As the first poet commissioned to write a poem for The Olympic site 2012 through Winning Words I would like to share with you how it came about. The part of the winning words commission which my poem centred upon is written in the “introduction to the context of the winning words poetry programme” where it says the new commission should relate directly to the site and history of the area. Less than three hundred metres from the London 2012 Olympic stadium is the Bryant and May match factory. It is now part of The Bow Quarter and has been transformed into luxury apartments.
Known as The Match Girls, the Bryant and May workers toiled under harsh and unforgiving conditions. The most well known condition of working there was “Phossy jaw, formally phosphorus necrosis of the jaw, an occupational disease of those who work with white phosphorus, also known as yellow phosphorus,”. But this was not why the women and teenage girls went on the first unorganized strike in 1888 and wrote themselves into Trade Union history. The strike was due to a sacking.The further I investigated the original east end matchmakers the more interesting it became.
In my mind these east end women working with matches, with fire, were forging some connection with the Olympic flame. They had fire. But I needed more. Annie Besant a suffragette of the time took up their cause and wrote an article in support of their independent action. The article was entitled “White Slavery In London”. I found the reason to write my poem in the last paragraph of that campaigning article written one hundred and twenty one years ago Besant wrote “Failing a poet to hold up their conduct to the execration of posterity, enshrined in deathless verse, let us strive to touch their consciences, i.e. their pockets, and let us at least avoid being “partakers of their sins,” by abstaining from using their commodities.”
I am proud that my poem “Spark Catchers” upholds these women on the 100th anniversary of International Womens Day I am proud that this poem amongst two others I wrote will be placed on a structure that will stand long after The Olympic Games has passed. Here's an excerpt
The greatest threat to their lives was a spark
The sulferuous spite filled spit of diablo
So they became spark catchers. Strike.