Tea and poetry (2020)

On 29 January 2020 Reading Sheffield invited our interviewees and their families, our interviewers, the readers from our sister project, Reading 1900-1950, and some old friends to a special reading by poet Eleanor Brown from her latest collection. Published in October 2019 by Bloodaxe Books, White Ink Stains is based in part on what our 60+ interviewees told us about their reading journeys.

About 25 of us met at The Art House, in the centre of the city, and over tea or coffee and scones, with jam and cream, we listened to Eleanor read a dozen or so poems and discuss how she writes. It was a particular pleasure to welcome our interviewees, Julia BanksShirley EllinsJim Green and Betty Newman.

Eleanor says that she has never looked at a transcript of our interviews. She has only listened, time and again over eighteen long months, to the voices, learning the rhythms, the sounds, the laughter and the sadness. And from this have come her poems. Here are some quotations:

From Appetite:

Book-hungry teenage girl, great ravenous

word-eating eyes, amazing stamina

for nothing but to lie in bed and read

omnivorous of print, devouring gaze

insatiable for all the big fat works,

yes all of Dickens, Eliot and James,

now Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Zola, Proust.

From Helpless with Laughter:

Mother would read me The House at Pooh Corner

When I was only so high

She in her big chair and I in my little

Straight-backed Mother and I

Once I remember us helpless with laughter

Both of us laughing so much

Neither could speak, and I fell off my chair

From The Dressmaker:

They asked us what we liked to do

My mother spoke for me

‘She likes to sew’ – ‘Then she should go

In the shirt factory.’

And I were furious! For that

I could nor would not bear.

Oh, I came home and angry-cried

‘I will not go in there.’

From Snatches of Old Lauds:

I found my Sunday School hymn book –

the Bible in another form, we used to say;

the poetry helps you remember.

But damp in the attic had got it.

What hadn’t mouldered away up there

disintegrated softly in my hands.

It was a very enjoyable afternoon all round. ‘The poems were wonderful,’ said one guest, ‘ with a very rich vein of humour throughout, as well as the touching/poignant ones.’ ‘I have always enjoyed reading poems,’ said another, ‘but never been particularly attracted to readings. Eleanor’s readings have converted me.’

Sheffield Hallam University’s Humanities Research Centre was kind enough to sponsor the event, and we thank the Head of the Centre, Professor Chris Hopkins, for his continuing enthusiasm and support.

And thanks too to The Art House for their excellent refreshments and for being so friendly.

Copies of White Ink Stains can be bought locally from Rhyme and Reason and Waterstones. You can read more about Eleanor’s poetry here.

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