Back in January I was honoured to be invited by Poets for the Planet to run two workshops at their launch event at the Society Of Authors in London.
“Poets for the Planet is a community of kindred poets, performers, artists and creative activists raising their voices to engage with climate and ecological emergency through poetry in all its forms.”
This took place on Saturday February 8th, and was a fantastically busy day with a Poem-A-Thon taking place throughout the day, alongside other workshops from Jan Heritage, Grace Pengelly, Dom Bury, Philip Gross and Clare Pollard.
In the evening there was a gala reading featuring Imtiaz Dharker, winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, alongside acclaimed poets Mona Arshi, Hannah Lowe and Jacqueline Saphra.
My workshops, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, were based around my latest chapbook and walking project, Sward : Skin of the Earth, and aimed to get people thinking about their local green and wild spaces, how to write about them and how to value them.
Here’s the blurb from eventbrite:
Skin of the earth: Walking and Ecopoetry
Exploring family memories of and connections to local wild spaces through walking and writing about them. We will look at the writings of Victorian author and naturalist Richard Jefferies and think about the concept of deep topography.
I was delighted that both workshops were well attended and each was very different in flavour! The morning workshop was mostly a talking / thinking / exchanging ideas workshop, and the afternoon workshop was a heads-down writing workshop. As each workshop was only 30 minutes long, a ‘micro-workshop’, I prepared a handout for people to take away with them too.
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…
Un-rehabilitated prisoners were taken through the dark maze of tunnels beneath the streets of Pimlico to the lock up under the pub, where they were kept before being put on boats at Millbank pier, and eventually transported ‘Down Under’…
Panopticon Prison Plan
Millbank Pier (with MI5 in the background)
There are records of prisoners and prison officers dying in these cells, and in the tunnels connected to the prison, and as Gary, the landlord at the pub, was telling me when I went to do some research, a team of paranormal enthusiasts have carried out readings in the cells late at night….Brrrrrr
Gary very kindly took me and Sinead Keegan, a trustee of the festival, for a tour of the spooky cells, and answered questions about the pub and its history. As MI5 is situated directly across the river, the Morpeth Arms has some fascinating pictures and snippets of information about famous spies on its walls- which could be great stimulus for a flash fiction thriller!
Do join me in the snug, for what I hope will be an enjoyable couple of hours writing stories inspired by this fascinating place!
The workshop is FREE but numbers are limited so please email me to book your place: firstname.lastname@example.org and see the Facebook event here.
Ghosts, POMS and Panopticons at The Morpeth Arms, Thursday 16th June from 7.30-9.30pm, 58 Millbank, Westminster, London, SW1P 4RW
Steven Fowler’s Camaradefest is this Saturday, 25th October, at the Rich Mix in Bethnal Green Road, London.
50 pairs of poets will present brand new, specially written for the occasion, collaborative works. It starts at midday, and I am reading with Jonah Wilberg. Jonah and I met on Steven Fowler’s Poetry School course in January this year, and we have been writing a piece for Camaradefest, mainly via email, over the last couple of months.
For more information and a squizz at the immense line up, have a look at the We Are Enemies web site. The event is completely free and runs all day and long into the evening, so please come, dip a toe in or bellyflop onto a sofa and stay for the whole day. It’s going to be fantastic!
On Sunday 13th July me, my son and my Dad left the house at 7am and got on a train to Waterloo. On the train, and when we got to London there were lots of people in running gear, many of them wearing tshirts proclaiming the charity they were raising money for by running the British 10k.
It’s a big race- 25000 people taking part, all ages and levels of ability. I was definitely a bit nervous. Although I’ve run a couple of races before this was the first really big run I’d entered. Once I’d dropped off my bag at one of the many numbered bays and said goodbye to the Nipper who was ‘bored’ and wanted to drag his Grandad off to explore, I followed the other runners to the route and found myself queueing up by The Ritz on Piccadilly. It was about 20-30 minutes of slowly shuffling along with the crowd before we got to the starting line but by this point I was buzzing and ready to go.
This was the first time I’d run 10k. I’d been training and had been running about three times a week, the longest distance I’d completed up to this point was 7km. Then a couple of weeks before, very stupidly, I’d worn a pair of gorgeous shoes I’d found in the back of my wardrobe, only realising too late why they were in the back of my wardrobe. Ouch! Hello blisters- not the worst thing to happen- especially if you’ve ever seen dancers’ feet- or the footage (ahem) of Eddie Izzard running his marathon of marathons… so I had no excuses really but it did make me wary of running the longer distances I had hoped to in the last weeks of my training. And then I hurt my right foot a few days before the race when I spent a day walking around London.
But by the time I was lining up to start all thoughts of sore feet vanished and I was enjoying the atmosphere. I am a very slow runner and that’s fine by me- I got to plod around central London with thousands of other people, on what started as a grey, damp morning, and by the time I’d finished had turned into a gorgeous sunny Sunday. I am still amazed I am able to run at all, having been the sickly child at school, always off sick, and unable to do PE. Then a few years ago being diagnosed with post-viral fatigue was such a shock – at the time I never thought I’d be able to do half the things I had taken for granted, ever again. But here I am running 10k, cycling to work and having a super busy life.
I am very very lucky- I do however try to pace myself, and I get very tired sometimes- I can’t push myself as hard as I used to and I try and stay within my limits (most of the time). Running seems good for this- I’ve found that mentally it helps me to focus on my writing, and physically it gives me stamina and is also a great stress buster. I can judge how I’m feeling and tailor how far I run, how often and how fast (mainly not very fast). But I can do it and I am able to keep doing it.
I wasn’t sure if I would be able to complete 10k on the day but when I got to the 5k point I knew I’d be fine and at that point I even speeded up and loved every minute of the rest of the run. I raised £190 for Gingerbread – thanks to the support and generosity of the people who sponsored me. Single parents deal with many different challenges and Gingerbread is the go-to charity for people in this situation who need advice and support on a whole range of issues affecting them.
Before my Mum died, in fact just when she had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and was in hospital, now eight years ago, we got to talking about running and for some reason I made a promise to her that I would run a half marathon. Maybe she was saying I should keep fit and look after myself, I don’t know. But I have never forgotten this.The next time I run, I am hoping it will be a half-marathon and I would like to raise money for Macmillan. The Macmillan nurses who looked after my mum were amazing, and it would be a way of keeping my promise to her and doing something positive with my run. But I’m not going to do it until I am ready- watch this space!
In the meantime THANK YOU again to everyone who sponsored me and supported me. XXX
I will be focusing more on my training in the next few weeks – I’ve never run 10k before so this is a new challenge, and I am really pleased to be doing it for Gingerbread, the charity which supports single parents.
Since January I have been visiting Housmans in Kings Cross to look for ‘found’ poems in the £1 Book Basement of this famous radical bookshop. Housmans have very kindly allowed me to rummage through the goodies in this section, which is currently being re-organised moved into a new space. You can see my progress on the In-Hous Tumblr I have set up to track some of the finds and investigate the process of ‘finding’ poems out of the old books and pamphlets.