Kevin Cadwallender was appointed as the poet to work on this scheme. He brought in poet Gary Boswell to read poems for a day in the Barrow Co-op. Below is a report of Gary's experience, followed by Kevin's overall account of the project and one of his poems.
In November 1998, All Write!, the new reading and writing development agency for Cumbria were given a grant from the Poetry Places scheme to fund a poet to work both on a writing project in schools and in a Co-op shop.
Undoubtedly the highlight was the lunchtime rush at the Late Shop in Harrel Lane (as manager Mr. Turnbull had predicted) when some forty or so schoolchildren mingled with regulars to form the sort of queue it is easy to perform comic poems to. I concentrated on those featured in the BBC book on which the nation is voting and even risked my own inclusion despite the use of rival supermarket. I prefaced it with a local headline DUCKS DECIDE CO-OP IS KOSHER which seemed to get me off the hook. If the reaction in Barrow is anything to go by, Wendy Cope will win or Pam Ayres or Victoria Wood. Only Spike Mulligan of the male comic poets tried raised much of a titter. I got the looks of disdain as one might expect from those having their daily lunchtime ritual shop assaulted but largely was tolerated and several looked quizzically at what might be something they'd like to see happen again. There were thank yous too, mainly from those who had actually found the poems funny and someone commented that it had brightened her day the way Children in Need day did. Someone rather profoundly said 'every day is poetry day' but this person wasn't smiling and proceeded to buy a packet of Extra Strong Mints.
It was heartening to see youngsters poems adorning the walls as I arrived (although these were a little small and tucked away) but the poetry place is obviously working. I'm not sure supermarkets are an ideal place as people are quite intent on concentrating on their shopping and see the poetry as a bit of an intrusion but it worked at the checkout and to the lunchtime queue. And I'd have liked to have tried it over the tannoy but they never had one. Ah well.
The people of Cumbria are a warm and friendly bunch who never ceased to amaze me with their hospitality and interest in the lunatic offcomer reading poems in their Co-Op. I hope there are more community-based placements like this one as it was a new and refreshing experience to expose your poetry in public and not to have it ignored. Poetry can exist in any atmosphere given the open-mindedness and willingness of people to try something new. Of course some people probably thought it was a waste of time and money but they probably spent more time talking about poetry in saying that than at any time in their lives. Which has to be good for poetry and good for people.
Oddly enough I would have liked to have done more evening readings. Perhaps to Writers Groups across Cumbria and to have taken local poets out into the community with me. This I realise would have been too heavy a workload as the school sessions took a lot of preparation. However I believe that if the school sessions were rearranged to shorter hours over more days this would be possible. Generally felt the entire placement was a success in that the public perception of poetry was altered for a few seconds at those check outs and involved the community in an art form that is often elitist and thought to be out of their reach.
Dad said that Indian Prince was the best tea ever,
Dad said that if Indian Prince had been a soldier
it would have won the Victoria Cross and lived.
Dad said if Indian Prince had been a footballer
it would have been Stanley Matthews, Alan Shearer
Pele and Michael Owen all rolled into one,
Dad said if Indian Prince hadn't of been a packet of tea
it probably would have become a Prime Minister.
Dad said that if Indian Prince had been a squirrel
it would have developed opposing thumbs and
developed its own civilisation.
Dad said that if Indian Prince had been an explorer
it would have circumnavigated the world
single handedly, twice.
Dad said that Indian Prince was better than all the
teacups in China.
Dad said the best way to make tea, son is
to go to the Co-op, buy a packet of Indian Prince,
sit in front of the telly and get someone else to
make it for you!
Dad said that if Indian Prince had been a popstar
it would have been Elvis Presley or the Beatles or
The artist formerly known as a canny cuppa!
Dad said too much about tea.
When Dad died, Mam bought PG tips
and the man in the Co-op said,
I drink Indian Prince and I'll tell you why,
Because Indian Prince is the Lord of the Leaves,
Indian Prince is the Maharajah of Char,
If Indian Prince hadn't of been a packet
of tea I would have settled down and
had children with it.
He was as daft as my Dad!
My luv is like a brown, brown brew
that tastes as good e'en when it's stewed
I am the product of decades of tea drinkers,
I have measured out my life in teaspoons.
My ancestors are all as straight as tea bags
But I prefer coffee.
If Indian Prince had been my Father
it would be spinning in its grave.