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An Attic View By Elizabeth Sykes

I wrote this poem as part of a course about 18 months ago. The challenge was to base a poem on the view from the nearest window. Mine was a skylight. 


An Attic View

I treat windows as mirrors

I see only sky.

An open patch of grey on grey

The sound of blinding light

An arrow pointing right

Beside, around, above me.

It is a sign,

A godsent omen

Of the hollow empty feeling

The cabin in my chest.

How much of that is loneliness.

How much just me?

I fill it anyway I can

With birds and words and tea.

The sunken coffee smell

Connects me to you

With a white trail, a straight cloud scar

Slashed the cheek of silver in broken two.

When I was in my falsest form

I would fly the metal bird

Up high, cased in recycled air

My corpse against the window,

Aching to get out, be there.

Instead I watch from down below,

Reaping what some others sow.

My bones are aching but to grow.

Growth is the flying feeling.

Maggots

Katherine Carr is a speculative fiction writer from West Yorkshire. Currently, her time is split between managing her religion degree, being a member of The Writing Squad, and working on her novel about Northern, working-class kids trying to be the hero for once in an Arthurian meets Peaky Blinders adventure. This piece is from the start of a new project exploring the horrors of white feminism against the backdrop of dark academia.


 ‘This is going to be a pain to keep out of the papers,’ Jude said, hurling another mound of dirt onto my lukewarm body.

      This was not how I imagined my first front cover going. For a start, there would be a better buffet and a Mayfair hotel involved.  

       ‘Another thing to sort out,’ Tabitha said. ‘Saying that, all we really have to do is cry in the right places and the police will be none the wiser.’

        ‘You’ve lost it if you think that’ll work,’

         ‘Elise wasn’t exactly known for being particularly streetwise, so really this was only a matter of time-’

        How charming.

         ‘-Who’s more likely to have done it: us or a football lad that didn’t get his way? Just say she’s an angel who got her wings far too soon and you’ll see.’’

          The air and I soaked up her words. Jude’s gaze pierced through me before she turned and grabbed her shovel again.

           ‘We’ll see,’

          A harsh slam rattled through me.

          ‘Really?’

          ‘Look, I’ve seen enough idiots waving their money as if it can solve all the world’s problems for it to just blow up in their face. Just because you’re a Howard doesn’t make you any different.’

          The air seethed. Tabitha strode over, the dried blood on her Burberry sleeves cracking as she twined them amongst her fingers. She grabbed Jude’s wrist and squeezed.

        ‘Look at me.’

         Jude didn’t.

          ‘Look at me.’

          Finally, Tabitha’s cherry lips coiled into a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.

          ‘What are you without me, hm? Nothing. But trust me I am so much more regardless if you’re by my side or not, so get your act together because you’re use is finite and you need to make it last, trust me.’

        Jesus.

        Christ.

       I stood between them eating every twitch, lick, and blink they offered, starved of such good drama in a long time. God, all the things I could have made off this; the whole uni would have been at my door to taste fraction of what I’d seen! Now, it was just another secret between me and the dead.

   ‘Okay,’ Jude snapped her wrist away. ‘Just let’s get this over with. You’ve got a seminar at nine.’

     As the dull thud, thud, thud, returned to the air, I took a seat beside my grave and took in the morning night.

The Polar Bear (is Dead) Review

By Amy Winder

As the audience arrived to watch ‘The Polar Bear (is Dead)’ we were shown through to Wakefield Word Fest’s Enchanted Forest display. Lit in forest tones and bursting with art, it was the perfect atmosphere to relax in and appreciate, while we awaited a performance with the theme of the climate crisis threaded throughout.

The show, performed by Natalie Bellingham and Daniele Pennati and produced by SJ Watkinson was clearly made up by a group of people who know how to make the best of any situation. With Daniele performing from over in Italy, the show was crafted so that he could move between screens, backgrounds and costumes in a way which felt both natural and exciting.

Dressed as a polar bear, Natalie guided us through different aspects of the performance, from chats with Daniele as herself to passionate dancing as a polar bear, from questionable interpretations of the physiology of a giraffe to a recording of a chat with her mum. The whole thing was clever, witty and poignant.

It is a show that very easily could have felt like disconnected parts, but a strength of Natalie’s performance was she always made a point of including the audience in her performance, not only in her speeches to us, but also in her conversations with Daniele over zoom, and even in the text message conversation between the polar bear and Sudan the white rhino.

One of the lines in the show description is “Have you ever thought about what it means to lose something forever?” and, yes, this is a show about loss. It talks about grief, climate change and – ever present in the pandemic era – one of the performers is calling in on zoom. Even the fluffy polar bear costume head has an expression which might be described as mournful. And yet throughout, Natalie and Daniele maintain a sense of hope in the energy of the show. It’s filled with joy, energy and connection.

If you’re reading this on 27th October, you can still book your tickets for tonight’s shows here.

Currently-Untitled by Eliana Grundy

I wrote this currently-untitled piece as part of the LitFest workshop run by Nik Perring. We were asked to make a list of ‘What If’s and this piece came from “what if your heart could shatter and you were aware of it” – the characters themselves and their story have been sitting on an untouched Note in my phone for about three months, so this was a nice starting point.


She was not shocked when her heart splintered and broke into shards like a dropped glass on tiled floor. In all honesty, she’d been expecting it. What did surprise her was how painful it was to say goodbye afterwards. To rise from her seat and leave pieces of herself scattered on the surface of the table, the chair, the floor; even in her mostly empty coffee cup.

Leaving… shrugging on her coat and rummaging through her pockets and bag, looking for the phone she knew was in the back pocket of her jeans… it was delaying the inevitable. It was physically painful, like those little bits of her heart had embedded themselves in her skin like shrapnel. 

There was a wide, gaping hole in her chest and she didn’t know how her body hadn’t caved in yet. 

She shook herself, taking a deep, steeling breath before turning and showing herself out. Then closing the door behind her with a click – she would’ve laughed at how anticlimactic the sound was. She let herself drop then, sag back against the door and let out a single, harsh, jagged sob before pulling herself together and walking down the driveway. Not looking back. Leaving. For good. Leaving behind the remnants of her heart with the only person who had ever truly owned it.

forgive by olli watkins

The following poem, titled ‘forgive,’ is a poem I first wrote in my early teens, that I recently decided to revisit. I think in the time I’ve been away from the poem, my views on forgiveness as a whole have changed- I no longer think forgiveness is a necessity or a right, and I really wanted that viewpoint to be portrayed in the poem.

forgive


im just standing here in the rain,
small collections of molecules
sinking deep into my pores,
reminding me of could’ve-beens
and have-beens
and might’ve-beens.
all is not lost,
but all is certainly not forgiven.

im just standing by your doorstep,
trying to repent of my sins,
to purify the ground
and stop my own tyranny,
tyranny caused by you but
made by me.
all is not lost,
but all is certainly not forgiven.

im just sitting on the curb,
in some blind attempt to
make the downpour
wash away my wrong-doing,
allow salt to create equilibrium
and re-establish balance.
all is not lost,
but all is certainly not forgiven

im just sinking into the ground,
hard stones digging into my palms,
fresh blood spotting the pavement,
a reminder of my presence here
and wounds inflicted.
penance and mercy.
all is not lost, 
but all is certainly not forgiven.

Decoy Birds

Amy Winder is a writer (and wearer of many other hats) from Wakefield. In her day job, she puts her maths degree to great use as a freelance copywriter. She uses storytelling as a tool to explain or further understand complex concepts, and this is a recurring theme in her work. Amy produces a podcast series – Who Came Before –  in which guests explain the figures and stories from history which have inspired them in their work, hobbies, studies or other areas of their life.

The following piece of writing and commentary is based on Wakefield Museums display “A World Of Good” and was inspired by a workshop held in partnership between Wakefield Litfest and the museum.

I carved into wood a beacon for your attention. Shaped it fat and round; a bird full of meat. I made it perfect, intricate details far too fine for your distant eye. Hours of work went into distracting your attention. 

I acknowledge that a lot of that was pointless. I learnt from people who are more powerful than myself that it takes surprisingly little to manipulate a person. They have it down to an art; directing our squabbles towards each other. I can’t fight a giant, but I can best a poacher. 

Oh, my decoy birds are an art of their own! I paint their feathers with the finest of brushes, each barb highlighted in its own perfect colour. I make them tempting for you. You awful trophy hunters.

Yes, I am aware of the hours I spent on a single bird. Hours which could be utilised speaking up, explaining and listening. I could push for a bigger vision, for a better world. Yet I am focused on my garden, my safe haven for something small.

Still I wait, ready for the shot to ring out as you bullet homes in on my beautiful decoy bird. Your weapon serves as an alarm, so I can chase you down. 

I know that you, cruel poacher, do not live in the same world as me. Are you really in search of a trophy or are you only hungry? 

I cannot know. For the sake of my conscience I can only hope. I must do what I can where I can. And each decoy shot is at least another bird saved. Another nightingale left free to sing. 

I take action, and I can only hope others do the same. We cannot fight a giant on our own. 

The story of Waterton creating decoy birds so he could spot and chase off poachers is one that struck me as whimsical, noble and hypocritical all at the same time. A man who created taxidermied animals from other continents, Waterton didn’t seem to realise the striking similarities between his actions in South America and the actions of poachers on his land. Beyond that, privileged as he was, I don’t think Waterton – a wealthy naturalist, explorer and from a family who owned slave plantations – was the best judge of whether the poaching on his land was simply a blood sport or if it was an important source of food for people who were hungry. 

The creation of a nature reserve is an amazing thing. I believe that the preservation of wildlife and especially of creatures whose environment that we as humans have damaged, is a responsibility of humanity. However, I believe that there exists a lot of nuance in the actions of Waterton and of his poachers. 

Nuance is a word that I come back to quite a lot. It’s perhaps more important than ever in modern climate activism, where disabled people are losing the accessibility of plastic straws, where the rise of eco fashion means some people are struggling to afford second hand clothes, where public transport is impractical outside of major cities. Even at its most straightforward, sustainable options are often more expensive, more time consuming and less accessible than their alternatives. 

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try, simply that it’s important to acknowledge that having sustainable options is a privilege that not everyone shares. For me, that means while I am taking advantage of the sustainable choices I am able to make, I must also listen to and amplify the voices of those people who cannot afford to make the environment such a priority. Climate activism cannot exist in a vacuum and by making the structural, cultural and political changes necessary to empower people to participate, the journey towards a sustainable society can only be made faster. 

I don’t have access to the thought process of Waterton and he certainly didn’t have access to the myriad of resources, ideas and information that we do today. The UK’s first nature reserve is a great achievement, but still I cannot help but wonder what more Waterton could have achieved in union with his poachers. 

Book Review – Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You?

Toni Stephenson is a feminist and a historian, who is currently studying for masters in journalism at the University of Leeds. She is passionate about uncovering overlooked histories and drinking Yorkshire tea. She has been a volunteer researcher for the Forgotten Women of Wakefield project since 2018 focusing on researching Lady Catherine Milnes Gaskell in order to honour her achievements with a heritage blue plaque.

Here is a her review of Sally Rooney’s ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You?’


Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You? is Her Third Piece to Snapshot a Generation

It has been 18 months since the screen adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People entranced audiences worldwide with the electric relationship between Marianne and Connell. One pandemic later, Sally releases her third novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You?

Moving away from students who were previously protagonists in her novels, this book focuses on four characters in their 30s, finding their feet in their professional lives. Alice and Eileen are both in the literary industry. Drawing parallels with Rooney’s own life, Alice is a successful author whose novels have recently propelled her into the limelight. Alice’s best friend Eileen, on the other hand, is struggling to pay rent on her salary as editor of a local literary magazine. Their friend Simon sails through life in his white-collar office job, while Felix works shifts in a distribution centre. Through following the lives of these characters, BWWAY? promises to expand on themes of class, gender and capitalism previously explored in Rooney’s novels and lead us on a journey to find beauty in a world dictated by a toxic relationship with profit.

During a rare Q & A at London’s Southbank Centre on publication day, Rooney gave insight into why she tackles these themes. She revealed that as a socialist novelist she doesn’t input her beliefs and values into her books to convince anyone that they are correct, rather she does it to open the floor to discuss them. Our relationship with the planet, as its inhabitants, is also expected to be an overarching theme of the novel. In relation to privilege, Rooney discussed the ‘culture of convenience’ we as a ‘Western Society’ find ourselves in the centre of; where, for example, we can visit a supermarket at 3am and buy a bag of Doritos. To be in the percentage of the world’s population with access to this is undoubtedly a privilege but while this is convenient, is it necessary? And is the outcome we experience disproportionate to the damage that went into the delivery of such a convenience. Rooney also pointed out how little control consumers have over making significant change to this culture, which now seems engrained. Sure, we can all boycott going out for Doritos at 3am – every little helps – but until our environment is valued more than profit, change will likely be limited. It is these kinds of frustrations that Rooney so accurately articulates through her characters’ experiences in her novels, and why so many hail her the novelist of the young generation. However, when asked about how she writes in a way that Millennials and Gen Z resonate with, she jokingly admitted that she has no idea if readers will find the characters or situations relatable, as if her talent for this a pure gift.

There is no doubt that Rooney is a gifted writer, and her eloquence speaking on the issues of today such as shared rented housing, unsustainable consumer habits and the hierarchical classification of different categories of labour seemed unmatched with even the best politicians and scholars. Her dubbing as the quintessential millennial novelist, is no overstatement as she encapsulates the mood of the young generations and beautifully articulates our collective troubles and delights. As always, it is the development of love and friendships between the characters that deliver the beauty in Rooney’s novel BWWAY? It has already received rave reviews from critics and has been hailed Rooney’s best work yet. If her previous novels are anything to go by, this one is certainly worth a read.

Why Is Literature Important?

For our 2020 Zine, Elizabeth Sykes wrote about why literature is important to us as young people.

Why is literature important? That is a big question when starting a literature festival, and also a complicated question, because it seems as though everyone has different answers. Some people say that literature is a means for humans to understand the world around them, and fully comprehend different perspectives and ideas. Some say that literature is important as a creative outlet, for writers to find fulfilment through creation and process their own experiences. Others chime in and make the argument for literature as escapism, a space safe from reality where imaginations can run wild and one can forget about one’s own life for a little bit. Literature is all of those things. At Wakefield Litfest, we believe that literature is vitally important, as a tool to broaden our horizons and share our experiences, as well as being a source of entertainment and relaxation. Literature can do something for all of us, those who bury themselves in a hole of novels and poetry and only come out to grab snacks, to those who aren’t massive readers but are willing to learn more about the world around them. It is something that is everywhere, all the time, always available to consume and always open to discussion and interpretation. It makes up so much of what we consider to be our identities, that by examining, understanding, and celebrating literature, we are effectively examining, understanding, and celebrating ourselves.

But that’s all very vague. More importantly, why is literature important to us, the young people of Wakefield? We’re who Wakey Litfest is for, after all. Wakefield is often overlooked when it comes to the arts and culture, and therefore it’s doubly important to promote literature here, and showcase creativity that may not be seen otherwise. It is also relevant because we are in the north. A lot of mainstream representations of northerners are frustrating stereotypes, and developing a literature community in Wakefield enables us to share our stories in a place that doesn’t perpetuate the cliches so often seen in the media.

And, we also believe that it is important to engage young people in literature in particular, because in the modern world, there are so many pressures placed upon young people that creative pursuits can hopefully alleviate. We can offer fresh perspectives on the many and varied topics that impact us, and it is important that young people feel inspired to form the culture and society of tomorrow.

This year, Wakefield Litfest has given many young people the opportunity to explore and engage in all types of literature, from journalism to poetry to song writing, stretching the boundaries of what “literature” can actually mean. By talking to people who work in the arts through the workshops, more young people were introduced to careers and life paths that may have previously seemed closed to them, and the performance events meant that a platform was created for budding poets, song-writers and comedians to share their work and grow in confidence. The festival had its setbacks, but overall, it has opened many doors into literature, which it will hopefully keep doing for years to come.

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