Friday, 3 January 2014

The Spike

This week I've been working on a poem for the Whittlesey Museum, as part of their Workhouse Exhibition.

Source
The workhouse at Whittlesey was built in 1874-5, and known locally as 'The Spike', probably as a reference to its large and imposing clock tower.

In my writer's brief, Whittlesey Museum asked me to reflect both the positive and negative aspects of workhouse life. With this in mind, I've used a villanelle structure - with its simple rhyme and repeating refrain - to highlight the complex nature of the workhouse as an institution that offered support to the poor, but also took away many of their freedoms.

The Spike

This is the Paupers' Palace. Last resort
For those who worked their lives upon the Fen.
A means of comfort, shelter and support.

When all else is explored and come to nought –
The message goes out to the Union Men.
This is the Paupers' Palace. Last resort.

And to the Spike the destitute are brought;
Their souls are mended, faith restored again.
A means of comfort, shelter and support.

In desperation, penniless and caught
Between the jaws of want, and only then!
This is the Paupers' Palace. Last resort.

Though liberty is curbed, we can report
The Spike has saved the lives of many men.
A means of comfort, shelter and support.

When hope is all but lost, and safety sought,
There's room and board out there, upon the Fen.
This is the Paupers' Palace. Last resort.
A means of comfort, shelter and support.

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