Overlooked: Writing Liverpool/Museum of Liverpool

Samantha Carr puts Brookside, beat poets and Black Stuff on your event horizon

Written by  The Confidentials | Follow @ | Monday, 8 July 2013 10:41

IF you care about the way Liverpool has been, is, and will be depicted in the media, Writing Liverpool is worth an hour of your time.

Like anything, it has its pros and cons. I will start with the brownie points.

A range of successful writers put their pennies-worth of thoughts into this permanent exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool's Wondrous Place gallery.

BrooksideBrookside Collectively, their observations make for two very interesting videos. The participants include Jimmy McGovern, Alan Bleasdale, Phil Redmond, Willy Russell, Carla Lane and Frank Cottrell Boyce.

You will have heard of their children: Brookside, Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine, Blood Brothers, The Liver Birds, Boys from the Blackstuff, and the list goes on.

In the videos, the writers reflect on how they think their works have shaped an outsider’s image of Liverpool. Though they are proud of their home, many of them discuss how they may have contributed towards creating a negative depiction of their city, namely the dodgy stereotype of the scally scouser.

The discussion instigates the classic laughing with- or laughing at- conundrum. Are people being entertained by caricatures or real lives?

Levi Tafari OutfitLevi Tafari OutfitHow are Liverpudlians presented in writing and, in turn, the media? The questions will niggle at you long after you have left the exhibition. Jimmy McGovern’s down-to-earth segment is particularly moving as he talks about conscientiously crafting his docu-drama, Hillsborough, as well as his later collaborative project, Dockers.  

Let’s not forget why we’re here: the writing itself is obviously well worth a read! The Mersey Poets section has a few handwritten poems, the easiest to decipher being Brian Patten’s Sleep Now. Nearby, Roger McGough’s To Macca’s Shirt  and To Macca’s Trousers, which include Paul McCartney’s clothes in the display, steal the whole show. The two poems overcome exactly what the writers on the screens a few feet away are fretting over; they are witty while using, and not because they are overtly using, a Liverpudlian dialect.

To Macca 1To Macca 1Yet Writing Liverpool has its flaws. When it comes to the crunch, there just doesn’t seem to be enough writing on display. Also pieces in the project could have been arranged better for greater exposure. Rather than taking up both of the central television screens for the interview videos, perhaps it would have been better for the curators to use the medium to show the wonderful videos of the modern poetry in the show. Levi Tafari and Eleanor Rees are performance poets; we do not need the intimacy of a computer screen and a telephone piece to enjoy their poetry. The modern poems could happily trade with one of the interview clips and prosper on a big screen.

Saga Novels Middle Class Living RoomSaga Novels Living RoomDespite taking up the most space, the saga novels section was the least impressive. Why display how a middle class living room in Liverpool would have appeared when the characters in this genre of fiction are so far away from that standard of living? This could have been more space to display excerpts from the novels which, like the modern poetry, were only available on a computer screen with a phone piece.

The interactive screens are a great part of museum exhibitions but, as fantastic as it is to hear the words read aloud, it would have been nice to read a few of the excerpts in my own time.  

Nevertheless, Writing Liverpool is well worth checking out if you are interested in what writers have to say about the way they have depicted their city.

There is also a kids area, happy days! So while the little ones can stay close and entertain themselves with the children’s books on offer, you can immerse yourself in the show for that little while longer.