Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Intriguing Words from the Wall

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Intriguing Words from the Wall

Article excerpt

Byline: By Tony Henderson

For almost 2,000 years, people have been drawn to the powerful presence of Hadrian's Wall in the northern landscape.

There were the Roman soldiers and traders, from various parts of the empire, then the "recyclers" who used the Wall's stone to build their farmsteads and castles, the antiquarians, archaeologists, and now the walkers and tourists.

Among the latest individuals to be captivated by the Wall is a band of writers and photographers, who have explored the many faces of the World Heritage Site.

The five-year Writing on the Wall project has been managed by Newcastle-based Arts UK. Its director Steve Chettle was inspired by two very different sets of Wall-related writing.

One source was the Roman writing tablets which have been excavated from Vindolanda fort in Northumberland, and the other was poet W H Auden's Roman Wall Blues, based on the thoughts of a trooper experiencing the sharp end of existence on the frontier.

Writing on the Wall produced poems, short stories and a play from writers who live along the line of the Wall and also from countries which supplied recruits to the Roman military machine over the centuries of occupation.

The Batavians from what is now Holland were known to have been part of the Wall's garrison. Dutch writer Esther Jansma makes the connection in her work, which she read aloud at Housesteads fort.

Denisa Comanescu, from Romania, was drawn to the unit which served at Birdoswald fort near Gilsland. They had originally been recruited from Dacia, now modern-day Romania.

Iraqi writer Samuel Shimon dwells on the experiences of his countrymen, the Tigris Bargemen, who were based at Arbeia fort in South Shields.

The works have been distilled into a new book, called Writing on the Wall, edited by Steve Chettle at pounds 25. Community workshops and school events were held as part of the project and hundreds of copies of the book will be donated to schools, libraries, museums and attractions along the Hadrian's Wall corridor.

Of course, as the Vindolanda letters show, there has always been writing on the Wall. …

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