‘Every Other Seat’ by DUST Rising CIC artists, took place in Hanley’s Cultural Quarter to highlight the plight of the city’s theatres during Covid-19 restrictions after the first 2020 lockdown. The artists’ seats were walked out of the Regent Theatre during the two days and placed down Piccadilly to enable socially distanced viewing. The events, supported by Appetite, Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Stoke-on-Trent BID, also included live spoken word performances from several noted Staffordshire based poets.
In February 2021 The seats were moved into empty shop windows in the Roebuck Centre, Newcastle-under-Lyme during the second lockdown with the support of Appetite and Newcastle-under-Lyme BID.
I have watched some people make the most of lockdown time for the last year to connect with their creativity, learn, develop or re-kindle skills they never knew they had or had long forgotten. Me…I’ve somehow lost my way. This is not good. I went into lockdown buckling under the pressure of trying to stay in an ill-fitting part-time job to pay the bills and furlough was a time for self-reflection and an opportunity to re-connect on some level with myself through a script-writing commission for BBC Bitesize. This confirmed that I could not risk my mental health any further by returning to the retail environment, added to which family demands became even greater and home-schooling three grandchildren beckoned. Meaningful creative output somehow seemed far away. Until the ever-supportive Black Country poets Emma Purshouse and Steve Pottinger dangled their ‘Arses from Elbows’ opportunity to tempt me out of the wallows.
The eight week course was a back to basics poetry writing series and provided me with a focus and discipline sadly missing at that time. This weekly focus on writing has remained through an incredibly supportive and open spin-off group of poets. We are following the brilliant Jo Bell’s ’52’ poetry writing prompts and have reached week 23 with the group still intact. It’s sometimes hard-going and, like all creative activities, can sometimes add to your caskets of self-doubt and insecurities. Last week’s prompt brought me out in a rash of philosophical Camus-esque self-questioning. But I keep at it! Unfortunately I’m still filling those aforementioned caskets, and increasingly concerned that I lack the skills and energy to find new ways of marketing whatever it is I do/did. The truth of it is I want me time, but I can’t afford it!
My entire career has relied on sharing my skills with others, generating ideas and motivating others to see the potential in themselves through creative activities. So how come I now struggle to motivate myself, listen to advice or simply relocate the self-discipline I treasured? I am trying to see this time as an opportunity to breathe and let things lie and not as being washed up on the shingle beach of failed artists. But the fact remains, I am too young to retire and feel too disconnected and too tired to dig deep. I am pleased for the opportunity to re-show ‘Hecuba’s Seat’ with DUST Rising’s Every Other Seat’ exhibition in Roebuck Shopping Centre in Newcastle, Staffordshire and fingers crossed this is also the re-start of clawing my way back to my creative self.
Meanwhile, this seems to all be coming out in some fairly deep writing, as I realised when I shared this Week 22’s efforts at prose poetry with the group. I generally don’t feel the need to share new work (or blog ramblings come to that!) online, but today is different. Maybe tomorrow will bring a new Spring in my step…
Meanwhile, and finally, here’s the poem.
I walk over the ashes
I walk over the ashes of burnt earth to look at the edge of the world.
Unfurling my fingers, I stroke the beckoning abyss to calculate my worth,
my weight in gold, and trace the shape of the space I would leave.
When I look back, dust has settled in my footprints. In the distance,
I see the tear-stained faces of children picking over the mounds of words
I’d thrown into the smoke from fires lit to hide my journey. I turn back to the abyss,
lift my eyes to the past for an answer and take a step forward –
but do not fall. In the ice-cold darkness, a ledge; a black viscous slick sucks me into itself,
coats me in resilience and soothes my unsettled skin.
I amble over acres of green fields and pick daisies to make a chain
that could anchor me to the future. My eyes sting with the brightness
of their sun-kissed centres but I dry my tears with their soft white
petals. I blow through blades of grass to call on the birds for answers,
but they know only their own song. I sieve life-giving soil through my fingers
to ground my insecurities and ask the divining branches to lend me their secrets,
but both hide them in their core. I wander until my feet ache
with the weight of my questions, until the odour of ash leaves my skin and only tear-cut scars remain.
I swim under a waterfall of emotion, surface for a moment to fill my lungs
DUST 2020 was a series of exhibitions during 2017/18 by visual artists associated with the city to support Stoke-on-Trent’s city of Culture bid. The series took place in each of the six towns in heritage buildings at the heart of the community, aiming to make exhibitions accessible to raise the profile of visual art and artists in the city and to gain support for the bid.
Dawn is an associate artist with DUST Rising CIC and is one of the original members. She remains passionate about collaborating with other creatives to bring high quality visual arts programming and opportunities for the people city of Stoke-on-Trent.
I started my journey with DUST in the second exhibition at Tunstall Baths and developed the pieces in response to the heritage sites as the exhibition toured, leaving a trace of the previous work in each iteration. The final piece (l) was an autobiographical work that traced my associations with the city and included personal objects and images as well as elements of the pieces exhibited during the tour.