English | Cymraeg

Jun 17, 2014

Bird in a Cage, Words on a Page by Mab Jones

Posted by: Louise Bowen

Bird in a Cage, Words on a Page

By Mab Jones

I came to the Bird in a Cage project not really knowing very much about the suffrage movement, despite having attended an all-girls school. To my great shame, I had never heard of Lady Rhondda. I had seen the film ‘Mary Poppins’, and enjoyed the song performed by the mother, apparently a suffragette, played by a very pretty and attractive blonde actress. None of the circumstances of events of the time were apparent in that (made by Walt Disney, so perhaps understandable). Women’s rights were pitifully few before the movement came about, and much changed after it. We take so many things for granted now, that were simply not allowed back then, and it was women like Lady Rhondda (Margaret Haig Mackworth) who made that happen. These amazing characters took history into their own hands, shook it up, made it listen... It was both humbling and inspiring to learn so much about their lives, and to add my own skills as a poet and workshop facilitator to help children create lyrics that then became their own original protest/suffrage song.

Many of the young people seemed as incredulous as myself that, not so very long ago, rights for women were extremely different, with half of our country’s inhabitants rather less free than they are now. I enjoyed the wide-eyed looks of amazement on the children as they learned about differences in lifestyle, then and now. Amy who runs Winding Snake, told me the hilarious story of one little girl in the prep sessions who was quite shocked at the thought of women once not being allowed to wear trousers. “What, not even jeggings?” she asked, dumbfounded. I focused a little on fashion in the sessions to lead into the topic of women’s rights. Not being able to wear trousers is a good start to this! Why couldn’t women wear trousers? What else couldn’t women do? This led to some very lively discussions and debate indeed, which everyone found fun as well as informative. The ‘bird in a cage’ concept was easily turned into words on a page, here.

Boys as well as girls seemed astounded by the differences of those days, although some boys tried to make a joke of it, in one session, saying they thought it was right that, once, women didn’t have the vote. This was the session which also included a very strong-minded group of girls, one of whom is a direct descendant of that most famous suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst! I felt that these boys were just trying to tease the extremely earnest girls, and very soon they calmed down and joined in with the activities, contributing their own words to the song lyrics same as everyone else. This was lovely to see. The teasing was obviously a joke. Things have really changed from what they were, and it is impossible from the finished lyrics to sense whether boys or girls wrote them. All the groups involved contributed something to the final words. All you can really tell is that the children, like me, were really inspired by these women. There’d be no jeggings-wearing without them, I guess! And that really comes across in the finished song.


About Mab:

Mab Jones has worked with people of all ages and abilities helping them discover the joy of creative writing, including for Literature Wales, Welsh National Opera, JW3 Arts Centre in London, at festivals, in schools, in prisons, and more. She is a performance poet and comic who is also Resident Poet in the National Botanic Garden of Wales. This year, she has two volumes of verse coming out, Welsh Wool, followed by Poor Queen, and is performing a show to Wales and London over the summer with fellow poet, Anthony Fairweather. She’ll also be at Edinburgh Festival in August, supporting television’s Phill Jupitus in his guise of Porky the Poet. “Absolutely brilliant” – The Guardian

http://www.mabjones.com/  http://bananamab.wordpress.com/ https://twitter.com/mabjones