I have just pinned Hogsmill Tiddlers to another map, showing the location of the poem, on the Places of Poetry web site. This is an AHRC and Arts Council funded project which “aims to use creative writing to prompt reflection on national and cultural identities in England and Wales, celebrating the diversity, heritage
and personalities of place.”
We still cross the bridge nearly every day on our walks ‘Over the Fields’. Five generations of Furlongs and counting…
Last year I was lucky enough to be part of a wonderful project by 26 and the Imperial War Museum: Armistice 100 Days. This ambitious project involved 100 writers each writing a centena – a specially created form of writing for the project – about someone who was alive during the First World War. Each of these centenas would then be published, one per day, for a 100 days leading up to the centenery of Armistice Day.
I chose Annie Kenney, the amazing working-class suffragette, and this is how I went about creating the centena:
Annie Kenney (1879-1953), in 1905, at a Liberal Party rally at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, stood on a chair and unfurled a banner on which was printed the legend ‘Votes for Women’. She had gone along with Christabel Pankhurst to try to get the question of suffrage for women heard, and ended up being arrested and put in Strangeways prison for three days. This was the start of the militant movement and the suffragettes.
A mill worker from Oldham, Annie Kenney was the only working class woman to be part of the executive of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and was instrumental in helping women to get the vote. In fact, by 1912 she was running the WSPU while Christabel Pankhurst had escaped arrest by fleeing to Paris, and was visiting her there weekly, as well as directing the organisation in London.
I read her autobiography, Memories of a Militant, which was published in 1924, and is sadly long out of print. What shines out of the pages of her book, is the clear voice of someone who knew exactly what she was doing and was fiercely intelligent. Her writing is passionate and energetic, showing a determined positivity, as well as great comedic flair and lyrical wit.
My intention was to create a centena that would give Annie Kenney her voice, using snatches of her book to do this, as respectfully as possible. I needed to give it a structure, and to choose moments which would highlight Annie’s character and reflect the important part she played in the struggle for women’s suffrage.
The Kenney Papers held at the University of East Anglia added to the biographical information I had from Annie herself, and are a fascinating insight into the Kenney family. I re-watched the film Suffragette, and saw the wonderful and recent BBC programme Suffragettes with Lucy Worsley where, amongst others, Annie Kenney was brought to life on the screen.
Millicent Fawcett’s book, Women’s Suffrage: A Short History of a Great Movement was a very useful and illuminating read on the roots of the suffragist movement, and her views on the militant movement.
Suffragettes were “like eels” is at odds with the image of the starving mouse in the Cat and Mouse Act. Of course the suffragettes were slippery customers, doing everything possible to escape capture, and- eels are very strong. This quote along with the defiant bravery of Kenney regarding prison and hunger strikes is here in the face of her many arrests, hunger strikes and force-feedings.
The start of the First World War in 1914 came at the height of the suffragette campaign, and saw the WSPU declare a ceasefire on all of their activism and a determination to do everything possible to contribute to the war effort. In 1918 Annie Kenney saw victory, with women over thirty gaining the vote. She retired from activism, married and had a child. But she was once a militant.
Here is the centena:
I had the wonderful surprise of being invited to the Imperial War Museum, along with other members of 26 (see films of Lisa Andrews’s and Faye Sharpe’s centenas) and was inspired to dress as a suffragette for the day. It was great fun to go out with my green and purple VOTES FOR WOMEN rosette, and to be filmed in the museum’s beautiful peace garden on a very nosiy, hot and sunny day. It took many ‘takes’ to get the filming just right and the film crew were very patient and diligent.
The film above is the result of probably eighteen or so takes – I hope I did Annie some justice. I am very grateful to have had this wonderful experience and many thanks to the 26 and IWM team!
Liz very kindly said that one of her personal highlights was: “Lucy Furlong performing her centena in full suffragette costume in the gardens outside the museum and shouting ‘Votes for women!’ so loudly that it made the sound recordist jump…”
Maxine Peake summed up Annie Kenney’s importance beautifully at the unveiling
There is so much more to say about Annie Kenney – I am glad to say that in my own research I discovered there is plenty of other research going on into her and her extraordinary family, as well as the suffragettes.
Thanks to Lisa for inviting me to be part of it! I am very glad to be a member of 26 and looking forward to the next project…
This Thursday, 23rd February I am thrilled to be reading a new collaborative poem with Susie Campbell at the Futures Camarade, which is part of the launch of the Visual Poetry show at the Museum of Futures in Surbiton. It has been an absolute delight to work with Susie, and we are looking forward to performing the work together for the first time on Thursday evening.
The show is being curated by the inimitable S J Fowler , with assistance from creative writing students Kingston University, and will exhibit work from a diverse range of artists and poets working across the boundaries of visual / textual art. I am very excited to be part of this and can’t wait to see what promises to be a distinctive and unique mix of work in the lovely space of the Museum of Futures.
I am chuffed to have a piece of visual work in the show, and to go with that, a new chapbook, Villiers Path: Scalloped Time, the second publication on the Seethingography imprint from Sampson Low publishers.
More about Villiers Path coming soon….
On Tuesday 28th February I will be hosting a Seething Writers workshop at the Museum of Futures: Seething Writers Go Totally Ekphrastic, where we will be writing in response to the work on show in the exhibition. More information here.
“Merchandise for Authors is a really valuable resource. Melissa has clearly used the time she spent with the British Library to good effect, giving excellent advice to the many writers with whom she worked – and has now generously shared her thoughts in a format that means a much wider audience can benefit. I advise you to take her advice.” Dr Alison Baverstock, Associate Professor of Publishing at Kingston University, author of How to Market Books
I am delighted to report that Over the Fields, my new poetry map, was featured in the February edition of The Countryman magazine, as part of the Editor’s Diary: “…a fascinating ‘poetry map’, Over the Fields, containing evocative poems and prose fragments, which can also be read in situ, allowing people to read and respond to the poems…”
Alongside the feature they have published a poem from the map, Hogsmill Tiddlers.
A lovely and unexpected thing that happened as part of making my Over the Fields poetry map, was that I was asked to be part of photographer Bill Mudge‘s project 20 in 15: The Lives of Artists. He spent last year photographing artists at work, documenting their creative processes and working environments.
Of the project Bill says: “20 in 15 encapsulates the significance of the creative arts in our communities, giving a unique insight into the lives of creative people and what it takes to make a living from the creative process; from finding studio space to exhibiting, educating and selling work…” Please visit the website for more information and to see who else took part – all types of artists from ceramicists to composers to puppeteers!
At the point where the new map was coming together, I met Bill one hot September day, at St John the Baptist church in Old Malden, an important location on the map. He took photos of me walking through the fields, as I checked all the locations and details on the map were correct, a kind of ‘proofing-in-situ’.
Then he came with me to meet Mel, who is the genius behind the artwork and production of Over the Fields, and took photos of us working together on the final edits and proofing of the map before it went to print. It was a pleasure meeting and working with Bill; it added another perspective to my own project, allowing me to reflect on my creative processes and the environment(s) I work in, as a poet/writer/walking artist.
I am very grateful to him for being so generous with his work and allowing me to use the beautiful photographs he took, a couple of which are here, and on my web site.