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National Poetry Day 2022

Written by Isobel Lobo, 6th October 2022

To celebrate National Poetry Day 2022, The Reader has created a new poetry anthology exploring this year's theme, The Environment. Prompted by this theme, we've also taken some time to reflect on our 'Making Meaning' project here at Calderstones. 

Last year The Reader received funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund for ‘Making Meaning at Calderstones’ – a two-year project that will help uncover and tell the stories of Calderstones as a significant place of meaning-making. Though a lot of the historical research and heritage activity focuses on The Mansion House and surrounding park, the project aims to impart the stories we uncover and the literature we use during the project throughout The Reader's Shared Reading movement. The Reader's Founder, Jane Davis, explains:

‘Heritage is a process of finding connection, belonging and meaning through stories of people and place. For The Reader, this also involves discovering stories from literature and people’s reading lives through time –which are an invaluable resource to help us understand ourselves, each other and our past better. By sharing the unique stories of Calderstones’ past, we’ll capture imaginations, ignite curiosities and encourage communities to create new stories for the future –ensuring heritage lives and breathes in all our lives.’

As part of our heritage project, we’ve worked with several cultural identity groups in Liverpool to uncover previously untold histories and celebrate the unique natural and cultural heritage of the trees of Calderstones Park.

Another aspect of the project is 'Branching Out,' our new natural heritage and wellbeing course wherethrough an imaginative mix of nature, reading and crafts, we have explored all aspects of the park's natural heritage from the insect life on the ground to the birds in the sky and everything in between. We've also held seed-planting workshops with our community in the garden of Calderstones Mansion House.

At the heart of all our heritage activity is the belief in the power of great literature and its ability to help us understand ourselves, each other and the world around us better. So, at all of our events and workshops, we have read together, sharing poetry by Carol Ann Duffy, William Wordsworth, Jason Allen-Paisant, R.S. Thomas, Seamus Heaney, Li Qingzhao, Kathleen Jamie and William Blake, to name just a few. Reading poetry at these varied events has added an extra dimension and deepened the participants’ experience of the natural heritage around us. Recent feedback shows that 96% of participants felt that taking part in the events made them feel better, while 86% said it helped them to connect with others in a deeper way. One participant said the event had given her ‘a greater love for what’s on my doorstep and nature in the UK’.

National Poetry Day and its theme of Environment has prompted reflection on the strand of our meaning-making project which is tied to natural heritage. We’ve gathered together some of the poems shared in this heritage work into an anthology for Reader volunteers to use in their Shared Reading groups around the country, in the belief they will inspire equally rewarding thoughts, feelings and discussion on National Poetry Day and throughout the year. Below, staff members involved in delivering the project consider their experiences of bringing literature into thinking about our communal natural heritage:

‘This project has highlighted to me the healing power of nature and poetry. Discovering new things, both in the park and in the literature has had a visibly positive effect on the people taking part in this project, especially as many were just starting to broaden their horizons after extended shielding during Covid 19. Key moments that stand out to me are a woman sharing her family history in a seed planting workshop, looking back to the past whilst preparing the garden for the future, and the exhilaration felt by a group of elders, who, thanks to the trust built up whilst we spent time in nature, read and found meaning in a poem where the language at first seemed intimidating.’

- The Reader's Heritage Co-ordinator

‘Supporting the project by seeking out great poems which connect to a very specific part of our natural environment – the majestic Allerton Oak in Calderstones Park (Quercus Petraea, the Irish Oak), or an insect hovering over a flower border – has given me a fresh appreciation of both poem and subject. It was quite an emotional experience, watching the bees on the lavender this summer, and thinking of Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Virgil’s Bees’, thinking of the Roman poet Virgil long ago watching that same sight, hearing that same sound. The power of birdsong too, to heal and move us – as R.S. Thomas says:

‘loading each phrase

With history’s overtones, love, joy

And grief …’

Nature connects us, and these poems remind us of those connections, and also of the urgency of our responsibility to make sure future generations can experience the same consolation.’

- The Reader's Literature in Heritage Co-ordinator

For all Reader volunteers, a link to the anthology can be found on the Online Community Hub.

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