Storying Sheffield

Isha Jain: Sheffield from a poetic view – at the amphitheatre

Sheffield jars every narrative carefully; it tends to every identity. Its stories extend to all societal, geographical and poetic borders.

Spiralling back to Sheffield’s poetic borders, Someone told me that poetry is arduous. What they meant was that it is hard to accomplish, in the sense that it is difficult to write poetry. To that, I remember saying a loud, annoyed “No.” Well, maybe I am oblivious of the laws of poetry. But I think writing a poem is the most liberating way to express yourself.

The only tool you need is courage to say words from your heart and I guarantee it will mean something. Maybe it won’t resemble the patterns of a Sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning or the softness of a Ghazal by Mirza Ghalib. But if it meant something to you, it would mean something universally. That is the point of art, its limitations itself are freeing. And I personally think that if you can catch that, then you are a poet as well as an artist.

Though, this is not what I was thinking of on a Tuesday morning entering the second week of September where every day felt the same, because we were still in a lockdown. One of the first things I had in my list of tasks that day was finding my way to the amphitheater, where everyone from the Learn for Life organisation was going to meet for the next meeting. The second thing I had in the list was attending an online recital of the Bhagavad Purana, a Sanskrit sacred writing in Hinduism.

I had packed my tote bag and walked past the reflective waters of the Rill fountain, through the Sheffield train station, crossed the tram stand and found my way to a pile of tall never-ending staircases that led me to the amphitheater. Only three people had arrived then, the patch of bright grass in the center of the amphitheater was heavily sprouting with a thousand little daisies that looked like settled snow. Somehow it is easier to imagine Sheffield’s meads brimming with snow rather than flowers.

We found Gill and Hayley walking towards us about five minutes later. They always have a peculiar, very welcoming kind of smile on their faces whenever they are spotted walking towards us. So, when they do arrive, many people follow after that, especially Mark in his sailor’s hat. Anne had turned up as well. I was very happy that everyone was there. So, inevitably we had to climb the staircase that heaps up on the right side of the theatre. Even though I had seen that view many times before, reaching the top of the amphitheater somehow still managed to amaze me.

There is something about looking at the busy, city side of Sheffield. The trains passing, silver buildings standing tall and red brick houses enfolding in themselves. Yet finally, at the edge of my eyes, I could see those layers of hills: Sheffield’s horizon overwhelmed with the hills that look like a dormant alligator deep in its olive sleep. We stood there for a few minutes, sharing complete silence, and in awe of this; we were together. It was a rare sunny day and there was barely any wind. Sheffield looked serene.

Gill was unsurprisingly the first to break that silence, but in a good way. There was a better task ahead of us. Some of us had climbed down to the lower staircase, and others had remained in their original place. Gill wandered to the center and like always, initiated a completely unrelated conversation out of her memory storybook. She told us tales of her years teaching poetry to students at Hallam, gave us advice on opening ourselves to the idea of writing and finally, made a joke about being from Manchester. Only three volunteers had understood that, clearly no one else was a Northerner.

We were then distributed a blank sheet of paper and somehow after asking around, we had managed to find a pen each. Thankfully I had a notebook to use as an advocate for writing on a thin A4 sheet. Gill had an activity prepared, something she was very excited about. I agree that the task was an interesting one: we were supposed to write a poem on Sheffield.

Every volunteer was supposed to work alongside a student to help them write. The person allocated to me was Yordanos who had only recently settled in Sheffield. She was a sweet lady but very introverted. Like any non-writer, she felt apprehensive about the idea of writing. She was also a beginner in learning the English language, so it was an intimidating idea for her. I remember looking around and realising that everyone else had been assigned quite fluent speakers, it was worrying me even further and I was not sure if we could come up with any poem at all.

I had asked Yordanos what she liked about Sheffield, and at first, she did not respond to me. So, I shared what I liked about the city and then I bored her with uninteresting features of my life. Despite the language barrier, my keenness to communicate melted her into talking to me. Then the sun had nodded in support and shone far away, lighting up only a hill at the corner of our view. It looked so heavenly, especially because the remainder of the city had suddenly turned grey. Yordanos at that point had interrupted her first English words of the day to say, “I think I like the trees and the peaks.”

This was what gave me the idea to write down our conversation into a poem. Yet upon asking her further questions, she said she liked almost everything and anything about Sheffield. I could not disagree with her, I did as well. Still, we needed more words for our poetry.

I suggested we could write about what we see, and right in front of us, we saw the platform. Trains had been passing by us all day. Their sound reminded me of the history of the industrial north. I remember sharing that Sheffield is known as the Steel City. Benjamin Huntsman was a clockmaker from nearby Handsworth and he had invented a new production method for crucible steel. So since the 19th century, it has been world-renowned for its production of steel. This had seemed extremely fascinating to Yordanos. Knowing that it was barely her sixth month here, I was proud to share some fun facts.

Time was up, we had noted words down and by now she had learned new spellings. She was pleased with her participation in writing the poem, it was 90% of her contribution and I was equally happy. The day had ended for us in our rhythmic bubbles, and somehow Yordanos had escaped my company right after. I do not remember her bidding me a goodbye, and I have not seen her since. But she sparked the idea of expressing simply. Simplicity, being one of the most overlooked aspects of writing.

I had emailed our poem to Gill later on in the evening, and then some parts of our poem were collaborated for a bigger project. Everyone had created art that day, it felt very much like meditation. We left with a rediscovered solace. I know you must be wondering what the poem was, so here you go. English language allows simplicity and so creation can be easy. If you have a basket of words with you, and some emotions tagged along, I am sure you can create a poem too. Just like Yordanos and I had managed to do.

A Poem by Yordanos and Isha:

I scrape the sky as it lands
on these waking hills.
The sun falls
onto Sheffield’s feet;
It becomes a flickering light.
I ask her, what about these
Windy trees trafficking and dancing in diversity?
She points at something far away.
“There are Trees and Peaks”
She tells me that she likes
“Anything and everything”

Listen, Yordanos
Come close and,
Hear Sheffield say,
“I am the sky and those trains
I am this timeless dream,
Don’t forget about the melting steel
and these green football fields.”
Now tell me something about this place?
She pauses and waits,
“I see many trains.
I like the people.
they’re respectful; And the view,
I find It very very beautiful.”