A Poetry of Ourselves

For a year now we have been inviting visitors to the current exhibition in the Worktown Gallery to take part in an activity that evokes the original participatory spirit of Mass Observation.

One of the founders of Mass Observation was a poet and journalist called Charles Madge.  In the first year or two of Mass Observation’s existence, Madge was in charge of the national panel of volunteer writers who would keep diaries of their daily activities and respond to “directives”, where they would be asked to write about particular topics such as the type of objects on their mantelpieces.  Madge described Mass Observation as a form of “popular poetry” which would shed new light on everyday life in late 1930s Britain. 

The exhibition in the Worktown Gallery explores Madge’s early vision for Mass Observation.  While the exhibition has been running the museum has been inviting visitors to complete a card which has the following question on it:

“If you weren’t here, where would you be?” 

Visitors have embraced the activity with enthusiasm, and we have received hundreds of answers.  In October we asked students from the University of Bolton to create new poems based on some of the answers.  The students have risen to the challenge with great invention.  Their poems are presented below. 

‘in a sunny place’

summer changed to autumn
like milk turning snow curdling foamy
and wet in my clothes, shoes, hair
and late october settles on my chest
like an infection
like pumpkin spiced popcorn lung
and early onset arthritis as the feeling
in my fingers goes the same way as
the mid afternoon sun
and the tint in my skin like
twice washed sunny d stains.
and you.

AJ Moroz

‘I shall never know’

My life – a compass missing its needle,
the shell of an atlas with missing pages.
A global positioning system with no power.
I am not living to survive,
I am living to be here, in this moment.
Nothing compares to what I am experiencing here.
I’ll never know where I’d be if I wasn’t here.
I wouldn’t want to know.
I have nowhere to be.
And there is nowhere I want to be.
When our nightmares become dreams,
we will never truly understand where it is
we want to be.

Morgan King

‘At home, knitting’

She is sat alone twisting her yarn colours ensuring it sits in front of the stich marker, she has opted for a mauve which will be infused with periwinkle four rows later. Her needles moving flawlessly, perfect harmony within the round, keeping to an intense rhythm. Her hands are tenuous as if a shriveled sage. The yarn is delicately weaved intricately in and around allowing for each individual fiber to be kept in pattern.

Her mind wanders, this is a luxury that she can afford, her rheumy eyes move in unison to each individual chime of needles clanging. The intricacy of the task at hand she refuses to let phase her, for she has full confidence in her ability.

Another hand-crafted piece is almost completed, there is not a shred of accomplishment gathering in the air. She works her tail through the last row of aligned loops, and begins to pull the garment together, ensuring any openings at the forefront of the dome are sealed. The woman now holds a hat fit for a newborn. She lets out a sole sigh and through her pensive eyes she smiles, as she places down the hat on top of the pile.

She gathers her yarn and begins to once again twist.         

Morgan King

‘in Mexico’

Packing up only the bare essentials:
A jumper, jeans, your beloved blue umbrella.
Squashing them down along with your freshly
excavated ambition to fit it all in a backpack.
You’re walking to Mexico. You’ve decided,
and that’s that.

No admission of missing you will keep you in this raincloud of a town.

Walking all the way to Merseyside
seeking a ship to carry you, or failing that
you’ll part the seas, or failing that
devise wings from your umbrella
and hope the wind catches you.

Your footfalls will find the way as easily as they find the path
from the local back to your house.

Battling the elements, your umbrella
a steadfast shield against forty days and nights of rain.
Your shelter, your companion.
And when your toes touch ground in Mexico,
your umbrella is discarded.
She is useless to you now.

Kate Jones

‘hanging off the ceiling’

hanging off the ceiling
by a string made of iron
my brain? a hungry lion
my conscious? fired

hanging off the ceiling
by a rope that looks like a kaleidoscope
how long can I even cope
before I choke?

hanging off the ceiling
it feels quite revealing
but how do we stop these feelings?
If everything else is deceiving

hanging off the ceiling
my neighbour is barely breathing
his heart stopped beating
must have been the cold he was feeling

hanging off the ceiling
these imagined walls are unappealing
does life even have a meaning?

Penelope Alonso-Ritchie

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