The Walking Library for Women Walking was initiated for two events staged in the summer of 2016, titled Walking Women. These took place at Somerset House in London in July and at Forest Fringe in Edinburgh in August. Walking Women was a programme of activities co-curated by Amy Sharrocks and Clare Qualmann that placed women at the centre of discussions and debates about walking and art.
The Walking Library for Women Walking sought to make more visible women who have or do walk, and to inspire women to walk more. Like all previous Walking Libraries, this one responded to a particular question:
What book would you give to accompany a woman walking?
More than 130 donations were received and have been donated to the Glasgow Women’s Library, ensuring ongoing free access to the collection (see http://womenslibrary.org.uk/)
Walking Library for Women Walking Catalogue
Stories from the Walking Library for Women Walking
Somerset House, 16 July 2016
The Walking Library led two walks from Somerset House, following in the footsteps of suffragettes who marched from Embankment to Hyde Park, passing Parliament Square en route. We stopped wherever we felt a place called to a particular book; or where we encountered monuments to women (the latter turned out to be very rare). In Edinburgh, a 90 minute walk down Leith Walk focused on the spaces and places where women seemed present.
All donations for the WLfWW are displayed in bookshelves in the embankment-side foyer of Somerset House over the weekend of 16-17 July, along with Catalogue printouts. Book donations continue to come including Alison Lloyd’s artist’s publication, The Grand Tour Walks and a collection of poetry, The Art of Walking by Sonia Overall.
The first walk of the WLfWW departs from Somerset House at 6pm. Everyone walking with the library is invited to select a book from the collection and place it into one of two Walking Library rucksacks, which will be carried by Dee and anyone else who wants to volunteer as a Walking Librarian. Instructions given before embarking are simple: if anyone feels prompted by the environment to stop and share a reading from their chosen library book, they should do so; and, given that the walk follows a Suffragette route, we will share readings at monuments to women.
Our first stop is beside the River Thames, at Cleopatra’s Needle, guarded by two large sphinx. Dee operates the Walking Library as a lucky dip, pulling a book out of a rucksack randomly. The first book chosen is The Pennine Way: The Legs that Make Us, by artists Tamara Ashley and Simone Kenyon. Alison reads Kenyon’s reason for donating the book:
This was the longest walking project we did together. Through it we learned to find words, movement and common ground together as artists and women. It was often challenging in the most surprising of ways. Above all we found an agency I had never experienced before. (Simone Kenyon)
The Pennine Way: The Legs That Make Us documents through text, photographs and drawings, a performance project completed by Ashley and Kenyon in 2006, described by them in this publication as ‘a choreographic pathway, a shared journey and investigation of walking as dance and dancer as traveler’ [sic]. The performance was a ‘continual duet’ unfolding along the 270 miles of the long-distance trail, The Pennine Way, responding ‘to the journeys through, in and with the landscape’ (2007, n.p.) Alison selects a page at random and reads aloud to the group gathered close by:
DAY 16: Landgon Beck to Dufton 12 miles
A gap. I am taken by Brian and Pam in their car as last night I cut my foot on a nail in the floor. Kindness. We drive around the hills to Dufton, 26 miles by road. I return to walk this leg the day after we finish the trail. I am quick on my feet this day, without my pack. It pours with rain while I recover this loss of physical distance. The gap remains.
Weather conditions; overcast and humid. Body Conditions: T – watery inside and out.(Ashley and Kenyon 2007, n.p.)
That our walk in the footsteps of the Suffragettes begins with a story about walking interrupted, about returning in order to finish what had been started, about resilience in the face of the unexpected, about routes and the necessity to reroute and improvise, seems dense with metaphorical resonances. We will encounter such reverberations, across histories, geographies, lives, journeys, dreams and emotions over and over again on our walks; but we will also encounter gaps (crucial to reverberation).
Though it’s past six pm, the embankment is thronged with people enjoying the warm evening. Acknowledging the packed pavement along which we make our slow way, participant Anna calls us to a temporary halt to read from her selected book: Virginia Woolf’s short story, Street Haunting. Though far from the rural setting here, Woolf’s essay offers a welcome momentary pause in our journey down busy and humid Embankment, even if the scene of her story is a winter evening. Anna reads the opening sentences to us:
No one perhaps has ever felt passionately towards a lead pencil. But there are circumstances in which it can become supremely desirable to possess one; moments when we are set upon having an object, an excuse for walking half across London between tea and dinner. […] As we step out of the house on a fine evening between four and six, we shed the self our friends know us by and become part of that vast republican army of anonymous trampers, whose society is so agreeable after the solitude of one’s own room (Woolf, 2005, p.1)
Written in 1927, the year before all women over the age of 21 were permitted to vote in the UK, Woolf’s story offers a salient reminder, if any is needed, of just how essential the suffragette actions had been; and just how far we have walked, figuratively speaking. Yet, as we pass by numerous statues and monuments, looking out in vain for landmarks that will call us to a halt, we feel the overwhelming erasure of women from this public space.
Crossing underneath the road via a subway, we emerge at Westminster and forge a path through the sardine-packed pavements towards Parliament Square, an appropriate space to occupy. We turn momentarily as a group to face the Houses of Parliament, demonstrating our acknowledgement of the women who walked here before us to demand the right to participate equally in democratic processes. We swap walking with a sit-in, emptying the two rucksacks of their contents, the books acting as monuments of sorts on the faded grass. Helen takes up her chosen book, Doreen Massey’s for space, which offers us a remarkable re-orienting tool, giving new meaning to the phrase ‘moved by words’. Helen reads:
For such a space entails the unexpected. The specifically spatial within time-space is produced by that – sometimes happenstance, sometimes not – arrangement-in-relation-to-each-other that is the result of there being a multiplicity of trajectories. In spatial configurations, otherwise unconnected narratives may be brought into contact, or previously connected ones may be wrenched apart. There is always an element of ‘chaos’. This is the chance of space; the accidental neighbour is one figure for it. (Massey, 2005, 111; sketch by Amy Cutler)
The scattering of books on the grass offers its own form of spatial chaos, as do the readings that accumulate along the length of our communal walk; two dancers on the Pennine Way walk now in the company of Massey and Woolf, changing the stories of each. Living or dead, they are all ghosts of sorts, resurrected into new forms through the ventriloquism of reading aloud.
En route here, we read stickers advertising an English Defence League demonstration that day. Idit chooses to share a reading from her selected library book, I-SPY: RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE, donated to the library by its author, Sarah Wood.
It was summer in London. I was in
a good mood. The sun was shining. I felt
expansive. I was on a busy street. Ahead
of me two people were posting letters at the
the same post box at the same time. One
was a prosperous looking white man.
One was a young woman wearing
When the man came face to face with the
woman he suddenly looked furious. He
said something to her that I didn’t hear.
I wondered if he knew her. Then he
turned and looked at me and smiled. His
mood seemed to have switched instantly.
He looked like he was trying now to be
charming. He wasn’t. He turned back to the
woman and with the same sudden switch of
mood, thrust the letter in his hand into the
space in her veil that revealed her eyes.
(Wood, 2015, p. 12)
On our exit from Parliament Square we pass a temporary, vernacular memorial to a woman – the Labour MP for Bentley and Spen, Jo Cox. Cox had been murdered brutally as she left Birstall Library, site of her weekly constituency drop-in surgery.
We continue to pass many statues of men but none of women. On Victoria Street we stop at a row of shops housed in an unremarkable 1970s architecture to share a book made by Ohio-based artist Lori Esposito especially for this Walking Library. The large wooden book protects 15 paintings which are:
sited on documentation of traumatized places. The paint performs the engaged, revealing and obscuring eye and an imagined walk in solidarity with the survivors. (Lori Esposito)
A little further on a gold ballerina statue is spotted on top of a roof’s dome. This is the only statue of a woman we have seen all walk. A haiku from Bashō is offered. Further on, a statue of a lioness eating a deer prompts Rebecca to read from the book she donated, Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk. Reaching Wellington Arch, and the sculpture that we think is Boadicea, Amy reads from the introduction to Women Adventurers: the lives of Madame Valazquez, Hannah Snell, Mary Anne Talbot and Mrs Christian Davies. This book is a temporary donation. Published in 1893, its editor is Ménie Muriel Dowie, Amy’s great grandmother and author of A Girl in the Carpathians, a chronicle of Dowie’s own adventures by horseback published just two years earlier. Amy is walking not only in the footsteps of the suffragettes but of her remarkable forbearer.
Among the hoary, white old questions that go tottering down the avenue of time, is one of an intermittent vitality truly surprising. The Independence of Woman – is it right or wrong? – that is the tremulous, doddering head of it. Is a woman the equal of a man? May a woman engage in all that men may? – those are its withered shiny legs. Is a woman born to be free? Has a woman a genuine or a sham intelligence? – those are its lean and palsied arms. (Dowie, 1891, p. v).
Entering Hyde Park, we make a bee-line to the nearest patch of grass, beneath another large statue – this one a buffed and chiselled Achilles. The irony of marking the end of our journey in the suffragette’s footsteps by sitting under a towering monument to masculinity is not lost on us. A final invitation to share from books donated and selected prompts a sharing from Rhynie Woman’s Cooking the Landscape, an extract from a poem from Em Strang and Mat Osmond’s donated collection Stone and an apt reading from Phil Smith’s Alice’s Dérives in Devonshire.
Can a city fall to bits one day and put itself back together the next?
I think so, but I’m crazy. So why should you believe me? Dad says it’s OK to be mad. Bad is the problem.
And the city is bad. I saw its badness. For one day its glass was everywhere like broken teeth after a fight between lions and sharks. Big buildings leaning on each other like drunk dinosaurs. The new shopping centre was a cave full of smoke. And everyone was frightened of each other.
But I wasn’t frightened. I could see that between the pieces of glass were shining gaps. And in the biggest building were passageways and tunnels and I could see that that was the good city. The city of holes and caves. Between the bad was the good, but only if you knew that before you looked. (Smith, 2014, p.9)
This book reminds us about the possibility of and necessity for optimism and hope even amidst the ruins.
Somerset House 17 July 2016
The second London walk for the WLfWW leaves Somerset House at 11am on Sunday 17 July with a new group of participants. The same instructions are given, but this time everyone is asked to carry the book they’ve selected. We need to be back at Somerset House for 1pm. Based on yesterday’s experience, a walk all the way to Hyde Park is unlikely.
Deviating from yesterday’s path, we enter Victoria Embankment Gardens, stopping at the first statue encountered: a monument to the composer Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame), in which a woman is given a prominent place – as a semi-naked and nubile muse. She faces away from us, draped beneath Sullivan’s towering head, as if mourning his passing.
A bemused reading from Pablo Neruda’s love poems is offered:
Ah vastness of pines, murmur of waves breaking,
Slow play of lights, solitary bell,
Twilight falling in your eyes, toy doll,
Earth-shell, in whom the earth sings!
(Neruda, 2004, p.13)
Continuing on, at the river’s edge Gilbert is spotted, memorialised by a plaque on the wall framed by two women, demurer in attire and pose than Sullivan’s erotic muse. A witty riposte to the musical duo is performed by reading Caryl Churchill’s biography, published in the opening pages of her play Blue Heart. The extensive list of her plays confirms Churchill as one of Britain’s most significant playwrights.
Further along the Thames, Dee unfolds The River Deveron 2013: With and Against the Flow by Anne Murray & Jake Williams. An artist’s book, its form takes the shape of a meandering river in Aberdeenshire. A random extract selected from Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us, also seems appropriate. The locals amongst us debate where the nearest sea is and decide on Southend; though we also wonder where the sea begins and ends.
We stop beside the Battle of Britain memorial to read from Antigone. Today’s walkers pay closer attention to the scenes depicted on the memorial, identifying women in the reliefs: some of them keeping the home fires burning, perhaps reminding people what they were fighting for, others working in ammunition factories.
We ascend the steps to Westminster bridge and given our search for statues of women this turns out to be the right approach to take because there, towering above us, is Boadicea in her chariot. Poet Sonia Overall reads a poem from her own collection:
Go. Do it swiftly, hand at mouth, marvelling. Do not look back.
[…] Go. Believe in the midnight carriage, the wheels carrying you to
an absolute ending. (Overall, 2015, p. 11)
At Parliament Square, Maggie reads from the back cover of her chosen companion, Why Loiter? Women & Risk on Mumbai Streets:
Imagine our streets full of women
laughing and gesticulating.
Imagine parks and beaches dotted
with young women sitting alone.
Imagine street corners taken over
by older women reflecting
on the state of the world.
Imagine maidans occupied by
women workers planning
their next strike for a raise
in minimum wages…
IF ONE CAN IMAGINE ALL OF THIS,
ONE CAN IMAGINE
A RADICALLY ALTERED CITY!
(Phadke et al., 2014)
Someone else reads a short extract from Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust, framing our walk as a sort of pilgrimage. Our time is running our already. We end with Meandor by Norma D. Hunter, a pocket-sized artist’s book (donated by Dee). We presume Hunter’s unique spelling is a purposeful, personal sculpting of a new route:
Meandor v. to
walk purposefully, to travel
through life, sculpting a
particular path either
individually or accompanied.
(Norma D. Hunter, n.p., n.d)
Forest Fringe, 11 August 2016
On August 11th, The Walking Library for Women Walking is displayed at Forest Fringe in Edinburgh. At noon, about 25 participants select a book to carry with them on a 90-minute walk. Though there is no suffragette path to follow here, the invitation remains the same: stop wherever you feel a potential synergy between place and book and, instead of looking out for monuments of/to women, look out for places where women seem to be present.
Leaving Forest Fringe’s venue – the Drill Hall in Leith – we step out into typically dreich Scottish weather. Our first stop is at the end of the street, in response to a road safety sign which depicts two children playing; the one at the front, ostensibly leading, wears trousers, has short hair and is coloured blue; the one following wears a skirt, has long hair and is coloured pink. Katie chooses a random extract from Simone de Beauvoir’s Blood of Others.
Walking down Leith Walk, a tattoo parlour named Twit Twoo prompts Dorothy to read an extract from Christian’s Bobin’s The Very Lowly: A Meditation on Francis of Assisi:
A sparrow speaks: “I am a bread crumb in Christ’s beard, a snippet of his speech, enough to nourish the world until the end of the world.”
A robin redbreast speaks: “I am a wine spot on Christ’s shirt, a burst of his laughter at the return of springtime.”
A lark speaks: “I am Christ’s last sigh. I ascend directly to heaven, I knock with my beak on the clear blue sky, I ask to be let in, I bring the whole earth along in my song, I ask, I ask, I ask.”
All of them, male and female, twitter and sing in this way and come to know the truth of their song in the presence of Francis of Assisi, in the presence of the tree man, the flower man, the wind man, the earth man.
The birds were the first occupants of the Bible, well before the appearance of humans, just after God’s awakening. (Bobin, 2006, 69-70)
Donated to the library by walking artist Monique Besten, Monique writes that that she has carried this small book on her last two long-distance walks, from Amsterdam to Vienna and from Barcelona to Paris. It has opened doors for her literally:
Once I was refused shelter in a Franciscan monastery in a pilgrim city until I quoted something I had read in the book. (Monique Besten)
A little further down Leith Walk, the low clouds still drizzling on us, someone shares random extracts from The Cloudspotter’s Guide, whilst at the Podiatry hospital Catriona places a particular extract from Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain:
Walking barefoot has gone out of fashion since Jeanie Deans trudged to London, but no country child grows up without its benediction. Sensible people are revising the habit. They tell me a tale up here of a gentleman in one of the shooting lodges who went to the hill barefoot: when he sat down for lunch the beaters crowded as near as they dared to see what manner of soles such a prodigy could have. But actually walking barefoot upon heather is not so grim as it sounds. I have covered odd miles myself here and there in this fashion. It begins with a burn that must be forded: once my shoes are off, I am loth to put them on again. If there are grassy flats beside my burn, I walk on over them, rejoicing in the feel of the grass to my feet; and when the grass gives place to heather, I walk on still. By setting the foot sideways to the growth of the heather, and pressing the sprays down, one can walk easily enough. Dried mud flats, sunwarmed, have a delicious touch, cushioned and smooth; so has long grass at morning, hot in the sun, but still cool and wet when the foot sinks into it, like food melting to a new flavour in the mouth. And a flower caught by the stalk between the toes is a small enchantment. (Shepherd, 2011, pp. 103-104).
A graffiti image of the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon – captioned with the word Fandabidozy – alongside Theresa May and David Cameron (caption: Fool), spur Claudia to read randomly from Melissa Harrison’s Rain: Four Walks in English Weather. Claudia relates the threatening rain depicted in the book to the threat of Theresa May. At the next street crossing, Louise sees in the wind blowing across a large, muddy puddle the ripples on a lake described by Dororthy Wordsworth in her journals. Carrying both Wordworth’s journals and her own artist’s books, Warnscale, Louise reads the diary entry from Wordsworth’s journal for the 11 August 1800:
Monday afternoon [11th]: Walked to Windy Brow. (Wordsworth, 2002, p. 17)
Outside the Mermaid Fish & Chip Bar, Dee is inspired to read a random extract from The Gathering Tide: A Journey Around the Edgelands of Morecambe Bay, by Karen Lloyd. At the bottom of Leith Walk, marked by a bar called ‘At the Foot of the Walk’, Alison faces the statue of Queen Victoria, the Empress of India, and selects a random extract from Why Loiter? Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets.
We amble into Leith Links, a local park. Feet now on grass, Joyce removes her shoes and runs. At the top of the hill, Emma, visiting from Australia, holds messidges passing close to her as she shows us the red thread tied around a gift box on the book’s cover. As we have walked, she has traced this thread through the book’s pages and invites us to pass an invisible red thread around the group. We form a large circle on the top our hill and Emma sets the invisible red thread off on its journey, placing it carefully into the hands of the person on her left, who in turn passes it to the next person and so on, until the red thread has passed around the circle fully, from person to person, threading us together.
Afterwards, Jackie plucks a short extract randomly from Kathleen Jamie’s Findings while at the bottom of our hill, a graffitied wall beckons to Linda, who carries her donated book, Middle Ground: A walk by Loch Tay, illustrated and written by Ruth Atkinson. The graffiti brings to mind more ancient stone inscriptions – cup and ring marked rocks. Shouting to be heard above the violent, industrial chipping of a tree trunk nearby, Linda reads:
The Tay Valley is one of the main centres for these marked stones and this is one of the most impressive. I peeled away the turf to reveal two cups, each surrounded by a series of concentric rings, looking like two enormous breasts encased in one of Madonna’s more robust bras. (Atkinson, 2008, p.4)
Leaving the park we reach the end of Lochend Road – presumably reference to a loch that has long disappeared. Monique shares the first haiku from Bashō’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches:
Breaking the silence
Of an ancient pond,
A frog jumped into water –
A deep resonance.
(Bashō, 1972, p.9)
At Saint Clair Avenue, Claire shares an extract from the book she donated, Linda Cracknell’s Doubling Back: Ten paths trodden in memory:
As I hesitate on the brink of the canyon, pages of the history books I’ve been reading seem to flutter open to lay steps beneath my feet. The artistry of the paths’ engineering was inherited from the Arabs […] In the heyday of Al-Andalus, water was invited to flow. Books, libraries, poetry and dialogue between traditions also flourished. […]
Southern Spain became the European centre of material and intellectual wealth. Books whose words might contradict each other fraternised on the same shelves in the Caliphal library of Cordoba amongst the 400,000 volumes reputedly held there. (By comparison, the largest library in Christian Europe at the time would have held no more than 400 manuscripts.) (Cracknell, 2015, pp. 63-64)
Claire informs us that St Clair is the patron Saint of broadcasting. Later, the most uncanny serendipity is revealed: Claire discovers that 11 August – this very day – is St. Clair’s day.
Back at our starting point, Forest Fringe, Monique shares one final haiku by Bashō, marking our journey’s end:
The chestnut by the eaves
In magnificent bloom
By men of this world
(Bashō, 1972, p. 108)
Theatre and Performance Research Association, Bristol, 7 September 2016
In September, the Library is installed in the foyer of the Wickham Theatre, on Bristol University’s campus. The logistics of travelling from Glasgow to Bristol has meant a more selective approach to this edition, with less than half of the nearly 100 donated books transported to Bristol.
At 10.30am, 20 or so participants are invited to select a book to carry on our 90-minute walk. Turning left out of the theatre building, we are halted almost immediately by Heike, who has chosen The Pennine Way: The Legs that Make Us. Heike is struck by the resemblance of the image on the book’s cover, to the shape of Dee, carrying a Walking Library rucksack, deep in conversation with another walker. The image prompts consideration of the shapes bodies make in space: a walking body as a live painting; walking bodies’ choreographies and relationalities.
Cover image from The Pennine Way: The Legs that Make Us
The junction behind Cantock Close leads to the Chemistry buildings. Under a large tree, which seems like a natural gathering place, Dee reads from Warnscale, a reflection on childlessness-by-circumstance, which seems an appropriate response to the mix of science buildings, arts and humanities scholars and the tree. A short flight of stairs carries us onto the roof of Biosciences. Gwilym offers an extract from the book he has donated, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. The cover of the book seems to mirror the public art on the wall facing us. The message could be: the sun has now fallen from the sky.
For the first time in the history of the world, every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of their use, the synthetic pesticides have been so thoroughly distributed throughout the animate and inanimate world that they occur virtually everywhere. (Carson, 2001, p. 31)
Another, longer flight of stairs leads to Tankard’s Close and from there to a small gate in a wall into the Royal Fort Gardens. On Convocation Walk we encounter a wooden installation – a minimalist forest or a group of people, just like our group, huddling or celebrating. Katie climbs onto a square tree trunk to share from her donated/carried book: Rose Tremain’s Sacred County.
Back on Convocation Walk, Steve positions himself next to a plinth (“Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better”, Albert Einstein) to share the glossary of meteorological terms of rain from Melissa Harrison’s Rain.
Cloudburst: sudden, intense rainfall of short duration
Convectional rainfall: rain caused by warm earth heating
the air above, which rises and condenses at the dew point.
(Harrison, 2016, p. 97)
As Steve comes to the end of the glossary, bells nearby ring the hour of 11, prompting Emilia to read something from Conversations with Meredith Monk, which starts with reference to it being 11am.
It was eleven o’clock in the morning so it was all natural light coming in the windows. I love the idea of people performing in the day. People just come in for the piece and then they go and live the rest of their day.
Following the path around Wills’ building we confront the old and the new as adventurous modern architecture buttresses up against the more traditional and stately. In an outdoor tutorial space with swivel seats pinioned into the concrete Ellie reads a witty extract from the remarkable The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon.
112. When a woman lives alone, her house should be extremely dilapidated, the mud wall should be falling to pieces, and if there is a pond, it should be overgrown with water-plants. […]
I greatly dislike a woman’s house when it is clear that she has scurried about with a knowing look on her face, arranging everything just as it should be, and when the gate is kept tightly shut. (Shōnagon, 1970, p.182)
We walk towards a doorway that looks suspended in space; it is all that remains from a much older building. Walking through this theatrical stage set one by one, Bridie announces that she happens to have chanced upon a section in her chosen book – Simone de Beauvoir’s The Blood of Others – which has a doorway in it. Bridie shares a dramatic demise of a relationship, as one lover exits through a doorway breaking the heart of the other.
‘Good-bye’, she said. She walked to the door. A devastating impulse threw me towards her: I loved her. But already the door had slammed and she was going downstairs. (de Beauvoir, 1964, p. 182)
At the bottom of hill we take a detour to another sculpture, Follow Me – a mirrored labyrinth. We enter the labyrinth and at the count of three begin to read collectively sections chosen from the books we carry. It’s a cacophonous reading, a choral reading, a reading of the convocation. Books, voices, words, people are multiplied and amplified in a dizzying aural and visual spectacle.
A quieter sharing is offered from Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust, which offers another mirror of sorts:
There are many other arenas in which walking and reading are conflated. Just as the church labyrinth had its secular sibling in the garden maze, so the reading of the stations of the cross has its secular equivalent in the sculpture garden. (Solnit, 2002, p. 74)
Leaving Fort Gardens we arrive at the sports facility, marked by an ugly sculpture of a green man running. Daniel chooses this spot to read from Bobin’s The Very Lowly, whilst Ellie shares from her donated book, The Canterbury’s Tales (the Wife of Bath):
The learned may rebuke me, or be loth
To think it so, but they were made for both,
That is to say both use and pleasure in
Engendering, except in case of sin.
Why else the proverb written down and set
In books: “A man must yield his wife her debt?”
What means of paying her can he invent
Unless he use his silly instrument?
(Chaucer, 1977, p. 262)
On St Michael’s Hill, outside the house Steve used to live in as a student, Helen reads from Mary Wollstonecraft’s Letters written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark:
Friendship and domestic happiness are continually praised; yet how little is there of either in the world, because it requires more cultivation of mind to keep awake affection, even in our own hearts, than the common run of people suppose. (Wollstonecraft, 2009, p. 74)
A small lane turns off the Hill, funnelling us behind a school, St Michael on the Mount Without – the school outside the city walls. A house painted a striking red offers a perfect spot to share Maider López’s project and publication, HOW DO YOU LIVE THIS PLACE?, created for Deveron Arts, Huntly, in 2010. Hundreds of stones were painted green, red, blue, yellow or orange, with each colour signifying a different response to place (e.g. green = I like this place very much; red = I would like to change or improve this place; blue = Something important in my life happened here). Inhabitants of Huntly were invited to take stones and place them according to the stones’ colours. Huntly became dotted with stones as feelings about places were made tangible.
At the bottom of Old Park Hill, standing beneath a massive wall, Sue reads from Girls on the Rocks: a woman’s guide to climbing with strength, grace and courage. Park Row leads us to the steps of Bristol Theatre Collection. Though closed for renovation, given that we are all here for a theatre conference it feels appropriate to go up the steps and stand on its flat roof. Meredith Monk is, remarkably, the only theatre-related artist we carry in our group this morning so Emilia obliges by sharing another short extract from Conversations, this time reading from the introduction written by another influential theatre scholar and historian, Bonnie Marranca:
What’s apparent at the outset of these conversations is that her primary method is to ask questions. I like very much that our exchanges are punctuated by the kinds of queries she makes for different works over the decades. Monk says that once she gets the questions she is asking about a piece, then she’s on her way. (Marranca, 2014, viii)
The stairs to the side of the museum carry us back to the front door of the Wickham Theatre. Anticipating that our readings have finished, just as pencils are given out so that walkers can write of sketch responses, an unexpected final gift is offered: the opening sentences from Woolf’s Street Haunting:
No one perhaps has ever felt passionately towards a lead pencil. But there are circumstances in which it can become extremely desirable to possess one. (Woolf, 2005, p.1)
Geelong, Australia, 16 November 2017
The School of Lost Art, Noble Street – Mayfair Drive – Camden Road – Windmill Street – Noble Street, 12-1.30pm
The group of women carved a circle through residential streets of Geelong, a city southwest of Melbourne, Australia, following in the footsteps of women from Victorian suffrage groups who went door-to-door in these streets and those across Victoria in 1891 collecting signatures for what became known as the ‘Monster Petition’ presented to Parliament to demand the right to vote for Victorian women. The ‘Monster Petition’ included 33,000 signatures and was 260 metres long. With every step along this walk Misha recited the names of the women from Geelong who signed the petition and the streets where they lived.
This WLfWW was commissioned as the keynote for ‘Moving out of Doors’, a day long symposium and art event exploring the artistic labour of women and it marked the first Walking Library event to be held in the Southern Hemisphere. This day also held its own auspiciousness in the struggle for equal rights as it followed the announcement of the positive result of Australia’s national postal survey for same-sex marriage, which would lead to its legalisation in a bill that went through Parliament and became law on 9 December 2017. This news gave a particular spring in the step of the walkers and a celebratory air to this iteration of The Walking Library.
The walk began at The School of Lost Arts, Mary-Jane Walker’s artist-run teaching studio in the grounds of one of Geelong’s most historic properties in the area of Newtown. After a few minutes walking down Noble Street, the group halted and gathered together at a particularly scenic place along the walk where the sidewalks and houses stopped with one side of the road opening into the empty cricket oval of Windmill Reserve and the other giving way to a pull out at the edge of a steep slope that offered an overlook of the River Barwon winding through the valley below. A group of rubbish collection trucks had assembled here as well and their drivers (all male) were eating their lunch together enjoying the view. Here Lorna, Melbourne inner-city activist and elder, simply held up the spine of The Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein and repeated the authors’ name suggesting this said it all and enough. She wrote in her comments following the walk ‘In shining black letters, her name – Getrude Stein. Her face bending forward as she searches for a new truth – can you tell a book by its cover?’
The library for this walk was a temporary one, comprised of books brought together for the duration of the walk by the walkers and dispersed again at its end. In this final account, we have chosen to reference all the books read from, giving a sense of the richness created from such diverse fragments. Some of the titles carried by the walkers echoed those in the rucksacks walked across Belgium with the first Walking Library, including Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain and David Abrams’ The Spell of the Sensuous, but others responded to and reflected the specific landscape of this walk, such as Dark Emu: Black Seeds Agriculture or Accident? written by Bunurong and Melbourne-born author Bruce Pascoe.
With the view over the River Barwon before her, Devinia shared a reading from Pascoe’s work that she said moved her to think about how ‘as first people of this nation, although we are moving forward in a lot of ways, there are still a lot of barriers for our people in this country.’ She read an account in Dark Emu of an interaction between colonial settlers and Aboriginal people in 1843 at another river, the Murray, where the settlers misinterpreted the meaning of words shouted at them by the Aboriginal people as welcoming them to their land. Devinia finished her reading with Pascoe’s thoughts on the incident:
You have to work hard to convince yourself, or the governor, that Aboriginal people were delighted to give away their land (Pascoe, 2014, p. 2).
The view over the river enticed the group of women to linger and share an eclectic selection of readings, which continued in a kind of call and response to one another from Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love, Kathleen Jamie’s The Tree House and on senses and sense objects from The Bhagavad Gita, which the reader commented is a handbook for life. Shelley read a few of Jamie’s poems which she said ‘resonated with our walk on top of green hills, raining, in late spring with flowers and berries growing and looping around a school and it’s fields.’
With her dog beside her on a lead Rea Dennis read from Alexandra Horowitz’s Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know (2009).
The women continued walking, dispersed in a line of two’s and three’s huddled under umbrellas protecting them from the late spring drizzle of the humid afternoon. From the overlook the walk rejoined the sidewalk that meandered past the front gardens of Newtown’s surburban homes of varied periods and architecture. When the awning of C. Sphinx Consulting Structural and Civil Engineers, a land development business office, offered shelter from the rain, Fiona prompted the group to assemble again for her reading from Sarah Williams Goldhagen’s Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives. Offering her reasons for the selection, Fiona wrote later:
I am passionate about how we experience our built environment given that we engage with it everyday. Sarah William Goldhagen discusses this through a feminist perspective that looks at how we perform cognitively in relation to bad design. She concludes that it costs no more to build something that relates to people than it does to build something that relates to economics.
The pattern of the call and response of readings continued as the women took advantage of the opportunity for shelter otherwise absent in these streets mostly filled with domestic homes set back by gated front gardens. We heard from Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous, Jeannette Winterson’s autobiography Why Be Happy When You Can be Normal and an eschatological laundry list from Sheldon B. Kopp’s If You Meet the Buddha on the Road Kill Him. As we were standing opposite a primary school, Kate read from Marion Molteno’s If You Can Walk, You Can Dance, appropriate for this location because she it was about a young girl and we stood opposite Fryans Park Primary School. It was chosen for this walk because it is about ‘the creative journey and finding a true way to be oneself and to honour oneself but not in a selfish way. Also, the title seemed appropriate.’
The selected reading, a description of the sound of the vibrating strings of a cello, was interrupted by the less concordant sound of the rubbish collectors honking their horns as their convoy returned to their work and passed us by. Once gone, a woman in the circle commented on how visible we were as a group of women in these streets, her comment reflecting how The Walking Library works as a kind of intervention and civic performance, but also how a group of women walking in public elicits unwanted attention by passers by as much as a woman walking alone. Behind us we also noted the nervous glances looking out at us through the windows of C. Sphinx’s office. This encouraged the group to return into the drizzle and continue walking across a pedestrian crossing towards the school where the following words painted boldly on the sidewalk met our footsteps: ‘STOP – LOOK – LISTEN – THINK’. Someone laughed at seeing these words and commented that this was precisely what we’d been doing.
As the walk continued, this interaction with the rubbish collectors and the thinking about women’s visibility prompted a conversation that paused Misha’s recitation of the signees of the ‘Monster Petitition.’ As the circular walk turned left on Windmill Street and joined back onto Noble, a small cluster of women reflected on the courage and vulnerability of the suffragette petitioners who had once walked these streets, speculating about how they might have been received, especially if met at the door by ‘the man of the house’. This conversation continued back into the inviting doors of The School of Lost Arts where the women wrote the following reflections on the walk we shared together:
Created a camraderie through reading and journey.
I enjoyed the sense that when we left the house we were a disparate group, but when we returned we had become a coherent (united!) group.
Walking into a sense of place and into the group – who we are. Fantastic and moving to hear words in the open air. Informal conversation in contrast to the structured considered words of literature.
The walk, a beautiful way to interact, share conversation and enjoy the environment […] Even with the busy world around us we were still able to connect with the land.
This iteration of the WLfWW, much like the one threaded together atop a small hill in Leith Links park in Edinburgh, was a ring that in its shape and action joined women together through different times, cultures and ways of thinking, being, expressing and building relationship with one another and place.
. In fact, the statue represents the Angel of Peace descending on the ‘Quadriga’ – or four-horsed chariot – of War.
. Subsequent research reveals that Achilles was the first statue installed in Hyde Park and was commissioned by a society called Ladies of England. See https://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/things-to-see-and-do/memorials,-fountains-and-statues/statue-of-achilles
With thanks to all those who donated books, who walked with The Walking Library for Women Walking and who shared photographs (some of these have been used to illustrate this piece).