Weekend of festivities as Solihull celebrates the life of WH Auden - The Solihull Observer
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11th Aug, 2022

Weekend of festivities as Solihull celebrates the life of WH Auden

Ross Crawford 15th Feb, 2022

SOLIHULL is celebrating its connection to world famous poet WH Auden with the first ever Auden Festival this weekend.

Wystan Hugh Auden, much-loved for his poems such as the world famous ‘Night Mail’ and ‘Funeral Blues’, spent the formative years of his life in Solihull, living in Lode Lane and Homer Road in the town centre and was a regular visitor to St Alphege Church.

This new festival, a collaboration between Solihull Borough Council and Solihull Business Improvement District (BID) and programmed by international community arts organisation Parrabbola, explores his artistic output through interpretations of his work, as well as that of his collaborators and contemporaries.

WH Auden in 1939 / Photo by Carl Van Vechten, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The festival, from Friday to Monday, February 18-21, will focus on the ‘Art For All’ ethos, bringing the arts to audiences of all ages in a myriad of different ways.

These will include immersive street theatre performances across the town centre, live readings of poetry, film screenings in The Core Theatre, live music, a vintage market and an Auden installation in Touchwood as well as encouraging local people to get involved.

Even after leaving the area, Auden’s strong connection to Solihull continued. He wrote a poem called “By The Gasworks, Solihull” in 1924 and returned in 1935 to help organise a marriage of convenience between German-Jewish actress Therese Giehse and John Hampson, a gay writer from Dorridge.

A full line up of activities, including a promenade theatre performance showcasing the ‘sham marriage’ and a showing of Four Weddings and a Funeral – which featured Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues’ poem – at The Core can be found on the BID website: www.solihullbid.co.uk/auden

Mel Palmer, chief executive of Solihull BID, said: “Knowing that Auden spent many years here in Solihull, with Solihull referenced in selected works, it seemed only fitting to celebrate our connection to commemorate his birthday, which is February 21.

“The back stories of Auden’s life are complex tales of travel, love, and chaos.

“The festival showcases the history unique to Solihull, with tales of sham marriages to save an actress from the Nazis, to Auden breathing in the fumes at the gas works on Moat Lane for its perceived health benefits!

“Experience poetry and history as never before in your town centre. Saturday is certainly a date not to miss!”

Night Mail, by WH Auden

This is the night mail crossing the Border,

Bringing the cheque and the postal order,

Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,

The shop at the corner, the girl next door.

Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:

The gradient’s against her, but she’s on time.

Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder

Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,

Snorting noisily as she passes

Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.

Birds turn their heads as she approaches,

Stare from bushes at her blank-faced coaches.

Sheep-dogs cannot turn her course;

They slumber on with paws across.

In the farm she passes no one wakes,

But a jug in a bedroom gently shakes.

Dawn freshens, Her climb is done.

Down towards Glasgow she descends,

Towards the steam tugs yelping down a glade of cranes

Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces

Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.

All Scotland waits for her:

In dark glens, beside pale-green lochs

Men long for news.

Letters of thanks, letters from banks,

Letters of joy from girl and boy,

Receipted bills and invitations

To inspect new stock or to visit relations,

And applications for situations,

And timid lovers’ declarations,

And gossip, gossip from all the nations,

News circumstantial, news financial,

Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,

Letters with faces scrawled on the margin,

Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,

Letters to Scotland from the South of France,

Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands

Written on paper of every hue,

The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,

The chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring,

The cold and official and the heart’s outpouring,

Clever, stupid, short and long,

The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.

Thousands are still asleep,

Dreaming of terrifying monsters

Or of friendly tea beside the band in Cranston’s or Crawford’s:

Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh,

Asleep in granite Aberdeen,

They continue their dreams,

But shall wake soon and hope for letters,

And none will hear the postman’s knock

Without a quickening of the heart,

For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

Written by WH Auden for the 1936 documentary ‘Night Mail’.

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