Something strange happened at Leicester University in 2017. Attenborough Tower became quiet. The pasternoster that had been hosting LiftLit, writing from MA students, broke down. Spare parts could not be sourced but had to be built from scratch so the decision was taken to remove it.
A Paternoster lift is a chain of open compartments that constantly run in a steady loop allowing people to step on and off at will. Generally passengers are discouraged from travelling over the top or under the bottom of each loop, but, have you tried to tell students not to do something?
Corinne Fowler, Associate Professor for the university’s Centre of New Writing, put a call out for poems about the paternoster that had been in the Attenborough Tower. Poems were written by academic and professional services staff, alumni, students and poets. Some were collated in “Poetanoster”, a souvenir pamphlet published to coincide with an event in the Digital Reading Room at the David Wilson Library on the university campus. It took place on the university’s open day for both prospective students and alumni. I dare say that some of the audience were there for the novelty of the event, but left with a pamphlet.
After an introduction based on the pamphlet’s introduction, Mike Simpson read his poem, “In memory of the Attenborough Tower Paternoster (1970-2017)”, which he explained was more of an email subject line than a title. The poem is a farewell with fondness.
Colin Hyde and Corinne Fowler co-wrote a play on the word “paternoster”. Corinne couldn’t be there on the day, but Colin was on hand to read “Things to do in a Paternoster” with suggestions including, “Poetanoster – write poems/ Pondernoster – plan seminars/ Porternoster – drink dark beer, also consult a porter/ Portillonoster – transport envy/ Imposternoster – lift posing as paternoster/ Poseanoster – Byronic comportment”.
Scott Freer’s “My Paternoster” takes inspiration from “The Waste Land” and looks over Leicester as he rides, “And HMP Leicester meets my eyes on the twelfth./ When I get to the top, I start all over again”.
Rod Duncan had in mind the Fall from Grace and how leaving home as a student could be seen that way. The paternoster “That clanking ride of no stops/ felt like a kind of trespassing/ but was, I suppose/ our smallest sin that year.”
Mike, Colin and Corinne all work or have worked at Leicester University and Scott and Rod were alumni. I have no connection, other than attending literary events and reading poems at a previous International Women’s Day event. There is a balance between genders in the pamphlet but I was the only women’s voice on the day. Therefore I didn’t feel greedy reading two poems, particularly as time permitted. My first, “Echoes of Journeys” finishes on the image that each paternoster journey has elements that are both unique and universal, just as the transition from teenager to adult does.
My second, “Wishing Not to be Stalled”, is more topical and finishes, “…I might be alone in this/ paternoster but it’s not the same aloneness/ as when I was threatened, dodged gropes,/ told, whilst wearing school uniform, I could earn/ extra in my lunch break in the red light district,/ when I was the only woman in a venue watching/ a band I had to review. #MeToo. I stand/ in this compartment, dare myself to go over the top/ and pray the momentum continues the revolution.”
The introduction states, “Poetanoster is a reminder of poetry’s power for the collective, for community, for everyday life. The paternoster broke just as MA students’ writing began to appear on the Attenborough Tower lift, an initiative called LiftLit. During International Women’s Day 2018, we placed poems all over campus. This leaflet joins these other initiatives in the hope that poetry might one day become a permanent feature of campus life: Leicester’s landmark literature.” I hope it does.
Leicester Writers’ Club hosts Carys Davies, short story writer and novelist from 7-9pm on Thursday 21 June 2018 at Phoenix Square 4 Midland Street Leicester LE1 1TG. £5 on the door for non-members. More details at Leicester Writers’ Club hosts Carys Davies.