Spark Catchers: The Matchgirls Festival

-1The match girls  and women of Bow in East London took strike action and marched  into Trade Union History  125 years ago to the day. They were mainly Irish immigrants.  The first Matchgirls Festival celebrates them.  The provenance of this inspiring festival  is the poem  Spark Catchers  (commissioned by Sara Weir of ODA) written on a transformer in  The Olympic Park  where it remains on a structurefor the next  100 years.  In 2012 the writer contacted  UNITE the union to inform them of the Olympic poem’s subject matter. 

This  is why The  Matchgirl Festival was born, through two workers at UNITE –  Catherine Whittaker and Stephen Rowlatt – who wre inspired to action. The Matchgirls factory is next to the olympic site. The call to write the poem was found by the writer  in the research of The Matchgirls Factory.  The writer  found   an article in support of the striking women  written by Annie Besant over one hundred years ago. At the end of her impassioned piece she said-1
“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.”

The arts, the olympics, the union, the poetry,  the community of  past present and future, the workers   are united in  Spark Catchers.  The writer attended Matchgirls The Musical and performed his poem there.  The accompanying brochure is classy. It includes everything about the musical and the festival and the union and the matchgirls and the players and the theatre companies and even the poem (by permission) is printed in its entirety: Nothing is spared an explanation except this provenance which is why the writer asked me to record it here..

2 thoughts on “Spark Catchers: The Matchgirls Festival

  1. This is just so lovely on so many levels. I love the idea of public poetry encapsulating a place and getting people to engage with it. Here in Japan at many temples there will often be a piece of poetry calligraphed (and sometimes pinned to a noticeboard) against this beautiful peaceful and natural setting and it’s such a calming thing. Also I really loved the depth of research and history that went into the poem – that gorgeous image of the ghostly leaping matchgirl and the link with the Olympic flame (was that just in my head?) – is it available to read online anywhere?

  2. Pingback: Poetry over politics: Lemn Sissay | Byron Writers Festival

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