Votes For Women! Annie Kenney and the 26 Armistice Project

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, Suffragette

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.

Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst

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:

Lisa Andrews, me and Faye Sharpe at the IWM

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!

I realised I hadn’t blogged about this when I was alerted to an interview with Liz Robertson from the Imperial War Museum, about the project, and in celebration of 26’s Armistice 100 Days book of the project winning a prestigious Drum Award.

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…”

I am very proud that some relatives of Annie Kenney saw my centena and were delighted with it. A letter from Annie to her sister was discovered in September last year, a very important historical document – a letter to her sister sent from Strangeways Prison in 1905, which is now on display in the museum in Oldham. There is a new statue of Annie, unveiled in December 14th last year outside Oldham Town Hall to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave some British women the right to vote.

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…

 

 

 

It is the Urban Tree Festival this weekend – celebrating London’s amazing Urban Forest. While we celebrate our wonderful leafy friends this weekend, I am also commemorating the significant number of trees that are being destroyed at an unprecedented rate at the moment in the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames. This is not something I want to write about but I made a commitment to focus on climate change in my writing (most of my writing is about that anyway) and so I begin here… we must value and protect our trees! #climateemergency

Never Pounce on a Porcupine #Imbolc #NatureWords

???????????????????????????????“Never pounce on a porcupine!” was my son’s conversation opener this morning- wise advice, nice use of alliteration- and the perfect way to start this post, my first of 2015.

The word alliteration has been added to the latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary- however porcupine has been removed. Can you pounce on ‘a rodent with a coat of sharp spines, or quills’? Probably- although you would be foolish to do so- and the alliteration does not exist without the word porcupine. How much meaning is being lost in removing this one word, which tells us, rather delightfully,  all we need to know about this creature? The same goes for the word piglet – it is no longer in the Oxford Junior Dictionary- it has been removed. Where would Winnie the Pooh be without Piglet? Piglet’s favourite food is acorns– or as he refers to them, “haycorns” – another word which has been deemed irrelevant to children’s vocabulary in the 21st century. Alliteratively (and poetically): Pink Piglet- yes…Pink Baby Pig- No….

Acorn comes from the Middle English- it is a very old word which we have been using for hundreds of years- but will children now refer to acorns as ‘fruit of an oak, consisting of a single-seeded, thick-walled nut set in a woody, cuplike base’? No- because, according to the Oxford University Press, who publish the Oxford Junior Dictionary, these words have been removed to make way for words which are more suitable and relevant to the indoor and technology-focused lifestyles of children now.
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primrose is another word to have gone from the OJD

This erasure of nature-based words from the Oxford Junior Dictionary is not a new situation- but has received more press coverage again recently. Religious and magical words (bishop, goblin, elf, sin) removed in 2007, have been added to with words such as catkin and even conker, in the 2012 edition. Words that in my opinion are still intrinsic to childhood itself, and to our relationship, education about, and understanding of the natural world around us.

The Guardian ran a piece on this in January, and many writers including Margaret Atwood and Michael Morpurgo have written to the OUP regarding this worrying state of affairs.

As a poet and a writer who writes about place, and as a mother of a seven year old, I felt determined to do something to raise awareness about this but until this weekend I wasn’t sure what that would be.

But…this weekend I went to Glastonbury to meet up with dear friends and celebrate Imbolc with them, also known as Brigid. Brigid or Bridie is the Goddess of Inspiration, Blacksmiths, Fire and also Poetry. This is a celebration of the First Stirrings- where the begins of growth are apparent: in snowdrops, the first lambing, and green shorts daring to peek out in the freezing weather.DSC02656

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After the celebration at the White Spring, we came out into the bright, watery-sun morning and gathered in a circle across Well House Lane, between the White Spring and the Red Spring at Chalice Well. There was an open invitation for people to share their thoughts, inspiration, songs and poetry. This is an event I always try to get to, as it is a great way to begin the year proper, and is a joyful meeting of like minds and community, in the best place to be.

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Some amazing poetry was performed and read, a wonderful guided visualisation was offered, inspirational stories were told, and the ever-joyful Hemp man was there to impress the gathered throng with the benefits of hemp consumption and production.

I had chosen two poems to read, and thought I had neatly folded them into my bag, but on arrival realised I had left them behind. I was disappointed for a moment but instead I found the printed list list of nature words which have been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary lurking unexpectedly in my rucksack. It was after Lisa Goodwin performed her fantastic poem, which included the repeated line What would Bridie Do? that I knew I had to do it.

She asked if anyone else would like to contribute and I stepped into the circle and explained that the Oxford Junior Dictionary had removed a significant amount of nature words, and that as this was a day for poets, language and inspiration, that this seemed the right place to say some of them, and would everyone repeat them as I spoke them?

Here are all of the words, with the ones I remember saying, shouting even, highlighted.

adder, ass, beaver, boar, budgerigar, bullock, cheetah, colt, corgi, cygnet, doe, drake, ferret, gerbil, goldfish, guinea pig, hamster, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, ox,oyster, panther, pelican, piglet, plaice, poodle, porcupine, porpoise, raven, spaniel, starling, stoat, stork, terrapin, thrush, weasel, wren. Acorn, allotment, almond, apricot, ash, bacon, beech, beetroot, blackberry, blacksmith, bloom, bluebell, bramble, bran,bray, bridle, brook, buttercup, canary, canter, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, conker, county, cowslip,crocus, dandelion, diesel, fern, fungus, gooseberry, gorse, hazel, hazelnut, heather, holly, horse chestnut, ivy, lavender,leek, liquorice, manger, marzipan, melon, minnow, mint, nectar, nectarine, oats, pansy, parsnip, pasture, poppy, porridge, poultry, primrose, prune, radish, rhubarb, sheaf, spinach, sycamore, tulip, turnip, vine, violet, walnut, willow
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crocus- omitted from the OJD
I picked them out randomly, and in the moment but as I stood there and said them myself, and heard them come back at me, with the audible surprise and indignation in some people’s voices, I realised the power and meaning attached to these words, especially to people who feel spiritually connected to nature, to the earth, to the turning year, to the seasons….
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 I am very glad I did it, and afterwards, as we walked through the side gate into Chalice Well, and headed towards the warmth of the fire, and cups of coffee and ample blocks of delicious banana cake, a few people approached me to talk about it. So if a few more people know about this then these words will be fought for more fervently, as they should be.
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This is how we communicate our connection to nature, as well as claim our heritage and our traditions. For example think about what the word ‘conker’ conjures in you….
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the words won’t die because they aren’t included in one children’s dictionary- but it is symbolic and symptomatic of the disconnection with nature that is not only happening but also apparently being accepted as ‘normal’ in many sections of society. George Monbiot wrote a great piece in The Guardian about children losing their connection to nature and the future implications of this, which is worth reading.
After my nature-word incanting at the weekend my aim is to explore some of these words with my son this year and post the results on here from time to time.
I hope that OUP reconsider their decision and send out a positive message by putting these words back into the next edition of their junior dictionary. For updates on the campaign to bring the words back, this is the place to go: http://www.naturemusicpoetry.com/campaigns.html
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To finish up, and as something to consider…here are some of the words that have taken the place of the words above…what do they mean to you?
Blog, broadband, MP3 player, voicemail, attachment, database, export, chatroom, bullet point, cut and
paste, analogue Celebrity, tolerant, vandalism, negotiate, interdependent, creep, citizenship, childhood, conflict, common sense, debate,EU, drought, brainy, boisterous, cautionary tale, bilingual, bungee jumping, committee, compulsory, cope, democratic, allergic, biodegradable, emotion, dyslexic, donate,
endangered, Euro Apparatus, food chain, incisor, square number, trapezium, alliteration, colloquial, idiom, curriculum,
classify, chronological, block graph

 

 

 

Rough music for her passing

Ran Tan Tan

Ran Tan Tan

I will bang my pots and pans

on Ludgate Hill,

by Bridie’s Well,

the day she makes her trip to Hell.

 

Flag-covered gun carriage

crosses cobbles, carries

She who

hobbled a nation.

The Fleet’s the Styx,

the streets the bones,

feet kick up stones.

Backs are turned away from

a lady not for turning,

remembering is not mourning.

 

Ran Tan Tan

Ran Tan Tan

I will bang my pots and pans

on Ludgate Hill,

by Bridie’s Well,

the day she makes her trip to Hell.

 

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Calm Down Dear: March Tomorrow #Oct20

How you feeling out there?

despairing over food prices, petrol prices,

cost of fuel, academy schools,

GCSE regrades, benefit cuts, ATOS cruelty,

disabled suicides, kids stealing food,

no breakfast clubs at school, no ESA,

university fees sky high,

workfare as P**ndland profits rise,

pensions fall

bed and breakfasts fill to the brim with families

living in grim thin-walled rooms?

How you feeling, out there?

Patrician classes making money

off the backs of the poor plebs

who wanna pay big bucks for

tax evading taste deficient coffee

while the media omit to feature our burgeoning

Vergin’on the ridiculous

private healthcare

Workless, Feckless, Badgered?

Calm Down Dear.

MARCH TOMORROW

I am marching tomorrow because it is still one thing I can do to protest the cynical, cruel and calculating cuts being perpetrated by this coalition government. I find myself in the unforeseen position of not believing a  Labour government to be the answer, which is scary, as I have been a lifelong supporter until recently. The future is precarious for many of us at the moment for all kinds of reasons. For those of us who are homeless, unemployed, sick, disabled or who are single parents it is acutely worrying.

FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHTS WHILE YOU STILL HAVE THEM. THEY ARE BEING ERODED.

POEMS FOR #PUSSYRIOT PROTEST

Tomorrow the appeal for the three jailed women from Pussy Riot will be heard. Their lawyers do not expect their sentences to be overturned but that they may be commuted. The Russian Orthodox church has issued a statement regarding this today suggesting that their repentence should be taken into consideration.

The women are unrepentant following their arrest in February for  performing an anti-Putin song, a ‘punk-prayer’, in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. They apologiesd at their trial for causing any offence to believers but said they were committing a political act. The case has attracted wide condemnation as a violation of the right to freedom of expression.

There is a protest outside the Russian Embassy in London tomorrow to help raise awareness of the appeal and in support of Pussy Riot. Several poets including me will read their contributions to the Poems for Pussy Riot project.

My poem Tricky D.I.S.C.O is here

CATECHISM: POEMS FOR PUSSY RIOT, edited by Mark Burnhope, Sarah Crewe and Sophie Mayer, is published on 1 October: ePUB, Kindle and PDF versions will be available here from 00:01hrs. 110 poets have contributed to this amazing collection.

I am thrilled to be part of it- as a mother, an ardent feminist, and a creative person I am horrified that these women have been incarcerated and separated from their families for singing a song in a church; for freely expressing their opinions and strong feelings regarding the political and religious situation in their country.

‘Catechism’ is distributed on the ‘Pay What You Think It’s Worth’ model popularised by Radiohead and others. All revenue will go to the Pussy Riot Legal fund, and the English PEN Writers at Risk Programme.

Please see English Pen’s web site for more information and to read some of the fantastic and extraordinary poems and images which have been posted there.

NO PASARAN

FREE PUSSY RIOT!