Worcester Walking Choral Poem

I recently took part in the Worcester Walking Choral Poem as part of the Worcestershire Literary Festival. The idea was for a group of writers (all the others wonderful poets!) led by David Calcutt to walk round Worcester, stopping every so often to write – words, images, lines – anything that the scenes around us suggested. In the afternoon, we would share our ideas and write a collaborative poem, which we would perform that evening as part of the festival. It was an exciting, but scary, project.
The whole day was fascinating, inspiring and thoroughly enjoyable. It was wonderful to see our separate ideas woven together and emerging into an evocative reflection on aspects of the city of Worcester. Some of my words made it into the collaborative poem (I’ll give more details and a link at the end), but it was such an amazing day that I can still feel its impact, and I’d like to share a few of the lines that I wrote.
We met outside Worcester Cathedral. There had been torrential rain in the night, and more was forecast. We arrived weighed down by wet-weather gear – as well as notepads, pens, pencils. Everywhere was damp and dismal.
As we gathered at the entrance to the cathedral, I noticed a rather grand house with the number 10 painted on one of its stone pillars. Two union jacks – flying EVERYWHERE this year – were hanging from its wall. I wrote my first lines:
Unions Jacks hang
on Worcester’s own
Number Ten,
hang limp,
hang sodden,
hang
not celebrating,
hang
not proud.
Hang.
The library was the first stop inside the cathedral – a fascinating place. We learnt that despite what you see on the television when ancient, valuable documents are being handled, it’s now thought potentially more damaging to wear white gloves, and the important thing is to support the spines of books.
We were shown so many interesting books and documents: part of Chaucer’s Reeve’s Tale, printed by Caxton 1478; a lawyer’s copy of the Magna Carta, notes and doodles in the margins, a working refernece tool for use in the court room; a fragment of leaves from 7th century; the Worcester Antiphoner’s chant, which escaped the Reformation bonfire on College Green.
In the library of Worcester Cathedral

We reached the library via a narrow, spiral staircase, such as you find in ancient castles. I wrote:
Stairs circling ever higher,
curling, twirling ever higher,
countless footsteps treading, heading
to miniscules and majuscules,
to scripts and vellums,
to antiphons and bibles,
treading, heading to
The Old Bishop’s Throne,
its sign:
PLEASE DO NOT USE.

From the cathedral grounds, we looked down at the river, wide and fast flowing. I wrote:

Murky water brimming,
trapped trees quiver,
fearing the depths,
longing for skies.

We went down the steps to Kleve Walk alongside the river. I stared at the river, at the solitary swan in the swan sanctuary, its long neck hidden in its pearly feathers. Over to the right, I caught a glimpse of the top of The Hive, Worcester newest landmark. loved by some, hated by others. I wrote:

A hint of The Hive,
golden, brash,
intrudes over grey roofs,
Man’s gash
across Nature’s colours.

The morning was grey and overcast, but as we made our way along Kleve Walk to the Quay, the sun briefly glimmered, and a pool of pinkish light touched the river. I wrote:

Sudden sunlight strikes the water,
light-pink-white,
light-golden-white:
a momentary jewel,
collapsing, dying.

At midday, the bells began to ring. I wrote:

Bells toll,
heavy, ponderous,
Macbeth’s knell,
terrifying, thunderous,
my heart chimes,
happy, wondrous.

I had to hurry as I’d fallen behind the others. We paused at the fountains on The Quay and I was struck by the fussy, thrusting busyness of the pigeons, set against the elegance and hypnotic movement of the fountains. I wrote two separate sections:

Pigeons cluster,
crap and copulate,
peck and pester,
search, investigate:
a relentless quest for food and sex.

Fountains rising,
fountains falling,
curling, whirling,
curving, arcing,
hissing, kissing,
crashing, crying.

The morning was nearly over and it was time for lunch. Then the hard work of combining all our ideas and preparing for our evening performance. When we arrived in Worcester’s main drag, the contrast with the peace and silence we’d experienced by the river was upsetting. I wanted to retreat – away from the hubbub, traffic, noise. I tried several lines to describe the effect it had on me, but in the end settled on three:

Traffic revs.
Silence diesel-scarred.
Silence – silenced.

As you can probably tell, I had a wonderful day. I am so grateful to David Calcutt for giving me to opportunity and to the brilliant writers, Julie Boden, Maggie Doyle, Sarah James who all helped make it a day of fun, inspiration and huge enjoyment. You can read more about it and the collaborative poem here: http://halfmoonpoetry.wordpress.com/worcester-choral-poem/

 

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6 Comments

  1. What imagery the words you penned that day create. It looks like you had the most marvellous time – I want to be there next year 🙂 Thanks for sharing the experience.

  2. Lindsay says:

    Thanks, Polly. It really was a wonderful day. If David does it again, or something similar, you should do it – you’d love it!

  3. What an amazing experience. I feel inspired. It also reminds me that a friend of mine and I put some poems in the bus shelter in Ashburton to cheer people up while they wait……it has spawned a whole lot of poems as the waiting bus passnegers are writing their own and putting them up beside ours!

  4. Lindsay says:

    It certainly was an inspiring experience, Becky. And love the idea of your poems in the bus shelter, and now the passengers writing theirs!

  5. Mo Hall says:

    Thanks for sharing this Lindsay. Somehow it brings the whole poem more into focus. I really like your lines about The Hive – Man’s gash / across Nature’s colours, and the ‘silence – silenced.’ bit. Oh how I envy you your visit to that Library!

    I also LOVE the thought of everybody adding to Rebecca’s bus shelter poems: what a wonderful idea!

  6. Lindsay says:

    Yes, isn’t the bus shelter idea brilliant?

    Glad you think my post added to the original poem as I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing identifying ‘my’ lines. The power remains with the group poem. There are tours of the library – you should go!

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