Threads: Exeter

Manchester City of Literature project


A small, neat ball of soft pure wool, or
remains of clothing.
The shepherd nurtured and sheared the sheep.
The flock mooch and munch contentedly
in the Exe Valley orchards,
far away from their ancestral home in Shropshire.

Rich in colour, soft and snug,
a gift from Chinese neighbours newly come,
reflects an unexpected love.

Red, it’s my colour,
the cuffs rippling in the wind,
Hung lazily off an arm.

You don’t know where I’m from,
you don’t see the labour,
you see Skye, deep time,
distant, convenient distractions.

Hand-made and sold by women in rural India.
The green scarf – practical, beautiful, but humble.
Protects me, as it did then. It offers
priceless shelter from a sometimes harsh world.

A square of muslin, one of many, is textured and dense.
When used, it expands to become fine and smooth.
Later, my son will ask me to tie it around his small shoulders
as a Superhero cloak.
He wears it throughout the first year of school,
which coincides with the end of his parents’ relationship.
His eyes, my eyes – back and forth.

Red, stripy headscarf protects age ten,
red tartan wraps my belly seven years on,
the place that warms three boys, then cushions mum,
clutching her handkerchief as she gasps.

Her remembered home I took with me,
The double-sided shawl of crimson-irony
Like my friend who gave it me, she sang:
‘dance with the colour, swim with the sea’, trust the space between my yarn, endlessly.

အဝတ်တထည်၊ ကိုယ်တခု (a body and a dress),
mother-tongue, English verse,
one wears the other,
the lightest gauze against the thick weight of history,
a shadow play of textures, unpicked seams.



Threads is a ‘living’ poem produced by members of the local community in Exeter City, created as part of a workshop with ‘Quay Words’ Spring 2023 writer-in-residence Davina Quinlivan.

Literature Works has been running the Quay Words programme at Exeter Custom House since 2019, in Exeter City of Literature. Davina Quinlivan was our writer-in-residence in March 2023 for a Threads themed season, in partnership with the Devon and Exeter Institution. Davina is a Lecturer in the Department of English and Creative Writing at The University of Exeter. Her memoir, Shalimar: A Story of Place and Migration, was published with Little Toller Books (2022).