Doncaster is currently hosting the first ever poetry exhibition in a commercial shopping space in the UK, possibly even the world (Google has yet to provide a final answer on this one so let’s go with it…WORLD!)
In February this year I was contacted by the Frenchgate Centre about a ‘dead space’ in the shopping centre. Rather than fill it with adverts, marketing manager Karen Staniforth wanted to create a space for local creatives. I put forward the vague idea of a poetry project and it quickly became apparent that it should be a space to celebrate and highlight the diversity of poets we have here in Doncaster.
As curator of These poets, our kin / These poems, our stories, I had to be mindful to showcase work which not only made best use of the space, but also connected with the thousands of Donny folk and commuters passing through the centre each and every day.
In 2013 a poem called ‘Doncaster’s Dignity’ by Paul Luke was installed in the foyer of Doncaster train station. The poem charts our town’s history, famous buildings and people. With this exhibition, I wanted the poems to work on an even more personal level. I wanted them to showcase what Donny poets are interested in, and what they are experiencing and writing about today. Which is why you will find a real range of poems, including a villanelle about Ed Balls on Strictly Come Dancing, a barista writing your name wrong on your coffee cup, being interrupted by a stranger at a bus stop, and a walk along a towpath in winter.
The poets selected show not only a difference in forms and concerns, but a range of ages, backgrounds, jobs and connections to the town. The youngest poet featured was 21 and the oldest 70. While the majority were born in Doncaster, some originate from Aberdeen, Detroit, and even Sri Lanka. These are poets who have jobs as diverse as nurses, social workers, primary teachers, events managers and computer operators. This information is included in the bios underneath every poem because I wanted to further deepen a connection with passers-by.
It was particularly exciting to feature the work of a range of young, emerging Doncaster poets, most of whom were new names to me. Iram Ahmed, Michele Beck, Josephine Bowerman, Ryan Madin, and Alfred Thananchayan are ones to watch out for!
The exhibition also highlights the healing effects of poetry by featuring a St. John’s Hospice project between patients and staff in palliative care. Despite it being one line, it really rings out: ‘In quiet stillness, think about the seasons of your life.’
As young poet, passionate about supporting others and just starting to build creative projects, seeing These Poets, Our Kin on the walls of the shopping centre in my home town, and seeing people stop to read, fills me with a great sense of pride, and a rush of excitement about what is possible. Poetry doesn’t just have to be hidden in books or for a select few. There is so much we can do. Also, an excitement that things are starting to change in Doncaster. I feel like this project has been the catalyst to bring young writers together and start many new conversations with each other and in wider creative spheres.
If you are a young Doncaster based writer and want to join the conversation, please do get in touch. I want to make this the beginning of the poetry revolution in Donny. Let’s get poems on walls all around the town. Do go and see how these poets carry this town around in their pens, minds and hearts. Take their words, carry them with you. Poems are currently being installed in between the bus and train station area of the Frenchgate for phase two of the project. Come and take a look soon!
These poets, our kin / These poems, our stories will be exhibited until September 2017. Phase One of the project is situated in the Frenchgate Centre between the food court and the escalators down to the train station. danryderpoet.com/thesepoetsourkin
Dan Ryder was born and grew up in Doncaster. In 2010 he left to study at Manchester Metropolitan University. After graduating in 2013, he spent time in two UNESCO Cities of Literature, Melbourne and Reykjavík respectively. In the summer of 2016 he returned to live in Doncaster. A recent graduate of the Manchester Writing School, Dan is social media manager for Doncopolitan. Website: www.danryderpoet.com
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Hive also runs Doncaster Young Writers group for 14 to 25s and lots of other opportunities for young writers in Doncaster 25 and under.