Midlands poet recalls working in Birmingham archives

Last Wednesday, I heard Midlands poet Andy Green speak about his recently published book of poems These Notes are Out of Order, which he wrote in response to his experiences of working as a community outreach worker within the City of Birmingham's archives.  Andy's collection mixes poetry with archive material from local history sources and community memories. He talked of challenging official histories by unearthing fragments of the memories of those normally excluded from them, describing archives in one of the poems that he read as  'keys to lost cities where unheard voices wait to speak’. 

He openly admitted to the fragmentary nature of the material he discovered within the archives. He's created poems by combining different snippets of information in ways that are often absurd but which, read aloud, are also very funny. More seriously, they raise questions about the nature of storytelling and interpretation. In the 'untidiness' of the poems that he read there was a very real sense that, while you can marshal your material to make an argument, there is always an arbitrary element to this kind of collecting. Whose stories do the official accounts of Birmingham's history include, and whose do they leave out? Surely there are many histories to be told and it's difficult or even impossible to create a single linear narrative from them? 

Perhaps you might like to visit us and see if anything in our collections inspires your own creative writing? It's often tantalizing to see brief references to former staff or students in the School of Art's own minute books, or to catch a glimpse of the private lives of individuals living in earlier times, some of them well-known within the field of art education. You sometimes wonder what kind of lives they really led ....