Poems to order
Many poets write poems to commission, and Brenda is no exception. But she has made a speciality of writing poems for individuals or small groups, often to mark a special occasion such as a wedding, anniversary, birthday or christening. Sometimes larger groups have asked for a crowd-sourced poem, for which many people contribute a line or two; Brenda combines and shapes these into a coherent whole that means a lot to the group concerned.
Brenda has written a number of poems to commission. Most notable of these was a project with Tewkesbury Town Band, who wanted to mark their 40th anniversary in a very special way. Brenda was commissioned to write the history of Tewkesbury, in poems, songs and prose, and the resulting words were set to music by a composer. The Images of Tewkesbury was performed in 2014, in Tewkesbury Abbey, by an augmented brass band, five choirs, some battle re-enactors, Brenda herself and the Town Crier.
Other commissions include work for the Cheltenham Literature Festival, notably for the Words on Walkabout event, 2001; about the floods of 2007; and for three schools’ singing projects. Brenda worked with Cheltenham Museum and Art Gallery, producing poems to go with exhibits, and also on a project to record the experiences of residents of two blocks of flats.
Brenda was also commissioned to write educational material about running school writing clubs, for the BBC Everybody Writes website, and a book of guidance, One Thousand Chances, to be used by nursery school staff in Birmingham.
Brenda has facilitated, compiled and shaped crowd-sourced poems for, among others:
Read and Connect volunteers in Stoke-on-Trent.
Patients at hospices.
Walsall ramblers group.
Walsall readers’ groups, at their convention
Walsall community group
The New Inn, Norton Lindsey, as part of a project run by Inn Crowd.
Libraries around the West Midlands
Bespoke poems for individuals
Brenda has always enjoyed writing poems for other people. In 2002, she wrote a poem about a pair of shoes worn by a member of the Cheltenham Literature Festival staff, and after this worked with the Festival writing poems for people in shoe shops, changing rooms, laundrettes, betting shops, on trains, and on the streets. She has continued this with other organisations including Ledbury Poetry Festival and libraries around the West Midlands.
Bespoke poems are written on the spot, following a conversation with the individual concerned. Recently Brenda has developed an online practice in writing bespoke poems. Typically this involves a phone call or a written questionnaire; Brenda writes the poem and returns it within a few days – at a very reasonable cost (£25-£50). If you would like a bespoke poem for yourself, or for anyone else, just use the contact form to get in touch.
The response to a bespoke poem can be quite remarkable. People are very often moved to tears – “good tears”, they say; often they will frame the poem and put it on a wall. But of course if the request is for a funny poem, Brenda can oblige.
A little story: A few years ago, a man came to service Brenda’s central heating boiler.
“You’re the poet, aren’t you?” he said.
“You don’t remember me, but you wrote a poem for me four years ago, in a laundrette…”
The man took a crumpled piece of paper from his wallet, with Brenda’s poem written on it. He had carried it round with him every day since it was written.
As Brenda says, having a poem written for you is a bit like being given a bunch of flowers by a stranger – it might not change your life, but it’s something you’ll remember for ever.
Since 2008, Brenda has worked with patients and carers (and staff) in Cheltenham Hospital Oncology Unit, writing poems for them as part of the Apollo project. She says that this is one of the most important things she does. It helps people look at their illness differently; it acts as an encouragement when things are difficult, and a memory for those people who have lost a loved one. Sometimes patients ask for a poem to be read at their own funerals, and Brenda takes these commissions more seriously than anything else – although nearly always, people say that the poem must make people laugh. Oncology Unit poems have been collected into 5 books; many new patients find it very helpful to read about the experiences of others.