Safety Net of Sky
The Koestler Exhibition for the North West
30th March – 27th May 2012
Part Two: Writing*
from a great height the smile
deadfalls into frown.
this bird will never know a cage:
startled by a dog’s bark
she flings herself
into the safety net of sky.
Extract from the poem: From a Prisoner’s Window
A selection of writing from North West entries to the Koestler** Trust’s
UK-wide annual awards is part of the Safety Net of Sky exhibition and
free to the public to take away.
The collection contains words of separated love and the power of place;
of institutional life and freedom; of drugs and the powerful lure of gangs;
of social and political injustice and mental pain; of nature and the nature
of poetry itself.
The anthology begins powerfully with The Rose Garden
by Sean Donoher: an examination of mental suffering which is so severe
it overlays everything, even the beauty of an early morning rose garden,
so that it becomes “Eden with a personal serpent” where “Busy
bees enter brain, /Designing interior nightmares”. The sense of
confinement is amplified by the use of full stops at the end of most of
the lines, whilst polysyllabic words and long vowels create heaviness
and emphasis: “Bootlace redemption screaming”.
A piece of prose writing, The Gateway to Hell
(Anon) addresses the outcome for one individual whose extreme mental pain
made life intolerable “in the dark corner of this even darker world”.
Mental Health, A Journey Through Understanding
by Anthony Hughes offers some hope through trust and psychotherapy. I
liked his image, “not only what makes me tick but how the clock
was wound up in the first place”. Life Writing
(Anon) gives a bleakly vivid account of the obsessional aloneness in which
a person can go “unobtrusively mad”. What a good phrase. The
same can be claimed for Ziad Ziadi’s description of his view being
further diminished by “the construction of another two prisons of
equal status next door”, as if he is being slowly bricked in. Another
autobiographical piece, The Cockney Connection
by Bernard Compton describes the Dickensian conditions of some of his
childhood contemporaries whilst giving hope for redemption through compassion
and creativity and faith.
Shattered (Anon) and Changes
in Life (Anon) are both cautionary tales which show the results
of making bad decisions. The poem Band Items
(Anon) economically creates a picture of the desperate activities of locked-in
people: activities, such as self harm, from which they must be protected.
“If you can make something deadly you probably will”. But
some people have the antidote love to focus on. Graham Lake, for whom
“sleep is sweet when I dream of you,” has a message within
the message in his poem My Secret and Michael
Caine’s Dedicated to Eileen, written
in rhyming couplets, celebrates the love he has received from someone
who has treated him like a son.
Some of the writing takes poetry as the subject. The strongly rhymed
Basically (Anon) champions directness - cutting
to the chase - in communication: “Metaphor is not my whore……I
prefer my words to show, to burn, /To ignite”. Addicted
by Joseph Garry is a visually expressive poem before you even start with
its meaning. He skilfully sustains the metaphor of poet as junkie, addicted
to his craft, no matter what journeys of pain it takes him on:
She is my puppeteer.
She pulls my strings
Leads me into dark places.
Although The Last Goodbye (Anon) is about
loss and grief, it is also distinguished by its sensuous detail: the territory
of effective writing:
my hand piercing through the little
milk bottle tops as I picked it out of its shell,
my father’s hand turning silver trout in the frying pan.
The vividness of the recollection accentuates the sense of loss. My
First Encounter with Nature (Anon) has a similar visual reality.
This selection of writing, harrowing as much of it is, also has humour.
Describing the squalid conditions and edgy characters of the Temple
of Celestial Thieves, Alan Hall draws humour from the situation:
“It was an open house full of shabby, middle class trappings, urine
soaked tramps and ranting schizophrenics; I felt instantly at home.”
As does Redwood, the owner who has named himself after a tree: “You
can be a new lama in my lamasery. Ha!” I really wanted to read on…
Claudius – Crossing the River (Anon)
also made me smile. The writer has made use of a single location to evoke
two linked occurrences and also celebrated the skill of the under-dog
in outwitting the masters in this account of scrap-dealing during the
Roman occupation of Britain.
Peter Alger’s Life Experiences contain
humour and pathos: “me and my mum made a Humpty Dumpty Easter egg
for a competition out of a boiled egg and paper and glitter but the egg
never made it to the school because I ate it on the way.” We laugh
at the writer giving in to the temptation of the egg but it’s sad
too because the inability to defer gratification means that the chance
to win the competition has been lost. And the seven stories which record
memorable life experiences such as birthday parties and sports days also
map the gradual movement from mainstream education to a school “what
was for disabled people”. And this is sad, not because of the change
of school but because the writer has identified himself as “disabled”
– a word we’re trying kick out.
One of the poems, From a Prisoner’s Window
(Anon) gives the exhibition its name. This is a fine poem, its subject
closely observed: “iron-grasp feet to bleak branch /sits a rigid
blackbird” and succinctly expressed – every word earns its
keep as part of the whole. The idea is simple enough: from behind his
grill a prisoner watches a bird that has the freedom he has forfeited.
Yet the image, “safety net of sky” presents quite a complex
idea because we associate the sky with flight and freedom whereas safety
nets save us from the pull to earth created by gravity. But the writer
has combined the two ideas and the implication is that the freedom of
the sky makes us safe, as long as we can fly free of the “deadfall”.
Like the art, photography and three-dimensional work the writing in Safety
Net of Sky deals with the big issues. We are all imprisoned by
something; some of us are aware of it – some of us are not. If you’re
lucky you will see the Tic-Tac-Tree through the bars.
artwork brings back memories
and helps us reflect,
they create these images
to gain respect,
the colours and style
convey an emotion,
they make you feel good
like a magic potion! ***
*Art, Photography and Three-dimensional Work dealt with in .
** Arthur Koestler (1905-1983) was a political prisoner in the Spanish
Civil War and World War Two. He wrote a classic prison novel: Darkness
***Group chorus from Frame of Mind, a rap
written by the young curators in response to the exhibition, written as
part of a workshop with URBEATZ, a Liverpool-based Youth Culture and Media