A Place For Words: Communication and Articulation

At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, writers work with language. Writers spend time looking for exactly the right word for the right situation, worrying about the exact placing of a comma, because for writers finding the perfect way to convey an idea, a message, an emotion, is what they do. When UrbanWords first started to research the world of regeneration, architecture, planning and development, we realised the real complexities and difficulties that plague communication between the breadth of partners involved. Everyone is ostensibly speaking the same language, but the communication gaps are vast and deep in places.

Writers are well-placed to play a role here. We are not suggesting that they will become willing and infallible conduits of information and ideas, that they will seamlessly negotiate the different agendas and personalities involved. However, we do believe that because of their understanding of and skill in using language, a writer might be uniquely placed to find ways of communicating across these gaps. It might be they end up simply throwing the lack of communication into relief, making it visible and therefore impossible to ignore, and that at times might be enough.

We have talked already about the writer's ability to distil information, ideas and emotions into manageable and indeed beautiful forms. Working with a writer, and giving that writer the space and opportunity to create work that captures the essence of a time and a place, can result in writing that becomes a powerful and transportable currency. Excellent writing can change the way people see things. One example of this is work artists and designers Snug and Outdoor did with poet Chris Meade and young users of Maidenhead Council's mobile library. The resulting group poem, which is incorporated into the design of the library, reads:

I am the Breathtaker
a place where wonders
come out of words
I am an idea encourager
Homework helper
Snuggle down place,
The Brain Sparkler

The process of creating this poem allowed the children to articulate their relationship to the library and what they wanted it to provide. Even more significantly, the poem also ended up re-naming the library, which is now known officially as The Borough Breathtaker. The poem provided the local authority and the community with a portable language that became a powerful expressive and political tool and transformed not only how the library users viewed their service, but also how that service was viewed by the local authority.

Linda France – a poet who has worked on numerous public art and regeneration schemes – describes the wonderful blend of passion and detachment that a writer can achieve. Writers can stand both within and outside of a situation; can care and yet be objective enough to see the complexities and the connections of a situation. They are well placed as commentators and facilitators, as people with a specific way of looking at the relationship between people and place. Good writing is accessible writing, and a poem or story can speak to a fifteen year old living on a housing estate as well as a property developer as well as a local councillor. It can inspire, question; spark conversation, contemplation and laughter. It can criticise without antagonising, and open up new ways of thinking and questioning.

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