On Monday 11th July, two days after the 132nd Durham Miners’ Gala, we held our second poetry gathering at Empty Shop. Haliwerfolc 2: Poetry and Songs from the Seam was organised around the principles of the Gala – working-class solidarity, strength in unity, trade union activism – with our invited poets and performers sharing material broadly themed around those core, unifying ideas of the Big Meeting and its legacy.
In the same spirit, we also asked guests to bring items for our food bank collections. We were blown away to receive over £60 in cash, and over four full boxes of food, drinks, sugar, sanitary items and sweet treats to be shared equally between The Bay food bank in North Shields and Hospitality and Hope in South Shields.
Jake and Joanne at The Bay
Our performers – Wendy Smith, Bernadette McAloon, Peter Armstrong, Joan Johnston, Tracy Gillman and Gareth Davies-Jones – alongside Jo and Jake, read poems and performed songs about the spirit of mining communities in the region and the relevance of their message and lifestyle today. These were poems by the people, for the people. Not in kitsch, sentimental or patronising ways; but as genuine, powerful testimonies to the people we call our own: our sisters and mothers, brothers and uncles. Wor Haliwerfolc. As Gareth noted, reflecting days later on his set:
“The Seam was always about telling stories – stories found in a historic archive that deals with the development of the extractive industries over the last 500 years. But it turns out it’s more than that. These are stories that in their original form come directly from community – whether gathered round an industry, movement, geography, geology or a combination of them all. Ultimately as an artist I’m simply telling the peoples’ stories back to them, helping them to recognise that they really do have a story to tell, that they can be inspired by what has gone before, by what is to come, a stronger sense of identity if you like. I’m convinced that the answer to many if not most of our societal woes is found, and perhaps has always been found, in giving our communities the confidence to help themselves, to see that they have an inherent strength that carried them through tougher times than these.”
Jake and Joanne at Hope and Hospitality
Many of our guests and performers echoed the sentiments that we had declared at the end of the event: namely a profound sense that something special had taken place. Although just a simple gathering of people on the one hand, it showed that the simple things are often the best. When people come together with a collective goal to share songs, stories and spare tins of food, the mad year of politics that we’re living through seems that bit more manageable.
When we took the items to the food banks the next day, it was sickening to think that in one of the richest economies in the world, so many thousands of people are reliant on the generosity of others and non-profit organisations and their volunteers to feed them. It was an eye-opening experience. But we left full of positivity and hope; that there are people out there who want to do good, who are working for a fairer society. At its best, poetry and music is a kind of living folk consciousness, and at Haliwerfolc, we hope that it is one which more people will be drawn to, bringing our communities together despite attempts by a prevailing corrupt media and feckless politicians to divide them.
Paul Batchelor was born in Northumberland. His pamphlet, To Photograph a Snow Crystal, was published by Smith/Doorstop in 2006, and his first full-length collection of poems, The Sinking Road, was published by Bloodaxe in 2008. The Love Darg, from Clutag Press, appeared in 2014. His work has appeared in anthologies such as Identity Parade (Bloodaxe, 2010), The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry (Penguin, 2010), When Love Speaks (Vintage, 2011) and Being Human (Bloodaxe, 2011). At Newcastle University, Paul wrote a PhD on the poetry of Barry MacSweeney. He has written reviews for the Guardian, The Times and the Times Literary Supplement and is lecturer in the Department of English Studies at Durham University.
The Haliwerfolc folk warmly welcome Mandana M. Ghoyonloo to read with us. Hailing from North East Iran, Mandana studied English Literature in Tehran followed by a Creative Writing MA in North East England at Newcastle University. She currently teaches Persian at Durham University and in September she is commencing a Creative Writing PhD at Newcastle University where she has the support of a Northern Bridge studentship.
Mandana writes in both Persian and English. Her poems are published in London Magazine, Modern Poetry in Translation and numerous Persian presses. Her translation of Paul Auster’s novel 'Leviathan' (Hayoola e Daryaee, 2006) was published in Tehran and her first poetry collection 'Dancing on the Rope' (Ragh Rooy e Tanab, 2013) features startling poems written in her native Persian tongue.
Another of our stellar line up, my co-host and all round good egg, the lovely Jake Campbell
Jake is from South Shields, Tyne and Wear. A recipient of New Writing North’s Andrew Waterhouse award, he has pulished two pamphlets of poetry: The Coast Will Wait Behind You (Art Editions North, 2015) and Definitions of Distance (Red Squirrel Press, 2012). He co-founded the poetry magazine Butcher’s Dog and came second in the 2016 Basil Bunting Poetry Prize.
His poems, reviews and articles have appeared in the likes of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, The Northern Correspondent and The Rialto. He is currently an AHRC Northern Bridge-funded PhD student at Newcastle University, undertaking practice-based research into North-Eastern poetries. Recent work in collaboration has seen Jake’s poems displayed on billboards at the sea front in South Shields; at The Atkinson Gallery in Southport as part of ‘Ghosts of the Restless Shore: Space, Place and Memory of the Sefton Coast’ exhibition; and at Bede’s World, Jarrow, as part of ‘Stringing Bedes: A Poetry and Print Pilgrimage’.