What a wonderful workshop today with the “Stockbridge Tuesdays” – some lovely people who are regular service users at the Stockbridge Village Resource Centre. We started our workshop at 10.30 am with a discussion about the meaning of the poppy and our shared knowledge of the First World War with some truly inspiring ideas and knowledge about life 100 years ago. We also sang some of those old songs that we seem to know without knowing how we learned them – It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, Keep the Home Fires Burning – and explored how we could use our senses to evoke our own experiences. We talked about the importance of music in our own lives including favourite artists and songs. We thought about the entertainment on offer a century ago through family get-togethers, the music hall, theatre and the early days of the cinema. This helped us to imagine the different world back then, its innocence, its simpler communications. No TV or radio! We talked of morse code and military communications, the importance of letters and post-cards but most importantly that essential gift of love which is such an important driving force for memory, remembrance and respect. We considered lots of images from the war and read and reflected on the poems Adlestrop by Edward Thomas (for link, see: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/239742 ) and MCMXIV by Philip Larkin (for link, see http://www.poetrybyheart.org.uk/poems/mcmxiv/ ) through which we imagined those days of innocence – as Larkin says – “never such innocence again.”
After a break for lunch we all pooled our ideas about 1914 and some of our responses through our senses and emotional memories associated with touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell. The afternoon session resulted in an inspiring group poem:
How Shall We Extol Thee?
Years ago the Shire horses took beer from the breweries to the pubs,
clip-clop, clip-clop, clipperty-clop, clipperty-clop, clip-clop
and the horses ploughed all the fields.
Monday morning women carrying bundles on their heads
to old shops, pawn shops, sweet shops, toy shops,
bakers, butchers, bread-man, milk-man, coal-man, post-man.
Itchy, poppy-coloured, sour-smelling carbolic, washing with our hands,
turning the mangle-handle, watch your fingers!
Beggar-man, thief, soldier, sailor, rich-man, poor-man, rabbit pie;
and we all made a rush for the door
my old man fainted on the chair and
we all fell on the floor – bish, bang, wallop
dripping butties and bovril.
Coal on the coal man’s back, he empties the coal
down the cellar, black and rumbling, muck everywhere.
“Peter, you’re awful careless – where do you put your money?”
Remembrance is the home fires, burning, marching,
songs around the piano, soldiers, playing the spoons,
writing letters, putting your arms around each other, a kiss.
Remembrance is respect and hope, the Armistice,
friendship, how we show love.
We think of them with sadness, pride and thankfulness.
We all have someone we miss in our lives.
Before our afternoon session closed we shared a minute’s silence in remembrance for those who sacrificed their lives in the terrible wars and those who we have loved who are no longer with us. We then had a great sing-song, finishing with a chorus of When this lousy war is over – and some very helpful feedback for me about what everyone thought about the session.
Many thanks to everyone at Stockbridge Village Resource Centre including staff June Jenkins, Karen Stockdale and Sheila Dunk and today’s workshop poets: David Henderson, Debbie Heaps, Alison Kelly, Lee Marsden, Elizabeth Poston, David Roderick, Marie Shaw, Christina Sullivan, John Taylor, Peter Thomas.
Thanks too to Susan Comer who made the workshop possible.
(The poem is also item 16 in our Poetry section with the image everyone felt fitting.)