Through July and August we ran a series of three creative writing workshops led by creative writing practitioner Michelle Crowther, as part of the Heritage Lottery funded Victorian Blogging project. Six pamphlets were chosen to provide inspiration for participants to write their own poems or short stories and some of the participants have kindly allowed us to share their work. This is the first of three blog posts about the workshops.
Thomas Paine, Common Sense
Beginning with Thomas Paine’s Common Sense written in 1776, the participants explored Paine’s early life and sought to make connections between his childhood and the man he became. A short story was created during the workshop entitled Accusative, which drew on Paine’s childhood poem about a crow and imagined Paine as a school boy cornered by three bullies. The story ends with the young Tom Paine taking out his frustrations with the bullies on a noisy crow.
Here lies the body of John Crow,
Who once was high, but now is low;
Ye brother Crows take warning all,
For as you rise, so must you fall.
– Thomas Paine, aged 8 years old
Ernestine Rose, A Lecture on Woman’s Rights
The next pamphlet was Ernestine Rose’s A Lecture on Woman’s Rights written in 1851 and addressing topics of suffrage, property ownership, self-governance and financial freedom. Rose’s childhood in Poland and her enterprising, independent spirit provided much inspiration for the writers. With a spray of rose water to provide a sensory stimulus, the following poem was written by Elizabeth about Ernestine’s career manufacturing room deodorizers.
When I drop rose petals into water
I am simmering and distilling them,
they will not flush or even turn to pink.
I make up this delicate decoction
only to hide from you the husband smell,
the fusty rule of men, lording over
all and in the very place where you dwell.
Not many know the myriads uses,
the applications of miracle balms,
the calming tonics to make the mind bloom
in cobwebbed corners of the spousal tomb.
Soon, ladies, if you wish for potency
and agency within your marriage vow,
come, taste the touch of freedom on your skin.
Let me list the ways rose petal water
will lift you from your groggy, wedded haze:
it will revive you in your daily life,
make you the true ruler in your house
from morn ‘til noon and night, the trousered wife,
spritz or spray his flagrant, manly foulness,
give your twitching nose a new found prowess.
Enrich your senses with this scented flask
and all I ask? Please buy and buy again.
Let me woo you with my sonorous speech –
Secure your bottle of sweet liberty;
help me beat men at their odorous game,
let’s tirelessly plot a fragrance coup –
brewing rosy futures in blossom stew.
– The Sweet Smell, Elizabeth Uter
Elizabeth wrote a second poem inspired by Ernestine Rose, focusing on the ethical ideals Rose held from a very young age and her bravery in questioning God and becoming an atheist. The poem is built around phrases taken directly from biographical information about Ernestine Rose provided in the inspiration packs created by Michelle Crowther.
A restless, rebel child at five.
I’d be tarred and feathered
if I were a man,
curiously alive with questions,
firing whispers in the ears
of a God, who fails to answer,
dancing on the edge of blasphemy.
My belief in bible fallen by the way.
And now the older me, unheeding
on so many stages, on great occasions
unshawled before the public gaze,
And there are vicars of the male persuasion,
hurling vile abuse at me from lips
curling on devilishly, dervishing words,
a woman, daring to speak up on
liberties and rights to say and do
as they, the menfolk do.
– Unequal to the Task? Elizabeth Uter