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From Chorus to Verse: Reimagining Quirkus

From Chorus to Verse: Reimagining Quirkus
By Lydia Allison – Young Poet in Residence at Darts – Doncaster Community Arts

Before visiting the exhibition I had an idea of the values of the Quirky Choir, but entering the space brought everything very much to life. Three walls covered in bright photographs, interspersed with ornate metal ‘Q’s which each made a different sound, layered with beautiful recordings of the choir singing as well.

It was joyful to move around the room and see the expressions of the choir at different points in the creative process. I hadn’t realised before that many of the songs were originals written by and for the choir themselves. Moving up to the mezzanine floor I settled in to watch the documentary. I found this especially moving and very inspirational.

The poet Ian McMillan plays a major role in the choir and the songwriting; I was particularly interested in his idea of the ‘drawer of memory’. He described how this can mean different things to different people, and how the choir collaborated to make this song.

When I enter a space like this I have two closely wound strands of thought: my own writing and workshop activities. The drawer of memory sparked both. I started by creating a guided meditation script which would take us away from the exhibition and towards an internal imaginative world.

Trialing this fantasy I surprised myself by having a clear idea about the look of the drawers, but a distinct lack of the looked-for thing.

“Nothing in that drawer except for flowered paper, its repeating pattern of heads and stems varied only at yellowing edges and corners with small folds or tears. I had been looking for something but I can’t now put my mind on it.”

When I ran the activity with the group I was interested by the multiple experiences of the imagined space being nightmarish, something I felt I was edging close to as well (perhaps this is the difference between a room of writers and a room of singers!) This fed into the development of my own piece. While memories can be held by objects or songs, they may similarly be lost. I decided to imply unreality and unease by using descriptions at odds with themselves.

“I’m becoming a person who scares me. Look at where I am: this tiny enormous room in an up-kept, decaying stately home end-terrace. The flat bay window looks out on a postage stamp garden stretching acres of hedge as far as I can see. The cheap drawers slide ply on ply, glide shut with a soft-close click.”

I have chosen to present this as a prose poem, partly to contrast the choir’s original, and partly to allow the reading to run-on, maintaining pace and that dreamlike, falling-through quality. I did choose, however, to echo some musical features by bringing back repetition of phrases at the end, as a sort of refrain.

“I had been looking. Sun on dust motes in the dead of this winter night. The flowered paper. Something gone.”

Memory is significant to the choir and to my personal reaction to the exhibition. Music and song can hold an extremely strong and comfortable (even stubborn) place in our memories. I surprise myself how many hundreds of lyrics I know by heart, just as soon as the music begins to play.

This has also been a starting point for my writing around the exhibition. I have tried to use music and lyrics in different ways, for instance, to add texture to a narrative and add to the setting.

“I was trying to tell you something. Love and Happiness hissing tinny from headphones turned up full”

Finally, although this exhibition lent itself to personal reflection and memory, a significant aspect for me was the feel of shared experience and community. I ran an activity with the group where we shared favourite lyrics and wrote a contrasting response to them. This allowed us to all take something significant or serious and play with the meaning, giving our own voices a place, still linked absolutely with our relationship to song.

“There are people I’ll remember
all my life, though some have changed.
There are others I’ll forget
through sheer effort. Gone, living
only in a corner of my mind. OK. Not
forgotten, just put away. A lyric
that that comes back to me
every time that music plays.”

For exhibition details, visit here

Lydia Allison is a Sheffield-born poet, writing facilitator and creative mentor. She is a graduate of the Manchester Writing School (MA) and the Writing Squad.  Her work had appeared both online and in print, including in Introduction X: The Poetry Business Book of New Poets, PN Review, Now Then, Ink Sweat & Tears, United Jotters, and PUSH. She enjoys a range of modern and contemporary writers. Her other favourite things in life are the Yorkshire countryside and cake for breakfast. Follow her on twitter @LydiarAllison

If you’re interested and an adult attending a group at Darts, let your group leader or Darts reception team know. Or look out for workshop announcements in the near future open to the public!

Part of the Hatch programme – Next steps for young writers in South Yorkshire. Supported by Darts (Doncaster Community Arts)