Julian Trust Night Shelter – poetry, film and visual poetry

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

now rotting


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

for night-walkers.


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

and closed.

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

almost kissing.

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…’

From Thom….

Here’s a video called HOME by Lightsurgeons.

and another film which is of interest in terms of visual relationships. 

Here’s another.

Sammy – here’s some ‘moving’ poetry

Not My Home by José Orduña

and this – moving poems – Patrick Sheridan and this Our Bodies..!

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 dont necessarily know each others storiesyet this theatre piece has the potential to bind them all and pick out the aspects that are shared….