Poetry Happening Near You

Weoley Castle Is ...

Over the years Poetry On Loan (PoL) has supplied poets to realise projects set up by librarians throughout the West Midlands.  I would like to briefly detail one such project that took place at Weoley Castle library, in Birmingham, during 2012.

Weoley Castle reminiscence project

I participated in an elderly provision meeting at St. Gabriel’s church hall during the latter part of 2011 and got chatting with several older ladies who inspired me with their stories of life in Weoley in the 1940s and 50s. 

I felt their histories should somehow be preserved so I got in touch with our PoL co-ordinator, Brenda Read-Brown, and suggested that I would like to run a reminiscence workshop. 

Brenda considered the idea and recommended poet Emma Purshouse.  I got in touch with Emma and soon we had a plan of action. 

Local ladies

Along with the rector of St. Gabriel’s, Kate Pearson, and Lorraine Da Costa from Weoley Community church we marshalled a group of elderly ladies who had moved to Weoley Castle during the 1930s.

These women had moved, as children, from the major Birmingham slum clearances in Aston and Ladywood to this leafy area of south-west Birmingham. To fire their recollections the library put up a display of photos from that period. 

Poetry and memories

Emma used poetry to draw the memories out and soon the group was producing verse based on their recollections – new shoes, going to work, street parties.

Emma collected their poems together and performed judicious editing: she then created a patchwork quilt of paper, which was marvellously apt, and sent it to me: this formed the focus for a library display, which has been seen and used by other agencies working with both older and younger people.

The ladies were delighted with the outcome, for these were not just a collection of verses but a poetical social document – a slice of history.

Photo  and poetry display

Weoley Castle library has a database of some 1500 images of the area and these poems and display pieces have been added to that collection.

In addition, because the essence of the project was poetry gleaned from oral history, I got together with Audrey Stables – a wonderful, vibrant ninety-year old – to make recordings of these poems; these too have been added to the database as sound files.

And there you have it, poetry, history and a thoroughly enjoyable social gathering – a resource for future generations.

Philip Benjamin-Coker

Poetry written during the Weoley Castle reminiscence project

Weoley Castle Is…

Weoley Castle is…

the discovery of bird song;

bread and dripping; jam on a Sunday;

a place of trees and grass;

a long green walk on the way to school.

 

Weoley Castle is…

bathrooms!

the smell of beer and smoke

drifting from adult worlds

of Cali and Raven.

 

Weoley Castle is…

scouts, cubs, trips with the square club;

shopping at Wallers, Maypole, Lawrences;

paraffin from The Old Post Office;

the chemist that smells of Vicks Vapour Rub.

 

Weoley Castle is…

Ding ding — a trip on the number 20 bus;

Home sweet home to us.