Archive Spotlight Item 21: Marshall’s Big Score (c.1979)

Marshall's Big Score Cover

Marshall's Big Score Cover

1976: One hot summer night in a gay bar in Liverpool, Martin, a white gay man from Stockport, meets Marshall, a black West African sailor. They drink, dance and fall in love – fast.  Marshall’s Big Score chronicles the ups and downs of their relationship over the course of three years. The book is by John Gowling, who was a member of the Commonword group Northern Gay Writers.

You get a really strong sense of what Manchester and urban life in England was like in in the late Seventies.  Martin, Marshall and the people around them lead incredibly precarious working-class lives; low-paid jobs, dangerous jobs, poor housing and an array of characters in desperate need of health and social care. But there is also the excitement of gay bars and clubs that stay open late where you can enjoy yourself and easily pick someone up for the night. This is an era of relative freedom before the AIDS crisis of the Eighties.

Here’s a playlist of the songs mentioned in the book, a soundtrack to Martin’s life and a nice little reminder of how inseparable black culture is from gay/queer culture.


Martin is the narrator of the story, so we see the world entirely through his white perspective. He  touches upon the racism that Marshall faces at work, but seems unable or unwilling to take any responsibility for the racism he might experience on the gay scene, or even within his relationship to a white man. Martin muses upon the homophobia black men face on the scene, he fails to consider that black gay men experience may experience more than one kind of oppression:

Perhaps the discrimination that was around Britain in general terms was working the other way for gay people; perhaps we all had too much prejudice laid on us about being gay to afford dabbling in racial and traditional differences.

Two thirds of a page are dedicated to Martin’s thoughts about prejudice, but apart from that, there is little pontification. The characters and their lives aren’t very well-fleshed out, not even Martin’s. You meet his parents briefly, but it’s unclear whether Martin is out to his parents. There is no outward hostility; just a resignation that their wayward son hasn’t settled down and got a proper job. There are occasions where Martin’s humour and frustration punches through, but they are rare and brief.  It’s hard to get a sense of what the characters are really like; they don’t really possess characteristics. They are too busy in the moment; either struggling to get by or completely immersed in their passions. There is a lot of potential here!


Review: flowers like blue glass

Review of flowers like blue glass

Dr Martin Kratz


Martin De Mello’s introduction to fukudapero’s new collection flowers like blue glass suggests that the poems in this book have the capacity to challenge our ‘habits of mind’. A particular challenge is extended to minds habituated to certain kinds of translation: either those in which source language and English appear dutifully arranged side by side, or those where the source language is nowhere to be seen, the poems appearing as if they’d been written in English in the first place.

fukudapero’s ‘dualingual poetry’ is perhaps not technically translation all. In this collection, Japanese and English do sometimes run in parallel, yes, but they also mirror, follow and shadow each other; they sit inverted, askew, even at cross-purposes. It might be difficult to work out what the precise relationship between one text and the other really is, except that the poetry does give the reader a clue: ‘all relationships are tilted’. In the end, it doesn’t matter. This is a lesson in how two languages can be brought together beyond staid binaries.

Or to be more precise, the ‘quiet protest’ this poetry stages goes against these binaries; against notions of how languages should behave with each other; how they should appear, or where, on the page; against the idea of a ‘line purer than mid-winter mackerel’ (the line in question being cut through by the page crease), while apparently also being for the same idea in the carefully balanced, minimal phrasings. Any convention that privileges English as a target language in translation is promptly knocked on the head by a sudden excursion into Arabic, or the refusal to translate at all.

The poems in flowers like blue glass don’t say more than they have to. Or they say things in more than one way—which is where the poet’s experience as artist and filmmaker come into it. These are poems of ‘quiet protest’ but also quiet as protest in an audibly and visually noisy world. The empty space on the page is always in play, perhaps even as a third (or fourth) language, the language of the ‘unheard’. Somewhere between the world’s sensory, technical and emotional clutter, poetry like fukudapero’s carves out the terms by which it wants itself to be understood and from where it can listen: not by delineating fixed territories of engagement, but by being on the move, precisely in order to avoid having these certainties imposed. ‘if we are | taken as a chair’, he writes, ‘we will be sat on, if we are taken as a table we will be set, if taken as | a spoon we will be bent. so we must pretend we are none of them.’

CC Archives Blog: Dipping a toe into the archive

Commonword was part of my life before I even knew that it existed.  In the early 2000s, I started to explore Manchester’s spoken word scene without realising that many of the poets and writers that I had seen perform were part of Commonword at some stage or another.

Dike Omeje c. 2006
Michelle Green c. 2006

Almost two decades later, and I find myself working on its archive.  I’ve been cataloguing the items, going through old recordings, trying to work out who’s who. I’ve been in touch with some of the writers involved in the 1980s and 1990s to try to piece together the history of the organisation.

Commonword came out of the adult literacy movement in the late 1970s and was part of the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers. It is one of only a handful of Fed organisations set up around that time that still exists due of its ability to adapt, change and continue meeting the needs of marginalised writers.

Writing by working class people about working class life, writing without pretention. Writing by school children. Writing by women who have experienced domestic violence. Then there are the Black writers. So many of them. Not all from London either. Their number put notions of multiculturalism and inclusivity to shame. Makes you wonder why a lot of arts organisations find it so hard to commission and meet their diversity quotas.

Some things really haven’t changed. In the box of photos, in a torn envelope, there is a reel-to-reel tape called Get Out More. It was put together by Northern Gay Writers, a group that came out of Commonword before the first Gay Pride took place in Manchester. It’s from 1987.  I don’t know what’s on it yet, but there is something comforting and familiar about a bunch of queers getting together to make a recording. Things like this were a staple listening in my twenties. Some of those people are doing the same thing now. I’m hoping it will be shambolic.  I can’t wait to find out.

Some things have changed. Gay people can get married and we have more Black and Asian people in the media, and more women in public life. But most of them white. And a lot of those fundamental problems are still there. These archives are a measure of progress not just within publishing but in society as a whole. I’m hoping to look at some of these in future blog posts.

As part of the archive project, we’re holding a series of reminiscence sessions for writers who were part of Commonword in the 1980s and 1990s which will take place in Spring 2019.

Watch this space for venues, dates and times.


For more information about the Commonword Community Archives Project, email


In her debut book, Keisha Thompson presents a series of new poems alongside the script for her award-winning play,


Language affords us the capacity to describe our world(s), our experiences, our perspectives and thoughts. Keke Thompson’s Lunar is the kind of work that offers proof of poetry’s omnivorous appetite, the joy of its myriad tongues, and what’s possible when those tongues meet. Lunar is a body of work in which maths is simultaneously a lens, thematic driver and method, where Venn diagrams and the game of noughts and crosses are engaged as poetic forms, where poems are graphed and graphs become poems, where common parlance is extended through mathematical symbols. And yet, it is so much more. It is a dazzling exploration of language and meaning, variable assignments and translation, both tender and unforgiving in its interrogation of heritage, culture, contemporary politics, the patterns we establish and break, and a daughter’s relationship with her father. This is bold and brilliant work.

Jacob Sam-La Rose


This lyrical endeavour and beautiful adventure examines a complex familial relationship that is long distance , spoken through half open letter boxes and journeys effortlessly across space and time, then back again. Reading this book will help you understand what a father and daughter wish to teach and need to know about each other.

Louise Wallwein MBE Poet and Playwright.

Commonword announces renewed NPO status 2018-2022

Commonword announces the wonderful news that its bid to receive funding under the Arts Council of England’s National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) programme has been successful. We, at Commonword, thank Arts Council England for continuing to support our work.

Julia Davis, Commonword’s Chair says: “”We are delighted with this news which will underpin our continued commitment to new writers. We look forward to developing our creative programme of workshops, digital innovation, conferences and cross sector partnerships.”

Commonword’s Chief Executive, Pete Kalu states: “This represents a ringing endorsement of our diversity and innovation focused approach to literature development and specifically our five strand plan to help more new writers become successful over the coming years.”


Those five strands are:

  1. Black Digital + Creative Texts:

Commonword will foster BAME writers pioneering innovative e-based fiction such as twitter platfomed fiction; flash fiction multimedia stories involving sound, visuals and text; games which have text as a central element; geo-interactive stories – utilising smart phone geo-positioning technologies to tell stories specific to black places.  The programme will include Digital Creative Labs, Workshops, Showcasings, Masterclasses and visiting artists.

  1. Advanced Black Fiction Focus

We have become one of the UK’s leading movers, shakers and change-makers in the field of Diversity and Children and Young Adult (CYA) Fiction.  We intend to maintain that progress while  leading  again in supplementary areas including in black crime fiction and black scifi fiction where there is a growing movement of black writers and critics.  Our programme will include workshops, seminars, conferences, and masterclasses.

  1. Spoken Word

Responding to demand, particularly from new and refugee writers to help them develop live, text centred, performance we have grown a strong presence in developing monologue and performed poetry, particularly via our Women In The Spotlight programme. The work often forms the starting point for the writers to experiment with other more two dimensional text based forms such as the short story and longer fiction. We will intensify and broaden the scope of our work in this area.

  1. Biennial Black Writers Conference

We have brought people together and caused major shifts in the creative writing fields via our much lauded Black writers conference.  Outputs have ranged from quarter million pound AHRC funded research projects (Mediating Marginalities: Lancaster University) to new publishing houses (HopeRoad) to radical change in the mainstream publishing industry (Diversity Writing For Children agenda went mainstream). The Conferences will continue to push game-changing voices, technologies and critical analyses of literature and the literature industry.

  1. Biennial Festival of Firsts

We will provide place and time for new writers including young writers, to learn their craft, showcase their work and grow to success. We will provide workshops and performance opportunities for new writers throughout the year including via our Superheroes of Slam format so spoken word artists can network, learn from one another and showcase their work. These initiatives will be brought together and supplemented via our biennial Festival of Firsts. This Festival will celebrate innovation of art form as well as new writers and will include immersive novel readings, Who Wrote What (4 new writers read 4 scripts. But who wrote which script?), the showcasing of digital creatives, Audio Booth & Peep Show events and sign language stories.


We look forward to joining with all our partners, collaborators, sponsors and participants in making this programme happen. Given the backing also of other North based literature organisations by Arts Council England, the North looks set to have a thriving literature scene for the next five years.


More about the Arts Council England’s NPO decisions can be found here.