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Words and Voices Roadshow for the Resonate Festival

During September, the theme for the University of Warwick’s year-long Resonate Festival for Coventry’s City of Culture year was Words and Voices. The Connecting Cultures GRP was responsible for organising the month’s events, and we are delighted to share with you here our reflections and thoughts on what were a fun packed and thought-provoking series of weekends, made all the more special as these were some of the first Resonate Festival events to be held in person since the festival began back in May.

Poetry in the City – Sunday 5th September:

Our first Words and Voices event was all about poetry, asking ‘Where does poetry take you?’, ‘How can a poem unlock your city’s past, present and future?’ and ‘How do you tell your stories through poetry?’. Through workshops and performances, we celebrated our love of poetry, and created spaces and opportunities for the people attending to read, listen to poetry, and write poetry.

The first half of our event at the Assembly Festival Gardens was a series of workshops up in the Treehouse which explored the poetry of Coventry, bringing together local poets with staff and students from the University of Warwick in a relaxed session. We heard about George Eliot’s poems about the Coventry canal, listened to Cathy Galvin’s ode to the Coventry ring road, explored eco-poetry and got acquainted with new poetry specially commissioned as part of our City of Culture year. Warwick staff from the department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, PGR students, and local poet Kim Hackleman delivered these sessions.

Slam in the City

In the evening our ‘Slam in the City’ on the Piccolo stage saw staff, students, alumni, and local poets perform their own work (as well as the work of some famous Coventry poets) and we got a sneak preview from two of the poets from the BBC’s Contains Strong Language poetry festival, Siana Bangura and Sujana Crawford. Alongside poetry performance on a range of themes, from identity to the environment, we heard about the work on poets and poems that researchers at the university have been doing, asking questions such as ‘Can poetry empower and bring communities together?’ and ‘How does poetry come to the fore at important moments in history?’. 67 people enjoyed the evening and feedback called for more poetry-focused events from the university in the future!

Ultimately, the real success of our poetry events for Words and Voices events was in the new collaborative relationships that were formed around their delivery. The workshops and poetry slam involved 8 members of staff across two of our three faculties, PGR, PGT, and undergraduate students, 3 Warwick alumni, 13 local freelance artists/poets and 1 local arts organisations.

Everyone attending these free events for the Resonate Festival received a limited edition ‘Poetry Pocket’, produced by our partners Theatre Absolute, full of goodies to encourage everyone to give poetry writing a go, which featured the work of 5 local photographers and two local poets. We also invited people to submit the poems they created through the Poetry Pocket to the Words and Voices poetry writing competition, to be awarded later in the autumn.

Emma Mason speaks at a poetry workshop in the Treehouse at the Assembly Festival Garden

Poets perform at Slam in the City

Languages and cultures of Coventry's twinned cities

Languages and Life Stories of Coventry - Sunday 19th September

Connecting Cultures GRP returned, in association with Coventry: City of Languages group and staff and students from the Warwick School of Modern Languages and Cultures to the Assembly Festival Gardens, to run a second Sunday of activities focused around two major themes: the languages and life stories of Coventry.

From 11am in the Treehouse space of the Assembly Festival Gardens, adults and children of all ages could get stuck into a series of interactive displays and games reflecting on the many languages spoken in Coventry.

This began with Latin – as the Warwick Classics Network ‘Romans in Coventry’ project explored what Roman Coventry was like 2000 years ago.

Students from the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, who had won funding from the Undergraduate Research Scholarships Scheme (URSS) to work on Public Engagement projects for the event, ran a series of fab games looking at the different languages spoken today in Coventry, how different ideas (and animal noises) could be translated between languages, and helped kids create their own language slogan t-shirts and acrostic language poems, as well as engage in some food tasting and a relaxed game of pétanque.

Across the way in the Piccolo theatre tent, we also had a series of talks from University of Warwick academics on themes such as the languages and cultures of the twinned cities of Coventry (all 26 of them), the 90+ languages spoken in Coventry today (English, Punjabi, Polish, Gujarati, Urdu, Arabic as the top 6!), and the latest research into Coventry’s changing accent (it’s not getting worse as some have claimed!). And to show how language learning really is for everyone, we even learnt Chinese (well at least some!) in 40 minutes. Our audience then settled down to enjoy a series of short films curated around different life stories in Coventry.

Back in the Treehouse we also focused in on the life stories of those living in Coventry past and present.

Participants could learn to weave while hearing about Coventry’s weaving heritage, build an origami house while finding out more about the Home Truths project, and listen to fascinating workshop discussions about experiences of life in Coventry from different perspectives.

The Colonial Hangover workshop in particular, looking at the hangovers of Empire in our locality, caught the imagination (and satisfied the appetite with their delicious samosas), as did the Alternative Trails workshop on the experiences of South Asian women activists in Coventry, culminating in an inspiring giddha dance session that had us all on our feet, before ending the day on the sobering note of stories of racism in Coventry past and present (led by the Four Writers collective and based on their book, Racist Tones).

An acrostic poem image created by two children

Photo of the Learn Chinese in 40 minutes session at the languages and life stories event

A total of 19 members of University staff, nine University students and three collaborators from other universities (not to mention the number of dancers who joined in for the giddha!) collaborated with nine different Coventry Community groups to host this event, which was attended across the day by over 540 people from 8-80 (and the 80 year olds were dancing too!).

Attendees left a huge range of positive feedback about the event. It was, as one participant put it, a ‘life-affirming’ event, bringing ‘academia and the political and social lifeworlds of Coventry together’ – just as it should be!

Words and Voices Organisers:

Helen Wheatley, Michael Scott, Cath Lambert and Kate Astbury