THE IDEA: for this outdoor event emerged from a conversation with artist and arts administrator Peter Stark in which Peter said that he had sometimes thought about "setting up a stall in a local marker to sell poetry by weight". We decided to do this for real.
Left Starkies Stall being erected
THE PROCESS : led by Wendy Harpe and often operating until the early hours of the morning, was both joyful and a marathon. The location was the Georgian house, a short walk from The Blackie - the home to both staff and volunteers - and with sizeable rooms suited to both work and play. In all, a team of some 40 adults and youngsters brought the event to life. Right the room set up as a 'sweet factory'.
The choice of poems - short poems, and extracts from poems and plays - was informed by Wendy's experience of promoting poets and poetry at the Bluecoat and at The Blackie, and by the experience (for both Wendy and Bill Harpe) of reading English Literature at University.
Selecting the poems was in itself a long complex business involving people - sometimes for the first time - reading antholgies and choosing excerpts they liked but at the same time ensuring ensuring that we had sufficient poems for each jar.
The poems were then typed out, and multiple copies printed using a Gestetner duplicator. Members of the production team became "cutters", cutting out individual poems to be folded into sweets. Other members of the team became "rollers", neatly folding the poems, rolling in waxed paper, and finally rolling, wrapping and twisting with coloured cellophane.
Above pictures showing the range of people who worked on the event from Blackie staff to young people and friends. From the top Howard Steel, Judy Bates (now Gough), Pam Williams, Rie Toft Hansen, Stephen Knox, and Edward Murphy. These pictures also illustrate the rolling process.
Something of the conviviality of this poetry factory can be gathered from members of the team also being described as "backing vocals", "vocal Harmony", "lighthearted fun", "moral supporter", "coffee machine", and "ciggy provider".
Above Eddie Tagoe singing while he rolls : Side view of the 'rolling machine being worked by Dave Lally
The factory was enlivened as the workers - to some of whom much of the poetry was familiar, and others to whom it was an entirely new experience - read aloud poems which they liked, or which puzzled them, and this was then followed by laughter and discussions. Sometimes it seemed as if this was one way in which poetry should be taught and celebrated.
Once the poems had become "sweets", they began to fill up traditional sweet jars with some 330 sweets to each jar. Each of the 25 sweet jars had its own specially created colourful display label to identify and promote the contents. The number of jars meant that approx 8,000 'sweets' were made.
Above Sally Morris and Wendy Harpe over-seeing the filling of jars : below some of the labels which were designed for the jars
Below some of the jars with their labels
A weighing machine was obtained and experiments carried out to determine the average number of sweets (usually 13) to each specially decorated and printed paper bag ("Starkie's Stall, The Last Word In Sweets"). A pricing policy was adopted and a sign created, "10 grms for 2p".
Meanwhile other members of the team designed, created, and tested the market stall, and organised transport. Rotas and timetables were prepared for the day of the launch. Starkie's Stall was ready to take to the streets, and to do so without any advance promotion or publicity.
Above and left Paul Savage, Ray Williams and others creating the posters which would be part of the stall
THE PRODUCT, Starkie's Stall, took to the streets, or more specifically to Liverpool's Mathew Street on Sunday 5 June - home to the Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream, and Pun, to the Mathew Street Festival, to the Second Jung Festival, and over the Bank Holiday weekend of the nation-wide celebrations of the Queen's Silver Jubilee.
Above the stall being erected by Steve Bennett and Kevin MacBride and some of the posters on it.
On display at the Stall were traditional sweet jars with hand painted labels which read :- Nursery Rhymes ; Early English ; Shakespeare ; Beat Poems ; African ; All Sorts ; Contemporary ; Death ; Irish ; Liverpool ; Love Poems ; Pattern ; Metaphysical ; Religious ; Smiles ; Songs ; Zany ; Augustans ; Surrealists; Romantics; and 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries.
Some labels included additional words, such as "Long Lasting, Still The Best" for Shakespeare; others left customers to discover or guess the contents for themselves, for example in the 'Patterns' jar the 'sweets' contained concrete poetry.
Above Jude Gough and Dave Ward selling 'sweets' and Janet Rowan and Julie Quarless weighing 'sweets' both pictures show the jars clearly visible in the background.
The stall opened at a quarter past one. There was an hourly rota which ensured that the stall was always staffed and that the staffing included both adults and young people. For most of the afternoon there was a queue of people buying 'sweets'.
Above in order Jude Gough and Dave Ward : Howard Steel: Frank Pike and Julie Quarless: Vivi Mitts and Janet Rowan selling 'sweets' The first picture shows Liverpool poet Roger McGough buying 'sweets' from the Liverpool jar and Liverpool poet Dave Ward manning the stall.
The Stall and the street came to life as passers-by were curious, bought sweets, opened and read them, and then shared the poems with other people in the street.
Above people sharing and reading poems.
Not all of Blackie events produced this kind of statistical commentary but this one certainly did.
Size of bags (they came in 2 sizes) 6" and 7"
Number of bags to start 600
Number of bags left 231
Number of bags used 369
Number of sweets per jar 330
Number of sweets per bag 13
Number of bags per jar approx 29
Number of jars at start 25
Number of jars left 12.5
Categories of jars : and how many of each jar were left.
jars at start jars at end
Nursery Rhymes: 2 3/4
Beat Poems 1 1/8
Death 1 1/8
Irish 1 0
Liverpool 1 1/2 0
African 1 1/4 1/8
Love Poems 1 0
Patterns 1 1/2
Religious 1 3/4
Smiles 1 1/2 1/4
Zany 1 1/2 1/2
All Sorts 1 1/2
Early English: 1 3/4
Shakespeare 2 1/8
Metaphysicals 1 1/2
17th Century 1 3/4
18th Century 1 3/4
Contemporary 2 1 3/4
There were also 16th Century (1 jar) 19th century (1 jar) 20th Century (1 jar) Augustans (1 jar) Surrealists (1 1/2 jars) and Romantics (1 3/4jars) but without details of how much was left.
Organised by Wendy Harpe and assisted by Steve Bennett; Martin Brems; Alison Eason; Bill Harpe; Rie Toft Hansen; Simon Holland; Marlouke Jacobs; David Lally; Vivi Mitts; Kevin Mack (Radio Doom); Sally Morris; Ed Murphy; Frank Pike; Julie Quarless; Janet Rowan; Michelle Russell; Paul Savage; Ramon Serrano; Sandra Serrano; Stevie Smith; Don Spencer; Howard Steel; Eddie Tagoe; Phillip Tagoe; Dorothy Williams; Jayotis Williams; Pam Willaims; Ray Williams; Dave Ward; Freda Ward; Kay Woolner.
Eddie Barker (Sweet jars and Transport); Dave Rickus (M.P.A.C) (Transport); Mr Rushby of Barker and Dobsons (5 rolls of sweet Foil) and of course to Peter Stark for the idea