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…

 

 

 

Walking into 2016

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sunset at Avebury, December 28th 2015

I haven’t been blogging much recently- in fact hardly at all. 2015 turned into a crazy, exciting, busy year, creatively. As a result, I found at the end of the year that I had dropped some important threads, including my blog. I hope to pick up where I left off and carry on knitting this strangely-shaped patchwork blanket of random writings on a much more regular basis. Call it a New Year’s Resolution if you like, maybe it is one – my blog has been a writing rudder in the past, steering me through events, successes, failures, moods, frustrations and obsessions…and I hope it will do that again.

Lots of great stuff happened last year – I feel very grateful and fortunate to have met and worked with some lovely, talented and generous people, and to have achieved some of my ambitions for my writing. I will write more about this but I don’t know if that will happen here and now…it might happen randomly and at will, rather than any attempt to be chronological and consistent and comprehensive…

It was good to go away at Christmas and New Year and take a much-needed breather and see some new places and friendly faces.

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hide and seek at the stones, Avebury

We traveled to stay in a tiny cottage on the edge of a farm in Wiltshire, where I hoovered up Viv Albertine’s memoir in a couple of days; wandered around Avebury re-acquainting myself with its stones and trees, after eating lunch in the Red Lion; found a tiny magical part of Calne; stayed in a very rainy Bath and re-visited the Roman Baths and Sally Lunn’s – amazing lavender cake with rose buttercream filling!

Then we were very lucky to be invited to stay with one of oldest friends and her partner and sons in Cardiff, where we saw the New Year in hearing socialist anthems sang exquisitely by members of Cardiff Reds Choir, who happen to live two doors down from my friend’s house, and who were having a party, which we were then invited to. The next two days were filled with trips to the funfair and Dr Who Experience, home-made curry and apple pie…a great way to see the New Year in – best one I’ve had in years. Thanks for everything, Tania XXX

 

 

The Launch of clew

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On Saturday 18th April, at the Duke of York pub in St Werburghs in Bristol my first pamphlet, clew, published by Hesterglock Press, was launched. This was along with Sarer Scotthorne’s first pamphlet, The Blood House, and Paul Hawkins’s first full length collection from Erbacce press, Contumacy

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l-r: Sheer Zed, Sarer Scotthorne, me, Paul Hawkins

As part of the Bristol Spring Poetry Festival this was a wonderful evening of us three poets coming together to read our work, and celebrate. Sheer Zed, a  fantastic multi-talented electronic musician, provided soundscapes to some of the poems, and a great set of his own work.

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It was a pleasure to be back at this lovely pub in a corner of the city that I spent time in occasionally when I lived in  Bristol many years ago. Strange and synchronistic to be back reading poetry and launching my first collection here, after ten years to the month of leaving. Also, to be supported by dear friends living there, who I have stayed in touch with, and amazingly, to have four brilliant mates from Wales drive across for the evening! And to meet and chat with new people in this friendly, vibrant place

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Sarer and Paul gave superb readings, hugely talented performers, and unique voices in poetry individually, as well as the partnership behind Hesterglock Press, which also publishes the vital Boscombe Revolution / Bosc:Rev magazine. I was chuffed to finally meet with Sheer Zed too, who I have been communicating with on social media for a while.

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I’m so grateful to Zed for composing soundtracks for some of my work. As someone who started off many years ago by singing in a band and making experimental music, it was really exciting to ‘out’ my frustrated vocalist and have that additional musical dimension to my work. I hope we get to work together again.

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There are plans to do a similar event in London but not sure when- keep an eye on the blog for details.

In the meantime Sarer and Paul’s work can be found via Hesterglock Press and Paul’s web site- I wrote a brief review of The Blood House, and have since spent more time with it and I would recommend you do so too. Here is Andie Berryman’s review of it. I have also read and re-read Contumacy, and it contains my favourite poem from last year which I return to over and over. Steve Willey wrote a great piece about it here.

Back on the 21st March, Sarer and Paul appeared on Jude Cowan Montague’s radio show, The News Agents on Resonance FM. Sarer beautifully read my poem, The Cleaning Cupboard, which was published in issue 3 of Boscombe Revolution. It’s a great programme with Jude and co-host Alice Foster discussing Hesterglock Press, and talking with Paul and Sarer about their work, including Paul’s up and coming publication, Place/Waste/Dissent, which is going to be published by Influx Press in October 2015. Listen in here!

Submissions to Bosc:Rev are open for the next issue- more info here.

Listen to some of Sheer Zed’s amazing remixes of poems by Sarer, Paul and me here.

You can buy my pamphlet clew here.

“Read ‘clew’ for a window on our times and a reminder of how poetry remains a resistant art.”Siobhán Campbell; poet

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Nebula Zine

It’s always exciting when you receive a copy of a publication that you have a poem in. But when it arrives through the post, wrapped in black and holographic dots, a tissue paper version of the opening credits of the original Star Trek, then you know it’s a goody.

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Nebula is a new zine, and Samina Bhatti, its editor, has put together a bijou first issue, which at A6 size, and just 8 pages long, manages to pack in poems, a dvd review, and a cartoon. The zine has a clear remit- sci-fi, with women-only contributors.

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So, if you would like a FREE copy, or would like to submit work to the next issue please email nebulazine@outlook.com, or find out more via the Nebula Zine Facebook page.

RIP Maya Angelou #StillIRise

Aren’t we lucky to have had Maya Angelou in our midst, blessing us with her poetry, her life…what a trove she leaves us with.

The Final Furlong

Five years ago I went to university, to get qualified as a journalist, to study creative writing, to gain a teaching qualification which would enable me to teach in higher education institutions. To eventually go out and earn enough money to support me and my son.

I’m a month away from finishing that five years, from completing the goal, realising the aim…and all that…

This year has been a challenge, studying the Post Graduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher education, alongside completing the final year of the MFA in Creative Writing, has twisted my melon into new and uncomfortable positions a melon should not find itself in.

I am now facing Becher’s Brook, a melon leaping against all odds, at the final furlong,  a collection of 40 poems plus critical essay stuffed in the saddle bags.

Not quite 40 yet…but they’re coming along slow and steady.

Life continues to be rich, surprising, satisfying and blooming weird…definitely blooming

When it’s all over on 30 September there will be more blogging and there may be more before then… anything that helps me get this final ‘thing’ achieved…five years at university is a long time- but, apart from motherhood, it’s been the making of me.