong’.
Down in the Ouseburn valley Lime street was busy with a pop-up choir and creative things to do. I didn’t stay long but made a point of visiting the newly opened Star and Shadow cinema and creative space. It’s amazing what dedicated volunteers have done to transform this old carpet warehouse into a multifunctional building with cinema, bar and cafe, workshops and performance area - I briefly caught Chilli Road band giving it some. And I joined for £1 - not a lot you can get for that these days.
And on Sunday the Star and Shadow are hosting this year’s Julia Darling Travel Award ceremony - where we will hear from last year’s winner who went to America and learn who has won the award this year. I think there’s going to be a film screening of Orlando as well. All just down the road from where I live!
Anyone can get involved in the Star and Shadow - it’s got a FB page and is happy to receive any help on offer. You can’t miss the big building on Warwick street in Heaton. It’s the sort of project that gives hope and optimism for the future. Like the sunshine.
I woke up from a strange dream this Easter Monday. I’d written something critical or sarcastic about the railways and when I went to the station to buy a ticket, three men there said ‘Oh, it’s you’ and put cloth over their heads and refused to acknowledge my request to buy a ticket or speak to me.
What was that about? I’m told that counsellors and therapists say that everything and everyone in a dream says something about the person dreaming it.
Is it about writing; permission to write; self-censorship? Is it about the scary information coming out about how much information there is online about our thoughts, purchases and movements?
April is the cruellest month and my thoughts turn to Julia and Keith and those no longer here. Julia always seemed fearless to me and I try to live up to her example. Don’t be downhearted by failure to write: write better and enjoy living.
Being self employed gives me a sense that I’m never ‘not working’ and free time should be spent at my desk. I feel guilty when I apparently ‘do nothing’ - reading a book, doing a crossword, watching tv, yet all activities feed our imagination.
I’ve started going to Emma Holliday’s art class at the Cluny on a Friday morning and I love it, partly because someone else is giving me permission to do it, and telling me what to do. It’s a way of being creative in an entirely different form from writing and it’s deliriously freeing. Yet I often see parallels with what Emma teaches us about art in how to go about writing: don’t be tentative, make the mark on the blank page, commit yourself, it may not come out how you imagined but you’ve got started, something to work with and change, or an experience to learn from next time you try.
Fear of failure is a huge stumbling block but if I consider giving up writing then I feel bereft, because I love it in equal measure or more than the agony it gives me.
Easter Monday and there’s sleety snow outside my window, a perfect excuse to light the fire and read a book, after I finish the picture in oil pastels of pinky yellow tulips on my windowsill, both given me by a friend (pastels and tulips).
Jill of all trades, mistress of none, but hey! I’m still learning.
Ursula Le Guin is one of my favourite writers and sadly she died at the beginning of this year. Margaret Atwood wrote a wonderful obituary and I quote some of it:
“In all her work, Le Guin was always asking the same urgent question: what sort of world do you want to live in? Her own choice would have been gender equal, racially equal, economically fair and self-governing, but that was not on offer. It would also have contained mutually enjoyable sex and good food: there was a better chance of that.
The Earthsea trilogy, for instance, is a memorable exploration of the relationship between life and death: without the darkness, no light; and mortality allows all that is alive to be. The darkness includes the hidden and less pleasant sides of our selves – our fears, our pride, our envy. Ged, its hero, must face his shadow self before it devours him. Only then will he become whole.”
And now we see what’s going on in Poland - passing a law denying Polish complicity in Nazi atrocities. I quote from today’s Guardian:
Professor Dariusz Stola, director of the Polin Museum of Polish Jews, which opened in 2013 and is seen by many as a crowning achievement of Polish-Jewish dialogue and reconciliation says:
“Those who condemn Poles en masse are the best friends and allies of Polish antisemites – they feed each other.”
Stola argues that the recent deterioration in Polish-Jewish relations illustrates a wider deterioration in Polish society:
“It is a sign of a deterioration in the capacity to talk, and the ability to talk is the essence of democracy. If you cannot talk, you cannot reach an agreement; you can only force a solution. The erosion of language is the erosion of democracy and the path to violence.”
I would suggest we’re experiencing this erosion in the wider world too and at times like these, it’s up to the poets and writers to speak words of reason and encourage dialogue and thoughtfulness.
Lydia Kennaway’s wonderful poem of the month, Inuit Anger Walk, is an inspiring response to our baser emotions. Rather than lash out in quick ill-considered comments on social media - take a long walk and think about the less pleasant side of ourselves.