I taught my first Singing My Mother's Song Poetry Workshop this Weekend at Tribe of Doris Festival, here in the U.K
The workshop included a ritual and ceremony in which we called in someone who had passed, this person could have been known by us or someone we knew of.
We then created poetry, around the theme of journeys,informed and inspired by this person, by what is real and what is imagined.
It was so very moving, so opening, so very very special.
‘My mother’s song at some point in history was All Things Bright and Beautiful, or Kumbaya or Cross Over The Road My Friend. It would have been her sat at the piano, in the hall of my primary school, playing hymns while the children sang. It was always a weird thing having her as a teacher at my school, because I was naughty.
In a white working class area that became a hub for migration, she was a pioneer for changing the curriculum into something multicultural. While she was married to my father, who was Jamaican, she could understand a Jamaican accent, which was a really big thing for some of the parents of the children who had just arrived. She always talked about his one woman who cried in the classroom during the 1960’s because my mum was the first teacher to understand her.’
- Hannah Lowe, London, Poet
Just arrived to The Hurst, for a residential week of writing with the Arvon Foundation. The glorious poet Hannah Lowe is teaching...she’s also doing some editing on my Singing My Mother’s Song manuscript in a couple of months, so I thought it best I learn as much as I can from her...a whole six days, to immerse, create and bring this book into being. Let the words begin
Part of this incredible project led me to the immense Johannesburg, where I was writer in residence at Wits University and I had the pleasure of teaching creative writing workshops to some amazing humans.
Back in the U.K, I’m so excited to be at this year’s, ‘Tribe of Doris Festival’ facilitating a one off, specialised Singing My Mother’s Song Poetry Workshop.
This workshop will look at ancestry and creative writing as a means to express our individual stories.
This is Anna Higgie
Anna is a glorious illustrator who works for loads of really swanky magazines, musicians, writers and such.
We met at Shambala festival and it’s been love ever since.
Anna illustrated my first two books and I am excited to say, she has just finished the front cover for ‘Singing My Mother’s Song.’
It’s stunning. Simple yet so loaded with story. You’ll have to wait to see it though....
‘My mother was an incredibly shy woman, she barely spoke, although I would catch her singing to herself in the kitchen or when a few of us were gathered around the table. She would drink a schnapps and sing strange songs from her youth and Swedish musicals. She had a great voice, she should have been in a choir, but she was too afraid to fail.’ - Berit Lindfeldt, Artist, Gothenburg
My mother’s songs are love songs. Especially the 80’s kind. She really liked Boyz || Men.
I was born in South Africa during the apartheid. I had been left on the street and was found and placed in a children’s home. I was adopted by a Swedish woman. We all lived in South Africa for a while but now I am here.
My mother always taught me to smile with the heart. Love. That’s her song.
-Carl Forsman, Stockholm, Falafel King
‘What is my mother's song? Who my mother is in my head has changed so much...it feels like a jukebox in there, in which a bunch of inpatient people keep changing the track and everyone is arguing over what tune it really is.
There was lots of 80s R n B and Soul growing up. My musical taste is still so informed by that. I listen to it and it reminds me of her, my mother.
At the time I didn’t always like it, but it’s interesting how I can build a connection with my mother through hindsight, and even if we didn’t get to enjoy it together then, develop a new relationship through it now.’ - Vanessa Kisuule, Bristol, Poet
‘My mother’s song holds complexity. She grew up in Miranda de Alba, Spain, and lived a life of comfort for her first seven years on this earth.
There are differing stories as to why they fled when they did and became immigrants... my grandfather spoke of being on an execution list because of his work forging documents for the resistance movement against Franco.
They arrived in Hereford and brought a barn without a roof and my mother and her four, soon to be five, siblings lived in a tent for a year. There was this sudden descent into poverty then.
When they were in the same place my grandmother would lead a song called 'Mis Sardinitas' (My little Sardines). I think that’s what they stood for when in unison, the improvised and earthy togetherness of family. That’s my mother’s song.’- Jonathan Biggs, Permitting Officer for the Environment Agency.
I keep a small amount of her ashes in this box that she brought back from Malawi for me when I was small. The rest are in a nourishing bluebell wood just outside of Bristol.
We interspersed her funeral celebration with a number of songs which feel like hers to me. But if I had to choose it would be Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes. It's the song we committed her body to at the crematorium, although she was definitely not in the coffin. I remember feeling that she was dancing around the room.- Abbie Hastings, Musician, Bristol
My mother’s name was V, short for Vimal. It is a Sannyasin name that she was given by Osho. Before that she was called Monica, but I wasn't born then.
My mother would sometimes listen to Heart Fm, she was very emotional. She would hear 80s songs on the radio and cry....get obsessed with certain records and play them over and over. She was a very challenging woman but when someone dies you start to resolve the things you couldn’t before.
When she was in hospital I forgave her. I never really understood what forgiveness was until then. When someone is dying everything shrivels into perspective and you want them to go in peace. At her funeral us three siblings chose a song each. Mine was Coming Around Again by Carly Simon for the line 'don't mind if I fall apart, there's more room in a broken heart,' which is just like her. - Arvind Howarth, senior technical instructor to journalism students at UWE.
Spring sunshine, coffee and writing. ‘Singing My Mother’s Song’ finds a tiny mouth, the page finds the pen and I try make sense of a trillion moments. Writing is a mix between slack and soften, between furious urgency and self induced stop-signs. For every hour of writing there are all the minutes spent dreaming another lifetime into being, and then words-light as ash-burn whole nebula onto paper. Or something like that... it’s more both awkward and vital all at once
‘Both our mother’s songs were silence, we just didn’t have music when we were growing up. We meet when I was 18 and Pascalino was 19. My mother banned me from seeing him as he was from a different place to us; a village two miles away. He would cycle everyday to see me. We married anyway. Age twenty we brought a radio, there we all kinds of songs then. Pascalino is 87 now, he still climbs olive trees and works on the land.’ - Mimina Sabetta, Italy, Grandma
‘My Mother’s Song is ‘Blue’ by Joni Mitchell. My mother was a hippie. She’d tell us about walking down Carnaby Street in the 60’s, wearing these blue, suede platform shoes. She was a flower child. I feel like that song has influenced my musical taste in that I always look for female folk musicians who are top-notch, if they are saccharine and flimsy, I’m not into it. ‘Blue’ takes me back to being a kid in Vienna. My family unit was tight, we moved around a lot. We didn't have close friends because we were transient, so we stuck together. That song feels like the backdrop to that time. The album my mother carried with us her whole life.’- Anna Higgie, Illustrtor for Singing My Mother's Song.
So... this happened. I think it’s been the absolute high note of the project so far. During the autumn last year I hired a genealogist so to trace some of my family avenues.... and I managed to find my mums two cousins, both in the uk, both as ecstatic as a party popper to hear from me. Mum has not seen them since age seven when she went into the orphanage. She is seventy five this year, that is 68 years! 68 years of air, and swallowed mouths, and whispered histories. Today they meet for the first time, both sides of the family forgotten....until an inquisitive daughter came along with a hunger for gaps and sellotape. This afternoon, for six hours I felt like I was hanging out with three little girls in wrinkly suits, all giddy and giggling. ‘Real family,’ my mama said, holding them against her like another heart.
‘My mother’s song is an old Pakistani song. It’s represented by so many layers. On one hand she grew up on the outskirts of Islamabad, in this beautiful, lush village, yet when she went back capitalism had taken over. Buildings had gone up, nature disappeared, her family had gone. She had me and my four brothers in London. We grew up on an estate with one of the highest murder rates in all of the U.K. She didn't have language or friends, just five children. My mother’s song represents trust...that I will always be there and as a single mother look after you. Sometimes I ask her do you ever want to go back? She says, “No, home isn't what it once was. It’s changed. My children are my home now.”’ - Saima Shah, Education Advisor
Yesterday Mum asked me what my mother’s song was. It really caught me by surprise. Many people have turned that question around and I have been lost for words...perhaps by the time I have written the book my answer will change. Maybe our mother’s songs will always shift and ebb. Sound different in a variety of moments, at varied points along the way.
My mother’s song is something strong and soft all at once. Something that has been through grit, yet is compassionate, and kind, and never forgets to find beauty amongst the disregarded.
Right now my mother’s song is a power ballad. Tina turner style, glittery dress, all mouth and teeth, belted out at the top of your lungs.
Back from South Africa and into the arms of Mama T. A welcome home dinner, wine and sunshine. I asked her what she thought of the journey so far. She said, ‘This is something I did when I was your age. I went to Cape Town and would look at strangers and think I wonder if any of these are my relatives. I never dreamt then I would have a daughter who would be there too. Im so excited that we can find out more about our background, our heritage. You are brave Rebecca, you have adventure running through your blood.’ - Mama Tantony