Clissold Leisure Centre: Best Residency Ever
Sunday, June 22, 2014, 02:56 PMAs part of SPOKE*, I was poet in residence at Clissold Leisure Centre through October and November 2013.
Sometimes as a writer in a public space, it's a challenge to engage the public.
‘Hello, I’m a poet’, is not always a winning conversational opener. And it can be tricky to negotiate how to work as a writer within an organization, there’s internal politics and sometimes staff don’t know what you are there for and everyone’s super busy with their day-to-day responsibilities. There’s a risk that you act like a spare part, a spanner dropped into the works. Not at Clissold Leisure Centre. Dudes, it was a dream job.
From the start, Martin, the manager, my contact there, was really relaxed and friendly, supportive of the residency and also flexible and open to ideas, a pretty perfect combination. All the staff I spoke to were really different and themselves and yet, they were uniformly open and good humoured. Nothing seemed to be more than anyone’s job was worth, in fact, everyone was up for a chat and even, a laugh. Amazing.
My first day, Jayden on the front desk made me a badge with my name and Poet in Residence sticky labeled onto it. On Sunday, his identical twin, Ryan booked me into a pilates class, even though I called him Jayden and told him to stop messing with my mind.
My plan for the residency was to introduce myself to a cross-section of the people who use or work in the Centre and to either work with them to write a piece or to write a piece inspired by what they shared with me. By doing this with 10 - 15 people, I wanted to create a poetic collage that showed the spirit and reality of the building.
Apples and Snakes arranged for three emerging artists to shadow me during the residency, Ehsan Khan, Temi Lateef and Rachel Long, all very different in style, all brilliant at engaging with people. They were commissioned to write a new piece which they would perform as part of the final Splash event in November. As well as working on their own commissions, they also spent time talking, listening and writing with staff and public at CLC.
As a celebration of the residency, Apples and Snakes programmed an event in the pool, with John Hegley, Lemn Sissay and myself, plus the shadow poets who were working alongside me and the staff and public with whom we’d been writing.
The event was nuts, in a great way. Lemn performed across the Olympic-sized swimming pool, without a microphone, seated in the lifeguard chair. It was electric, to hear his voice straining over the sounds of the water, wanting to be heard, the words became particles, waves, meaning and intention. John, as warm and witty as ever, came down with his dear friend Andrew Bailey, because John and Andrew are local and often meet for a swim at Clissold Leisure Centre. Andrew performed with a yellow glove on his head, like a giant gold coxcomb. Martin made a lovely speech.
I’m pasting some of the poems I performed at that event, co-written in collaboration with the people from Clissold Leisure Centre.
Jayden at the front desk and his twin brother Ryan were for me an instant mood lifter. Everytime I walked through the revolving doors and saw them on the front desk, I felt happy. In fact, imagine Pharrell Williams but younger, taller, often standing next to himself and from Stoke Newington - you’re pretty close to Jayden and Ryan.
Poem for Jayden.
In the weight room, I see mirrors,
I see myself.
I know if I train, I am fitter.
I know if I run, I become stronger.
I know when I reach my goals,
I'll set myself a new challenge.
In the past, I've known how it is to feel small.
At school, the girls used to chase me round
And not in a good way.
At school, I never leant to swim.
At school, I learnt to be a joker,
Make the other kids laugh in class.
In the playground, I was a wheeler dealer,
Bought 4 cola cans from the pound shop,
Sold them for 50p each.
At school in Stoke Newington,
You get to know about different cultures,
I learnt that everyone is on a different path.
Here at Clissold Park Leisure Centre,
I see balance, strength, discipline.
On the front desk,
I know that to send a smile is to receive one.
I see people come from different places,
Are going through different challenges.
I know that sometimes it just helps to smile.
At home, I know how to wake up in the morning and smile for no reason,
I know that sometimes everything feels right.
In myself, I know what it is to feel alive.
Conversation with Sena on the Front Desk
The Worst Thing About My Job?
People pour in on Saturday and Sunday mornings,
Couples with matching towels and smiles,
Dad holding a baby in arm bands,
Kids with noodles and goggles and giggles.
Everyone excited and happy for their swim.
And I have to tell them that the pool is full.
Then their faces fall.
They come in all jiggy - now they're gonna have to wait.
And I am the cause of this, the mean gatekeeper,
Horrible troll, personally preventing them from their goal.
- What do you mean, the pool is full? -
- How long do I have to wait? -
-How long is not long? -
- Have you checked? -
- Can you check again? -
- Mummy, Daddy, why? -
Every time the gate opens, they look up,
Hopeful, glum, angry,
And I want to say,
Please don't glare,
If I had my way,
You'd be in and swimming, believe me.
Some are patient, they are the good ones.
Of course, they all get in, angry or polite.
They come out relaxed and smiling.
Oh, now you want to be friends?
I just smile back.
I feel for them, but I don't really get it,
I never learnt to swim.
Now, if it was a beach, I'd understand,
And it would be proper sunny,
30 degrees, ice cream van,
White sand, like getting a pedicure for free,
Sea gulls wheeling,
Warm blue sky like chocolate muffins,
So delicious you just want to eat up the air.
The beach at Clissold Leisure Centre,
If it was a beach, there'd be room for everyone,
The whole of Clissold Park.
(For Cassie and all the Life-guards at Clissold Leisure Centre)
Seabirds on the high rocks,
Heads tilting back and forth,
Sentinels in red aertex,
Some have shoes, some not.
They work in 90 minute blocks
Eyes scanning the crinkled water,
Surveying, ceaselessly splashing surfaces,
Seeing through the random patterns of noise
To clock the octogenarian’s stoic crawl,
The whippet tweens, trembling on edges,
Protein-thick hulks, powering down narrow lanes,
Puff-cheeked six year olds, eyes closed, mouths gasping
Puppy-limbs churning furiously beneath.
The life-guards watch this all unfold,
Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day,
Week by week, patiently patient.
Rapt by accidents waiting to happen,
How do they keep their heart-beat steady,
Hopeful, placid, calmly answering the customer queries.
What time does the pool close?
Where are the toilets?
Can I have a plaster?
Will you watch out for my son, my daughter?
Meanwhile, always alert for that stitch unpicking
At the farthest edge of vision,
Like Icaurus in that picture,
The figure falling unseen by everyone else.
They are artists creating non-events,
They make for no disaster.
They are the sea-wall,
The blent-in net around rocks,
The bell that no-one tolls,
Touch wood, thank God.
Mariann likes working as a cleaner at Clissold Leisure Centre, not least because her boyfriend works there too.
Conversation with Mariann
My name is Mariann Schibalitz
I am from Hungaria.
We say Magyarorsza,
Country of the people who speak Magyar.
I came to London last Februa'r
It was raining all the time.
Sokat Esik as esô
I work here as a cleaner
I so like it here,
My boyfriend works here too
The staff are friendly,
Kind and helpful.
That's the best thing about my job.
The worst - I don't speak good English.
When someone asks me something I don't understand
I feel stressed, szörnyü e'rze's,
My head is a rubbish bin tipped all over the floor.
People look at me disappointed,
And I walk away and I wish I could say
"I'm sorry, I wish I could answer your question,
I wish I could help you,
I want to understand you.
I like to ask you questions -
How long have you lived in London?
Where does your family come from?
Do you speak other languages?
This country is so big - az orszàg nagyan nagy,
This city is so so fast - a va'ros gyors.
When I was five, I had a chocolate birthday cake
On the dining table with an orange cloth,
I felt scared and happy,
Anya apa, növe'r basa'tok,
My mother, father, sister, neighbours were there.
My favourite food is fruit -
Bananas, apples, köeö - those small green balls,
I like to wear black clothes because it's more slimming,
But I like all the colours,
When I was little,
I used to like singing,
I still sing sometimes, when there's no-one around.
Conversation with Tim Prendergast, Paralympic Gold Medalist
I met Gold and Silver medal winning ParaOlympian runner Tim Prendergast, originally from New Zealand, when he came to talk to the school groups as part of Sports Inclusion Week. In training for the 2012 ParaOlympics, he made a super-awesome greatest ever 10000 song playlist to run to, which he shared with me, just one of the unexpected joys of this residency.
If I could turn time back,
I’d be clocking nine to five in Wellington.
From adversity came opportunity,
Losing my sight as a young kid
Opened my eyes to the world,
I've run past the Acropolis,
The Opera House,
The Emperor's Gates.
When I run, my mind paints pictures,
I tune in to other senses.
On my morning run through London,
Birds locate the trees,
My feet draw the long line of the path below,
Stretching through the park
Along the wet shine of canal.
The smell of dough opens out the sky
Above the biscuit factory.
The stench of urine hollows out the underpass.
Slowly fading peppermint gum
Spells out the distance come, the distance run.
I am beads of sweat, a heart beat,
Feet impacting on the concrete.
My breathing, steady.
Limitless fallible companion.
My body, my journey.
During my residency, as part of Hackney School Sports Championships, schoolchildren of all abilities came together to take part in the country’s biggest inclusive school sports competition organised by Hackney Learning Trust and to receive coaching from outstanding sportspeople such as Paralympian Tim Prendergast.
Stormont School helps me with the things that are hard.
I forget, sometimes, a lot.
I like it here at Clissold Leisure Centre.
I like playing wheelchair basketball.
Rolling, wheeling, spinning, turning.
The ball bouncing on the floor is a heartbeat.
Shooting, scoring, shouting, cheering.
Feels like relief, like a great big YES!
Making friends, meeting people.
Feeling exhausted in the hands and in the head.
The best part of the day – it makes me sleep better.
It is lunch time in the sports hall.
The Seabright Children's Centre Under Fives Group
Has painted the tips of their noses with strawberry yoghurt
To look like rabbits.
Everyone is sitting on their bottoms,
Ready to do good listening.
‘Do you like sport?'
I ask them
'I don't know what is sports,'
They declare, triumphant.
‘Is sandwiches sport?’ – ‘No!’
‘Is rain sports?’ – ‘No!’
‘Is brushing your hair sports?’ – ‘No!’
‘Are kittens sports?’ – ‘Nooooo!’
Running is sports, hopping is sports, jumping is sports,
Egg and spoon is sports!
Axel loves bouncing on the trampoline.
Mafalda's best part of the day
Is that she has a baby brother Hector.
Her job is nursery.
Liv had a bouncy castle with a dinosaur on Charlie's birthday.
When Liv is grown up, she'll eat tomatoes later.
It is time to go back to Seabright on the special coach.
They are robed like miniature racing shepherds
At a secular nativity,
In adult sized white tee-shirts,
With numbers pinned on chests and backs.
They walk in a conga with hands on the shoulders of the one in front.
Goodbye Luca, goodbye Luca G,
Goodbye Mafalda and Axel, Vincent and Liv,
Thank you for your good listening
And for my good listening.
From conversation with Roberta Desselvi, Yoga and Pilates facilitator.
This is a gift -
Life is about learning
My reason for being here
Life is about helping
Healing, being open
The deepest things are simple
Openness will take you far
People spend time searching
These simple acts
I can help them find
Life is a dance
Life is a gift
To give, to receive
This is a gift -
Conversation with Iyengar Instructor Rowan Ikasaya
Presentness could be stillness
Presentness could be moving
Presentness could be breath
Breathing could be prana
Drawing in energy
Breathing could be life
Breathing’s a cloud, blown by the wind
Breathing’s a wave, rolling under the sand
Breathing is the out again in again flow of the tide
Mirroring nature, the body, fire, air, water
Breathing is incense, eucalyptus, lavender
Breathing is presentness, rhythm and flow
Flow is a wave-like figure of eight
Folding, unfurling, opening out
Presentness is flow, is stillness, is play
Play is light, is openness, life
Stillness is listening
Stillness is ohm
Stillness is balancing
Emin, 6 years old CLC Oct 2013
I like the running machine.
When it goes faster, you have to run so fast.
If it goes too fast, you go inside it's mouth and it swallows you up.
Then you be the running thing too.
I have a gold robot shark.
It swims by itself,
It doesn't do anything but swim
And that's what I want it to do.
I can do flips, six in a row.
I want to get good at flying in the water,
My arms moving like wings.
I met mother Susannah and three year old Isabel while they were waiting for Isabel’s second ever swimming lesson. We scribbled on paper and told a story together. When it was time for the swimming lesson, Isabel strated crying so her mum had to promise to do more poetry after the swimming, for which I felt bad but also great.
The water’s secret ssshhhh.
In the night-time, it runs away.
Isabel and Susannah are waiting for Isabel's second swimming lesson.
Isabel will be 4 in July.
She loves stories, all stories, especially stories with sad endings.
She also likes stories with sad middles. And sad beginnings.
Together, we tell ourselves the story of Esmeralda, Arabella Isabella, an orphan in the swerves of London, bullied by giant rats.
She escapes by swimming down the Thames, to the countryside where the sky is blue and the sky is green.
She meets the water babies, they become her family and they take care of each other.
Then the time comes that she has to go back to London to be human.
They have to say goodbye.
It is very sad.
Isabel goes on alone into London, all alone.
She sings this song to calm herself:
‘The water has lines like the legs of a cat.
‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’ is the song of the water.
The secret of the water is it might run away.
Relaxing happy water, it smells like pink pens.
With love and thanks to The Legacy List, Apples and Snakes, Martin Young and all the wonderful staff and members of Clissold Leisure Centre.
*SPOKE is a new visionary poetry and spoken word programme that offers people in East London an opportunity to watch, perform and develop careers in spoken word and performance poetry in and around the newly re-opened Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
The Special Relationship, May 14th 2013
Monday, May 13, 2013, 02:54 PM
The Special Relationship returns with a word fix from our all-star lineup:
Matt Haig - Award-winning novelist and outer-space thinker
Francesca Beard - International performance poet and spoken-word sensation
Matthew Spektor - Columnist, writer and diviner of the Tinsletown subconscious.
Joanna Rossiter - Debut novelist weaving tales of the land and the sea
With new stories from our regular readers, Jarred McGinnis and Sam Taradash, and hosted by the inimitable Guy Caradog Morgan, London’s literary polymath is back.
Tickets £5 at the door, or available from wegottickets.com/event/217206
The Book Club
100 Leonard Street, EC2A 4RH London,
Houses of Parliament, Represent, Kids Company
Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 12:36 PMI performed last month at the Houses of Parliament for an Apples and Snakes/Freeword collaborative project called 'Represent'.
Me, Beyonder and Steve Tasane worked with Index on Censorship young people's theatre group, TripWires to run creative writing workshops with young people around the UK. We sent our words to Inua Ellams, who turned them into a beautiful and funny poem film. The film was shown at an event in Westminster Hall along with performances by me, Steve, Beyonder and a poetry collective from Kids Company.
It was inspiring to work with the KidsCompany group. I keep looking for excuses and or funding to work with them again, but that's another story. Anyway, on this particular night, I knew that they were going to bring it. Their creative energy is brave and pure and true. It made me want to write and perform something new and particular for the event.
I started writing a poem about libraries and it turned into an acapella folk song.
There will be a moment when I unleash this on the public, but that moment hasn't yet come. Also, I knew Steve was going to do his wonderful piece 'Save the Libraries'.
So then I started writing a piece called 'On Explaining Black History Month to the Aliens', but it turned out to be a 3 minute silent performance art piece.
It was a mime. 3 minutes is actually quite long for a mime.
So then, I wrote the poem 'No-one Knows How Beautiful You Are'.
It's posted in the entry below.
I decided to perform that one, the most poem-ey one, the one not involving mime or singing, which be fair, aren't what I'm known for and maybe that's telling. Discretion, valour, blah.
I've never been in the Houses of Parliament before. It was actually amazing to be surrounded by the concreteness of the historical evolutionary achievement of universal sufferage. To be in the structural embodiment of democratic process.
And my seven year old self geeked out at all the dinky statues of the Kings and Queens, dolled up in their different costumes and crowns, each displayed in individual cabinets on the marble walls.
And I marvelled at the blinged out story-telling of the national Saints George, Andrew, Patrick and David in the central lobby.
Also a moment of click - how a poem about disillusioned and angry students in Khartoum equally represents the attitude to democracy of young people in the UK.
I'm posting some of the KidsCompany poems below, with permission.
"We are the sons, daughters and descendents of fallen soldiers
Since birth we’ve felt trapped under infinite boulders
Children born into a wealthy country
But still were stuck being raised in poverty
We are the generation that will probably never own our own property
So paying extortionate rent is an inevitability
There’s a so-called housing crisis
Apparently there aren’t enough so the prices are sky high
But there are thousands of discarded houses
We are the victims of our own stereotypes
Not all of us are out on road trying to earn stripes
Neither are we all petty thieves stealing to buy commercialised footwear
We are the voices of the voiceless
Yeah a lot of us walk around staring people out so hard they think were soulless
You see since the starting ages of puberty we’ve been convinced were useless
And then you wonder why some of us go round leaving people toothless
We try to keep our heads up but everyone has a limit for how much their mental wellbeing can take
Like a machine, put too much pressure on a part it will break
We’re the new wave of life, that’ll eventually bring to light your foolish mistakes "
"We are bright like the glistening stars, although we lack the courage and confidence to speak up, we are like insects stuck in a cocoon, afraid to break out
We strive for perfection and want to right all the wrongs of the elder generation
We are excellent, unique and wonderful in so many ways, able to make the impossible possible
We are successful, if only we were all given the chance to show off our skills
We are not all useless, lazy, relying on others to find a means in life.
We are not stupid, we see what's going on in society and how a blind eye is sometimes seen as more attractive than finding a solution
We are not weak or scared to voice our opinions if given a chance
We possess unbelievable talents, beyond measure, which have note been acknowledged in society
We shall be victorious in years to come
"We are the future of today, we are the future of tomorrow, with all this sorrow scattered in the street, we’re still trying to achieve
With all the guns and crime, violence, pain and torture, we still hold our head up high
We are the youths who wear hoods to hide our fears.
The tears of our suffering
We are the young mums pushing prams, pregnancy spread like venom and is seen as the only way of to get a roof.
We are the students who work hard as the fees rise higher than the sky
We are not hooligans
We are mis-understood, confused and bruised. We are not fools, we know what’s going on.
What’s going on when there’s beggars on the street asking for a pound or two in a city of wealth,
What’s going on when we see adverts to send money to Africa
Yet We’d rather adopt a dog.
Black, white, we want equality
Brown and grey the colour of poverty.
Green and yellow prices should be cut down like the trees in the amazon.
We need a hand, we’re tired of getting pushed in the sand,
We need a home, we’re tired of being alone
We need our education, we need to be valued,
We need to achieve".
We are young, we learn
From the footsteps of our seniors
To guide us, to teach us, to condition our minds
And possibly one day to promote us to the next generation
As inspiring leaders, please don’t give up on us
Even though opportunities turn to rubble around us
Leaving us with life and little other options,
We shall adapt slowly to them, and form our own.
Each new generation brings a new set of uncontrollable talents
Being wasted like left over food.
Seems like many communities are destroyed every year
For new car parks
With nowhere to play, the young ones rush to the streets
Like a tidal wave to the cliff
Passing in and out of traffic
Like a thread threading to various fabrics
Give us back our communities, and together, we’ll all give birth to a seed called unity."
With a shout-out to Monique, whose poem isn't up here yet but was blazing brilliant so please send it and thanks to Leo and Amberley who run the Kids Company poetry collective, outside of funding, because they give a *u*k.
World Poetry Day: No-one Knows How Beautiful You Are
Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 12:13 PMI'm reposting one of the poems from my British Council blog post for World Poetry Day here, with a little introduction:
I went to Khartoum with the British Council to work with a group called 'Makaan Arts.'
I gave the group the prompt ‘Democracy’ and asked them to respond with one line.
We went round the circle and heard
‘Democracy – a lie’, ‘a scam’, ‘a piece of rotten meat they sell and force us to swallow’
… so on and on, until the last participant, tall and thin, said mournfully,
‘No one knows how beautiful you are.’
He was talking about democracy, but it seemed as though he was referring to all of us, about ourselves and each other. So I gave this poem, about my extraordinary and enlightening time in Khartoum, that title.
No-one Knows How Beautiful You Are
Before I flew, I googled
‘Sudan’ ‘dress code’ ‘customs’,
Read how women get flogged
For daring to wear trousers.
In a floor-length orange kaftan,
Courtesy of the ’70s and my mum,
I climb shotgun into a dust-covered,
Immaculately interiored sedan.
The taxi driver is an old man,
He asks if I work for the UN.
‘I’m a poet’ I tell him.
In England, in my experience,
People often react to this with scorn.
One guest at a wedding thought I’d said pirate.
Her hostility was so in line with the usual response,
It took a full five minute argument
Before we discovered she’d heard me wrong.
Even then, her face barely stood down.
But the taxi driver exclaims ‘Poet!’
Like I’d said ‘Pediatrician’ or ‘Pastry chef’.
He asks what kind of poetry, says he himself
Writes verse, is inspired by nature,
Shakespeare and the Koran.
He asks where I come from.
I don’t have a simple answer to that question,
But say I live in London.
He expresses polite appreciation for
Various colonial legacies, the postal service,
The drains, the education system,
Which he grew up in.
He asks me if Khartoum is as I expected?
I say, I’ve learnt a couple of things –
I tell him the students I work with hate the word
Democracy, describe hypocrisy, the shiny scab,
Sealing in corruption, a barrier to healing.
The taxi driver sighs and smiles.
‘This Government does not like dissent,
They do not understand,
To be strong, they need strong opponents’.
He negotiates an anarchic roundabout,
The indicator tocks, a dialectic metronome.
‘And the other thing you learnt?’ he asks.
‘Don’t believe everything you read on the internet’.
I walk into the workshop, kaftan flowing.
Inside, participants wait, heads bent to smart phones.
All the girls wrapped tight in skinny jeans.
Francesca Beard, Khartoum/London January/Feb 2013
Khartoum, World Poetry Day
Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 11:29 AMI wrote a blog post for the British Council for World Poetry Day.
Here's the link.
I like the comments in particular:)