Sheffield Libraries and Poet in the City bring a rich menu of poetry, language, film and local stories

One of the many things we are all missing at the moment is the simple pleasure of sitting down with friends to share a meal and exchange stories.

Poets Kayo Chingonyi, Joe Kriss and Rachel Bower who are taking part in Sheffield Libraries' Digesting History event. (Smart Banda)
Poets Kayo Chingonyi, Joe Kriss and Rachel Bower who are taking part in Sheffield Libraries' Digesting History event. (Smart Banda)

The good news is that an innovative and inclusive digital event from Sheffield Libraries, with food and storytelling at its heart, aims to fill that gap.

Produced by Poet in the City, one of the UK’s leading poetry organisations, and in partnership with the British Library, Digesting History takes place next week.

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The fabulous large-scale online cultural get-together was originally intended as a live event, an Anglo-Saxon inspired immersive feast with poetry readings delivered between courses. Audiences are now invited to join a digital dining table from their own homes and encouraged to share food while attending.

The evening will feature the premiere of a film by award-winning filmmaker Eelyn Lee, celebrating Sheffield’s communities and the efforts of Food Banks across the city and readings of new commissioned work by poets Rachel Bower, Kayo Chingonyi and Joe Kriss inspired by their response to the British Library’s 2018 exhibition Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word War.

“It was quite amazing – there was lots of gold, highly illustrated books, artefacts and swords and it was really interesting because we all saw different things in the exhibition,” says Bower.

"What I saw was all the people who were missing. You had to be really wealthy to have the kind of objects that were on display and there were very few that related to women, so I felt my job was to recuperate them. I thought about what it would have been like to be a woman at that time and about how we make histories.”

Each of the poets were assigned to a local branch library within the Sheffield district and worked with those communities. Bower was based at Highfield Library where she connected with the various groups associated with the library.

“Because it is also a Children’s Centre, people come there to access support services including midwives. There are lots of different groups run by the library such as reading groups, toddler groups, singing, home education and drawing – and I did a series of listening workshops, collecting local stories.”

Bower asked people the same three questions – what had been passed on to them, what they would like to pass on to others and what they wished had been passed on. “What I really wanted to do with this project was to listen to people’s stories and make sure they were told,” says Bower. “That’s what we do through the arts – we ensure people’s voices are heard.”

The past year has demonstrated just how important the arts are to people’s health and wellbeing and Bower feels they will have a crucial role in what happens next.

“I have seen the solace that the arts provide and I think they will play a key part in helping people to heal, move forward and make sense of what has been happening. Libraries are also vital in that respect; both are under pressure now, so it is really important that we advocate for them.”

Digesting History, February 25, 8pm. To book visit www. poetinthecity.co.uk