The Wisdom of Words

While Sheffield may be more associated with steel than poetry, one event this Autumn has focused on poems inspired by the city. Throughout this October, the Off the Shelf literature festival has been holding almost 200 events across Sheffield to celebrate the diversity of language, song and rhyme.

Despite having the slightly unpoetic name, Sheffield Poems was an evening at the Banks Street Arts Centre that gave a platform for three poets who have produced work based upon their experiences and impressions of the city. The poets – Agnes Lehoczky, Helen Mort and Alan Payne – all have links to the local area.

Agnes Lehoczky and Alan Payne both moved to Sheffield from other countries; their poetry has explored the unique character of the city from the eyes of a new comer. The last poet of the three to perform at Sheffield Poems was Helen Mort who was born in the city, but has since moved away, and has wrote poetry about her memories of Sheffield. All three poets discussed their work and read extracts during the event.

Sheffield Poems was part of the Off the Shelf festival, which is held annually and celebrates all aspects of reading and writing. This is the 20th year the festival has been held. Attended by a large number of famous people, the festival holds events across the city ranging from writing workshops to lectures, children’s events to poetry readings. While the festival is organised by the city council a large number of organisations are involved including the University of Sheffield and the Student Union.

Some of the poetry covered during Sheffield Poems has been written specially for a project called Citybooks Sheffield. This is a scheme funded by the European Union, and is attempting to produce a unique portrait of Sheffield by a range of different artistic mediums.

Both Agnes Lehoczky and Helen Mort have written poetry for Citybooks Sheffield. The project is intended to generate artwork and writing that portrays the character of fifteen of Europe’s less well known cites

Five authors, a video artist and a photographer have been enrolled in the project to produce their artistic impressions of Sheffield.

Two of the authors and the photographer are locals to the city; and the others come from different areas of Europe, and will spend time in Sheffield before producing their contribution.

Each of the authors will write a ‘Citybook’ based upon their impressions of Sheffield. The citybooks can be written either in poetic or prose form, but Sheffield must be the major theme of the work.

Once completed the citybooks will be published in several formats, both digitally and in print; they will be available in English, French and Dutch. Agnes Lehoczky and Helen Mort read extracts from their citybooks at Sheffield Poems. The citybooks Sheffield project will run until the spring of 2012.

Agnes Lehoczky’s citybook is called Parasite of Town, and is a sequence of poems which explore the urban landscape of Sheffield from the eyes of an outsider. Her citybook is written in a prose poetry style. This is where a poem is written without line breaks, but reads like poetry.

Poetical techniques such as rhyme, repetition and heightened imagery are also used. The poem follows an unnamed narrator who is wandering through the streets of Sheffield discovering the city’s visible and unseen landscape and architecture.

God of the Gap is the citybook written by Helen Mort and is drawn from her childhood memories of Sheffield. The poem is a dream sequences exploring Sheffield by night, and combines both recollection and fantasy together. The narrator of the poem is moving through a city where all identify features have been removed, and is attempting to bring back the city’s familiarity.

The poem also takes elements inspired by the supernatural. Both citybooks mentioned were published this Summer.

She is currently the resident poet at the Wordsworth trust, an organisation funded by the Arts Council to support young writers, and is the youngest person to hold the post.

Dr Agnes Lehoczky works as a lecturer at the University of Sheffield and as a translator, alongside writing poetry. She was born in Budapest, and her first two collections of poems were published in Hungry. Since moving to the United Kingdom in 2002, she has also published poems written in English, and won awards for her writing.

She gained her PhD from the university of East Angela before moving to Sheffield. Dr Lehoczky currently teaches creative writing for the Masters course in the English department.

Her work has won prizes and she has published two poetry pamphlets.

The third poet to perform at Sheffield Poems was Alan Payne. He was born in the Caribbean and spent part of his childhood there before moving to Yorkshire. He worked as a primary school teacher in Sheffield, but has since retired to write poetry. His published work is based upon his experience of moving from the Caribbean to Yorkshire, reflecting and comparing both locations. The collection of poems begins in the Caribbean before moving location to Yorkshire and describes the change in culture and landscape.

While Sheffield Poems focused on poetry written about Sheffield there was a range of other events at Off the Shelf looking at other aspects of poetry.

The poet laureate Carol Ann Duffey appeared at the Union to discuss her work and the University of Sheffield’s Professor of Poetry, Simon Armitage, has been acting as a guest curator in this year’s festival.

“Part of my ambition as Professor of Poetry is to develop and strengthen literary links between the University and the city, and working with Off the Shelf is a perfect opportunity. I’ve been connected with the festival for several years now, from its modest beginnings to the major event that it has become,” he said.


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