Washing Lines

St. George’s Tredegar, July 4th

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My grandmother was born and raised in Tredegar, not far from these flats. I was happy to return to the town of her (and my) birth for a poetry workshop.

Artists Heather Parnell and David Mackie asked me to come and work with some of the residents to talk about washing lines as part of a larger project they are doing to solve issues of refuse collection and the drying of clothes.

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A lively group of women came. I could have listened to their stories about washing, drying, connecting and loss all day.

We read Seamus Heaney’s poem from ‘Clearances:’

The cool that came off sheets just off the line
Made me think the damp must still be in them.

We also enjoyed using the following poems for inspiration:  ‘Love Calls us to the Things of this World’ by Richard Wilbur, ‘Arrival 1946’ by Moniza Alvi,  ‘The Line’ by Maura Dooley, and of course Gillian Clarke’s ‘Six Bells – 20th June, 1960.

This is a tight community and it was a pleasure to hear them talk with excitement, wisdom, hilarity and deep emotion on the never ending task of keeping clothes clean. I created a series of poems (without having to do much crafting, since the women spoke so rhythmically and vividly) and these will be printed onto tea towels; an apt metaphor for community, woman’s work, pleasure, toil, domesticity. Here’s one:

Underground

for thirty five years—my husband.

When the nappies were no longer needed

I sewed them together, made one big towel,

all squares and the best money could buy;

he’d bring it home pit-brown and his clothes

shaken and soaked overnight and shaken

and soaked and wrung out and empty

and washed and dried and ironed

and dirtied. My father trapped underground

in the fifties and Six Bells sadness. The past

and present; the clothes look alive. 

My father’s jacket on the back

of the door, has kept his shape.

 

 

I felt close to my grandmother today, remembered how she’d wash sheets in the bath, have me stomp on them as if I was trampling wine from grapes. How she’d wrap the sheets around the taps and squeeze, hoist them into the sky with the pole. I still hear that flap, and the feel of those sheets as we slipped under layers of blankets.

Looking forward to seeing the ladies’ words on tea towels and having a cup of tea with them again. I’m very grateful to be able to meet such people.

 

Some links on Washing Lines:

Book of poems about washing lines

If she hung out black bras she was fooling around

Film by Jenni Steele

 

 

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