Poetry exhibition is a love letter to Essex

  • Date

    Thu 23 May 24

Photo of Wivenhoe Quay, by Dan Sceats

A research student inspired by the multi-faceted, contrary county of Essex is launching an exhibition, in Jaywick, celebrating the county and its people.

As well as revealing the hidden voices of Essex through poetry, textiles, and photography, How We Live In Essex Through the Seasons, curated by Lelia Ferro, challenges elitism in art by displaying items in accessible ways in the communities that inspired them.

The exhibition, at Jaywick Martello Tower from 3 to 16 June, is part of Essex Book Festival. It features a selection of Lelia’s poems alongside artistic responses by other artists, and explores themes of heritage, locality, nature, and climate change.

The exhibition showcases poems, written as part of Lelia’s Creative Writing PhD, which are based on interviews with Essex people and inspired by her other community activities including residencies, workshops and volunteering.

Her poems explore Essex’s rich heritage, its past and traditions through the rhythms of the seasons. Many, such as The Ranger and Mersea Fishwife, are written as first-person, fictional character poems based on real people.

“Essex is a county that defies definition. The landscape is contrary, on the one hand, grey urban sprawl and poverty, on the other, over 350 miles of beautiful coastline, pretty villages, estuaries and forests,” explained Lelia.

“Essex gets a bad rep, and with some of their roots hailing from working-class Londoners, Essex people are looked down on and stereotyped as materialistic and lacking in culture. This could not be further from the truth. The brash resilience of Essex people, both in the past and now, is something to be admired,” she added.

As well as challenging traditional Essex stereotypes, Lelia chose to publish her poems in an accessibly designed exhibition so that the communities who contributed to her work can enjoy it.

“Normally, we publish work in a book and expect people to buy it and read it. This mode of engagement is not accessible to all, particularly poorer communities in Essex.

“I am dyslexic and I am trying to democratise literature by writing, and publishing, in an accessible way. I chose Jaywick Martello Tower as it’s an arts venue set in an economically challenged part of the county, next to a caravan park. This is the right ‘book shop’ for my research,” she explained.

As well as choosing a venue in the heart of the community, Lelia has presented her poems on exhibition boards, in large font and with dyslexia-friendly colour contrasts, illustrations, photography and 3D elements.

Reflecting on what she has learnt during her research, Lelia said: “Essex people are lively, and resilient, with strong ties to their heritage and environment. They subvert the stereotypes and use their misfit label as an opportunity to do things differently.”

Alongside the exhibition will be a programme of free events, including performances, a spoken word workshop, an open mic evening, a coastal botanical illustrations workshop with illustrator Louisa Charrington, and a sea and sky photography workshop with photographer Dan Sceats.

All events are free to attend. Find out more.

Header image: Untitled Wivenhoe fisherman by Dan Sceats