I am pleased to announce my poem ‘Ruth’ was ‘highly commended’ in the Coventry Positive Images Peace Festival Poetry Competition 2018 with the theme ‘Safe Places’. The prize giving was held on Saturday 10 November at the Hope Centre in Hillfields. I must admit I was nervous in the build up to this event last week; being an unpaid writer at the moment, I rely on winning or being acknowledged in competitions in order to give myself a boost to carry on writing. It is a vital ego-massage that makes the hours at my computer worthwhile.
My poem ‘Ruth’ was inspired by the British actor Ruth Sheen’s voice in the film ‘Another Year’ (2010). The poem is not about the film, nor is it about Ruth Sheen herself; I was just mesmerized by her voice, which was so calm and clear. The first thing that occurred to me was the unusual healing capacity of that voice and the effect it had on me. Then I started to think about what that symbolized for me; what I found remarkable about this quality in the vocal tone was that even when the words being spoken were factual or unremarkable, the undertone was remarkable and purposeful. This is why I chose the analogy of a bell; full of clarity and beauty but practical, with a communicative purpose. Ruth stayed with me and I knew I had to get her onto paper.
The identity I gave to Ruth was a matriarch at the centre of a deprived community, who has a solution for everything. I placed her in an estate where crime is rife as I thought this would be a good contrast to the safe place that she represents.
On writing the poem, I have realised how much meaning I had invested into this: I love the nurturing nature of this character Ruth and I feel certain in my conviction that we need more people like her in vulnerable communities to provide succour to young people in trouble. I feel certain and with conviction that an inter-generational dialogue can be useful – older generations have so much to learn from younger generations and vice versa. Knife crime is on the rise in some cities in this country and Ruth represents the flip-side of the hatred represented by a knife; kindness, compassion and understanding. Most importantly though, she listens without interrupting and without condescending judgement.
Personally, I cannot claim to have first-hand experience of living at the heart of a community with high crime levels or where we have experienced any knife crime, but I live in a city with high levels of deprivation and as such I have granted myself permission to use my voice as a writer to talk about social deprivation. I feel that there is a lot of healing to be done in some of our communities.
I hope you like ‘Ruth’ too:
You don’t know this, but
your voice; part marble, part bell,
is what they come home for;
your boys, their friends
They think your voice
comes from underneath
the deep underbelly of the earth’s core.
With the quality of every healer that ever lived
East London. Estuary.
They actually think that
your voice is a surge of water
hugging the Thames.
First there’s the hearing, then there’s the imagining;
That your words say something practical, factual,
then, that your words are an antidote
That your words are a bandage or a cool drink
You can’t do anything about the knives
But you can fix the wounds, deftly, and without fuss
On the hottest of summer days,
those boys, when you take their coats and get their tea,
when you say hello.
Well, you’re not really saying hello are you?
You’re not really saying the market is closed today
You’re not really asking them how their day was
In conversations mostly about practical matters,
you may not know it but you offer refuge. Whatever you say,
you might as well have put a blanket round those boys
Offered them amnesty
They think it is your house that is a sanctuary, but it’s you.
You are the safe place