We have been volunteering at the Julian Trust Night shelter, helping out, meeting guests and volunteers, documenting their stories and developing ideas for a piece of site-specific immersive performance that might tell the stories of this site in a powerful, imaginative and affecting way.
Initially the artistic impetus was coming from our two core artists, Sammy Weaver, poet and Thom Buttery, audio-visual artist, but increasingly we are discovering ways to share and develop the artistic process and ideas development with the guests at the shelter.
Below are a selection of poems and poetry film that were a kind of conversation being had by the artists at the very start of the r&d. Towards the end of this post some of the ideas of the guests are beginning to make their voices heard.
We are sure that however this project moves forward we will be finding a way for the people for whom homelessness is or has recently been their lived experience to play a major role in deciding what the work will be.
From Sammy – ‘a pocket theme is emerging…’
“What Every Woman Should Carry,” by Maura Dooley
My mother gave me the prayer to Saint Theresa.
I added a used tube ticket, Kleenex,
several Polo mints (furry), a tampon, pesetas,
a florin. Not wishing to be presumptuous,
not trusting you either, a pack of 3.
I have a pen. There is space for my guardian
angel, she has to fold her wings. Passport.
A key. Anguish, at what I said/didn’t say
when once you needed/didn’t need me. Anadin.
A credit card. His face the last time,
my impatience, my useless youth.
That empty sack, my heart. A box of matches.
From Thom- ‘Sammy, I would love to talk to you more about how you think the mediums of documentary and poetry can be merged. Or if at all. Maybe the documentary edge to project should be dropped in favour of lighting and effects to accentuate the poetry…?
Here’s a short film which use’s objects to reveal things about the characters…’
From Sammy – ‘Love that Pockets film. Reminds me of this poem by Simon Armitage and a few of my own below – I wrote ‘Museum of Love’ by asking friends / family what they would donate to a museum if the museum was called ‘Museum of Love’. ‘The Briefcase’ is about memory, storing precious items, family ties..’
About His Person by Simon Armitage
Five pounds fifty in change, exactly,
a library card on its date of expiry.
A postcard stamped,
unwritten, but franked,
a pocket size diary slashed with a pencil
from March twenty-fourth to the first of April.
A brace of keys for a mortise lock,
an analogue watch, self winding, stopped.
A final demand
in his own hand,
a rolled up note of explanation
planted there like a spray carnation
but beheaded, in his fist.
A shopping list.
A giveaway photograph stashed in his wallet,
a keepsake banked in the heart of a locket.
no gold or silver,
but crowning one finger
a ring of white unweathered skin.
That was everything.
Museum of Love – by Sammy Weaver
Each morning the queue to give to the museum
is a slow river
still, marbling and familiar.
We clutch our objects
like an urn with grandmother’s ashes
waiting to be thrown for the ocean.
Each person gifts as they wish —
a human bone
dug out of the Thames mud in London
an origami crane
with a number and heart on it
hidden in library book
a teddy lost in a St. Malo Hotel
a first ever beanie baby
exotic, the beginning of a spell
a badger skin
cured to an extent
a bottle of tears
a scream across the valley
from years ago
a cherry wood case
made for all the little things
lace and childhood names
a C. D. with Tender
played on the thumb piano
a black and white
of a chalk horse
cut out of the hillside.
There are no glass cabinets
to speak of
and when the sun slips
below the grey flats opposite
the doors are left open
Sometimes things are stolen
like a kiss on a platform
but always replaced by more precious items —
an ink-written letter
with orion’s belt drawn at the centre.
The Briefcase by Sammy Weaver
There is that brown leather briefcase
imprinted SJW, two generations of the same initials,
with straps that ache with the strain of being opened
The corners are worn but strong,
I touch the button and the latches spring up
the hinges creak
like opening a museum drawer
I watch my childhood mix with yours.
On the beach wrapped in a towel
I don’t want my photograph taken.
I scowl like the sandcastle
that is being eaten by the sea just outside of the picture
And then we are in the sea together, I’m looking round
to check you’re there, to check the waves aren’t crashing.
Then we are back home with teddy bears, lambs, a dandelion costume.
Now I can smell the gorse and heather.
I can hear Chuck Berry play and get lost in the time you loved
to listen to.
Like an urn of ashes there is nothing brief in this.
I’m blowing out candles again and again,
knowing you’re blowing
over my shoulder.
‘In terms of poetry/ documentary — yes would be good to talk about how we merge them, or whether we have both existing side by side – or ‘in pockets’ for the performance. I like the idea of having a mix of both – as both forms serve different effects/ give a wider picture of complexity when thinking about shelter/ homelessness…’
Here’s a video called HOME by Lightsurgeons.
and another film which is of interest in terms of visual relationships.
Sammy – here’s some ‘moving’ poetry
Also Storm on the Island, by Seamus Heaney, explores the theme of Shelter. It is a much more rural/natural setting than Bristol! But it does get close to what I think/ feel when I hear ‘Shelter’. It also has some corker lines that are universal -‘strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear’…
Storm on the Island
We are prepared: we build our houses squat,
Sink walls in rock and roof them with good slate.
The wizened earth had never troubled us
With hay, so as you can see, there are no stacks
Or stooks that can be lost. Nor are there trees
Which might prove company when it blows full
Blast: you know what I mean – leaves and branches
Can raise a chorus in a gale
So that you can listen to the thing you fear
Forgetting that it pummels your house too.
But there are no trees, no natural shelter.
You might think that the sea is company,
Exploding comfortably down on the cliffs
But no: when it begins, the flung spray hits
The very windows, spits like a tame cat
Turned savage. We just sit tight while wind dives
And strafes invisibly. Space is a salvo.
We are bombarded by the empty air.
Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.
Recent creative engagements with some of the guests have thrown up very powerful ideas; of the shelter as the protagonist of the theatre piece with all the people and stories passing through it. How it contains traces of all the different lives that have passed through it. Of connection points — places where these lives pass and cross. How the people in the shelter all pass through it but don’t necessarily know each other’s stories— yet this theatre piece has the potential to bind them all and pick out the aspects that are shared….