Archive for the ‘festival’ Category

Beyond the headlines; the poetic stories away from the news.   Leave a comment

After being invited to produce flood poems in conjunction with the Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2007, poet Brenda Read-Brown gathered stories from victims of the 2007 floods to perform at the festival and latterly at the Ledbury Poetry Festival 2008. Many of her poems are narratives of stories that didn’t hit the news headlines. She spoke to different people within society, from musicians, emergency services and micro-communities, to collate the wider events before, during and after the flood.

As stated by the poet during her Ledbury performance (see below), the poems “aren’t works of great art, but what I have tried to do is to capture the different voices of the people involved”. Her poems focus directly on people’s flood stories, giving them centre stage instead of indirectly communicating them like much of literature and poems do, requiring a great deal of interpretation.

Each poem narrates a different story which she collated during her research. In all, there are ten stories that have been formed into poems. Many of the stories reflect themes similar to those of previous blog posts and interviews. These include:

  • Realisation of the weather

At first, standing outside, it seemed quite funny,
To get wetter, and wetter and still wetter,
But then the penny dropped:
The weather wasn’t getting better.

                Poem 1 – The Violins Played On

  • Power of the water and watery sense of place

But then came the two-point attack!
As if the hills had tipped their load –
A wall of water crossed the road;

Poem 2 – Salvage

  • Community spirit and resilience

When the power went off in Priors Park
The dark was defeated by candles that glimmered
On people all seated at tables outside, drinking wine,
While under the water the car roofs shimmered.

Poem 4 – Priors Park

 

And everyone, all different, landed
Together by chance, stayed cheerful, didn’t complain.

Poem 5 – Blitzed

  • The process of recovery

Back in business; trading;
With nothing but a watermark six feet high
And twenty thousand books, marinading

Poem 2 – Salvage

And I put my memories in a skip,
As if my life was washed away;
All the little things I knew so well

Poem 9 – Flushed Away

  • Lesson from memories

And if the waters come again next year?
Well, now we will know just what to expect.
We’ve learned – from life, not books – to pay nature due respect.

Poem 2 – Salvage

  • Looking at floods in a wider context

I must be grateful, though – I can escape,
Walk up an alley, get away from here,
Whenever it really gets me down.
In Bangladesh it happens every year,
And people drown.

Poem 9 – Washed Away

The poems also tell of something not yet covered on this blog: the stories of the emergency services. For example, one thing that is raised in poems 7 and 10 is the willingness to continue rescuing people despite feeling exhausted, with many of these emergency services personnel running on just adrenaline:

And said I’d had a little sleep;
When, with the water six feet deep,
I spent eight days in an undrugged high,
Buzzing with adrenaline, getting by
With nothing but nerves and colleagues for support

Poem 7 – Unbelievable

During the flood there was little time to take stock and gather memories; looking back on the event itself the emergency service personnel have vivid memories:

Other memories abound:
In exhilarating action, not just desk-bound;
Challenged by the need for ever-changing plans;
Humbled by the gratitude of every man
And woman that I met;
I won’t forget
The backdrop beat and thump of generators;
Rescue vessels sliding up town streets
Like alligators in a mangrove swamp;
The aerial view: not what we knew – instead
It was the Gloucestershire Delta, Terry said.

Poem 10 – Instead

The poems go further and describe the shear effort, not just from Gloucestershire personnel, but from emergency services further afield. Poem 10 is set at the M5 Strensham Services, and describes an emergency service HQ and even an ‘emergency service community’. This shows that communities are formed in many guises and for different time-frames, but these communities have similarities to a ‘victim’s community’; resilience, spirit and help.

Poems are another way for memories to be maintained and remembered as they are fixed memories in books and online. Much like ‘The Caravan’ these memories are now conceptualised in art and accessible to everyone. On top of this, with the themes described above future readers will see the full scope of living through a flood event and not just the narrow view the media portrayed.

Furthermore, do examples like poetry just analysed have the potential to educate people, especially children, through geography? This is discussed by Eleanor Rawling in the Teaching Geography Journal, in which she describes three poets and their ‘sense of place’ along the River Severn. Rawling argues in her article ‘The Severn was brown and the Severn was blue’ – A place for poetry in school geography?, that as geography is becoming more about ‘sense of place’ poetry can help students realise their own ‘sense of place’. She suggest that previously, geography

“has not done enough to help young people reflect on the way their own lives are intertwined with the places and landscapes they inhabit, or to introduce them to more personal responses to place.”

(Rawling, 2010: 93)

Rawling argues that the poems she quotes in her article are not only geographically correct but also show the poets’ interconnection with the river. These poems are an example of the reviving of a phenomenological approach to place. This as approach, Rawling suggests, would improve the students’ awareness of and connection with the natural environment. In mainstream geography teaching, the students are constantly discouraged from emotive engagement with the topics on the curriculum. Recent theory developments in geography, however, indicate that emotions are a central to understanding much of what geography is about, including landscape, spatial behaviour, and attitudes towards the environment.

Rawling sees Philip Gross’ Betweenland poems as summarising:

“the intense mystery of the river environment, complete with geographically accurate observations and poetic definitions of well-known features – the estuary is like ‘a battered pewter hearing trumpet amplifying distance’; the catchment is ‘a sort of shelf’, ‘a notional line within which nothing is alien to the river’.”

(Ibid.)

These emotive feelings can emphasis the stats that students are given and can even be more important than bare ‘facts’ themselves. Flood memories are a prime example of emotive interconnections between people and their social and ecological environments.

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The Caravan – flood memories condensed   1 comment

It is widely known that many people whose homes were flooded had to live in caravans for many months while their houses were being dried and repaired. While caravans usually evoke a sense of holidays and summer trips, they turned out to be challenging for day-to-day living, in particular during the winter, due to very confined space, no insulation, unreliable plumbing and kitchen equipment, and various other constraints. Even a year after the 2007 floods in Gloucestershire, some families were still living in caravans.

During this time, East Anglia based theatre company Look Left Look Right developed a play based on interviews with victims of the 2007 floods. It was called ‘The Caravan’ and is set – suitably – inside a caravan. This does not mean that they re-created a caravan on stage – rather, a real caravan was used, as both the stage and the audience’s seating. Four actors and a maximum of eight spectators were crammed into the confined space of the caravan, rehearsing voices and emotions of those flooded and – more or less successfully – dealing with the aftermath.

Having won an award at the Edinburgh Festival in 2008, The Caravan performed in London and then on a tour throughout the country. Reviews of the show can be found in the Guardian (review and blog), the Birmingham Post, and the British Theatre Guide, among others. One of the places it visited was Tewkesbury, itself most severely affected by the 2007 flood.

Tewkesbury residents who told us about their visit to a performance of The Caravan all found it very stimulating. What resonates more with the experience of being forced to abandon one’s flooded home, than a re-enactment of other flood victim’s thoughts, worries and activities in a caravan?

The Caravan must have contributed immensely to raising awareness of the struggles of flood victims, and to keeping that awareness alive after the mass media attention has vanished. Perhaps theatre productions like this one provide a valuable help for developing flood memories and building community resilience to flooding in the future?

A reminder or the bookend of an historic event?   Leave a comment

Exactly a year after the floods in Tewkesbury, the town held an event known as ‘Over The Rainbow’ on 20th July 2008. The aim of the event was to positively showcase the town after the negativity portrayed about Tewkesbury during the floods. A variety of activities were put on including fireworks and concerts, but more importantly the activity that was held in highest regard was the holding of hands around The Abbey.

This event attracted the media (see above) and even included a BBC report.

The start of the BBC report highlights ‘Tewkesbury back in business’ which is the tagline reproduced by the Tewkesbury based PR company Vivid who promoted the event. The tagline could have been ‘everyone back home’ focusing on the social recovery of the floods, but this event focuses on the economic recovery of the town. This could be to make tourists aware that Tewkesbury is up and running again after the floods. This is where the positive state of the event is used to possibly entice the tourists back.

Yet the social aspect of the town is shown in the iconic image of this event is the holding of hands.

                                       

The holding of hands was to signify the community resilience during and after the floods by creating a human border around The Abbey at the extent that the floods reached. The common misconception during disasters is that the victims are shocked to the point where they don’t react. This show of agency allows people to see that the residents of this town are not passive victims, but totally the opposite. There are stories which further highlight the active nature of the people in the town. Thus, the Over the Rainbow gesture served to portray Tewkesbury residents as active and joined up in the face of adversity.

However, this event has only run once. Was this event a ritual marker to the end of the 2007 flood? As this event has only run once, Over The Rainbow can be perceived as marking the end of the floods and flood recovery. These events can be used to put an ‘official end’ in the minds of the community. So does this mean that Tewkesbury has moved on and even possibly forgotten the floods? Are memories – and awareness – of floods being suppressed by marking the end of flooding in such a way? Or does the celebration of community resilience, and being back in business quickly after a devastating event, foster lasting memories?

Such an unusual event is likely to be remembered for the rest of victim’s lives but not necessarily in the forefront of their mind, and possibly deliberately forgotten. Despite the act of suppressing a negative memory, certain factors can re-spark these memories such as the date – 20th July – the level of the river, the force of the rain, or photographs. However most people don’t dwell on such memories in order to move on, which is possibly why such a significant event such as Over The Rainbow was held only once. Over The Rainbow can be viewed as the last structured reminder of the 2007 floods thus a bookend in this unique time in Tewkesbury history. If it were to be organized more regularly, on the other hand, it would perhaps add to the above list of reminders of the floods – and probably keep alive both flood risk awareness and a sense of community resilience to floods.