Play It Forward

Play it Forward was a youth and community research project facilitated by Sefton CVS. It celebrated the musical history of Sefton, a district of Merseyside.

As part of the project, young people interviewed Sefton’s older residents, searching for stories about live music and bands. Those interviews were transcribed and documented through photographs and videos, which were exhibited in The Atkinson: Southport’s central library and heritage gallery.

During the days that lead up to the exhibition’s launch night, I organised and hosted two three-hour poetry workshops, inspired by the documents gathered for Play It Forward.

Because the workshops took place during Easter half term, the majority of participants were children, aged five to twelve, and their parents. For many, it was the first time they’d constructed a poem, including the adults.

My workshops reappropriated the Dadaist cut-up technique: a way of creating poetry and prose out of source material, famously used to create lyrics by David Bowie, Brian Eno and Kurt Cobain.

In preparation of the event, I printed sections of the transcribed interviews on different coloured paper. Then cut up the documents with a guillotine and divided the cuttings into four categories: words, questions, sentences and sentence fragments. Each transcription had its own colour. This enabled the interviewees to be identified from the piles of loose paper, which were placed into plastic pots on a table.

Participants were invited to pick a modest handful of clipping from the bowls and to spread them out before them. I asked them to glue the strips on to pieces of A5 card and advised them to leave spaces between the words and lines. Those spaces could then be filled with the participants’ own writing.

The finished products of the exercise were abstract poems. Sometimes, they were nonsensical or comic; other times, they had a strange logic and consistency.

Though some children needed more assistance then others, many of them enjoyed the workshops so much they stayed to fill out several cards. Some even wrote their own poems freehand, inspired by the activity. Their enthusiasm was endearing and encouraging.

The aim of the workshops was to explore the stories gathered for Play it Forward. But I also sought to encourage people to explore poetry themselves, using the cut up technique as a way of dipping their toes in the stream. I wanted them to have a visually pleasing, craft poem to take home, too, though I requested digital copies of their work.

Copies of the poems were displayed on a board that I made for the exhibition, which stayed for the duration of event.