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A Magazine for Sheffield

Ashley Holmes' exhibition Skylarking closes in Sheffield this Saturday – here are two pieces from the show

Wemmy Ogunyankin's poem and Akeem Balogun's short story both speak to the way landscapes weave themselves into our histories and our memories.

James Mulkeen Soft Ground Moorm Sheffield 4

Part of the Skylarking exhibition at Soft Ground.

James Mulkeen.

Skylarking, a free exhibition and events programme curated by Sheffield-based artist, DJ and broadcaster Ashley Holmes, closes this Saturday after three months.


Wemmy Ogunyankin.

Until then, you still have time to check out what Holmes describes as “a constellation of structures to encourage contemplation, rest and listening” at the Soft Ground gallery on the Moor.

Taking in photography, audio and even specially designed furniture, the shows also features written pieces by long-time Now Then contributor Akeem Balogun and creative writer Wemmy Ogunyankin.

To create a little taster of the show, Akeem and Wemmy kindly agreed to share their writing with us. Akeem’s short story ‘Landscape Carving’ is an impressionistic snapshot of a family in the Peak District, while Wemmy’s poem ‘The Elements’ explores the tactile nature of the land beneath our feet.

Landscape Carving

Upwards of fifty years was the distance between them and the three grandchildren struggling to keep pace but who had come because they preferred the walk to church. The oldest sung hymns during their journey sometimes – because she felt bad about missing service, she said.

‘A little rain is coming,’ Grandad announced. He noticed the children’s faces grow concern. He told them he had walked these routes in all kinds of weather when he wasn’t much older than them. He used to hide in the open, he explained, but still nature had never picked on him.

‘Does that help?’ Grandma asked them after he’d finished.


Akeem Balogun.

The youngest looked up at her and nodded. ‘I like here,’ they said, ‘but I don’t want to get wet.’


The two of them had started coming for exercise; they were older, and they had time. It was a place he knew well. She remembered the first time he described how he had travelled the Peaks as a teenager with no food in his stomach. Before a real job, before the music, before she had later joined his sound system.

It was liberating listening to him.

He told her how he begged for lifts back to the city when broke, and sometimes no one would help, so he slept in bush. He had shrugged and said, ‘In the summer, it was like home, only back then no one else like us came.’

Their walks at first were challenging, nothing else, but they learned it was somewhere unchained from elderly responsibilities. They used to listen to music, but they stopped after discovering the Peaks had its own. Their playlists from home carried baggage; either too much pain, too much history or too much limitation. That music had been made. Here, it occurred.

Today’s soundtrack was heavy. It rumbled behind the wind and the sound shook them. They struggled to hear each other, and the pebbles of rain extended into long sticks that drummed a pattern against their coats.

‘You said it’d be little,’ she said.

‘No. The weatherman did, and you know you can’t trust those people.’

He told them they weren’t far from a place he used to hide.

The youngest sneezed.


The children couldn’t hear the harmony in the sound outside, its intensity was magnified by the echo of the cave. It kept them quiet.

He was about to recount another story, but she stared at him. Her expression told him: don’t tell them why you stayed here, about the people who wanted to cut you for cheating them, the police who wanted to jail you. She said aloud, ‘Don’t let them feel what you carved here.’

A blast of air rushed past the mouth of the cave and was amplified inside.

They were forced to shut their eyes. Their hair flicked against their faces.

The oldest tried to laugh it off. ‘Are we hiding in a House of Joy or something?’

‘We could be,’ he said. His eyes had lit up. ‘But here the bass is limitless; the earth breaks here. We at a higher place than where we live – but not taller than the sky.’ He poked his head forward at the children. ‘We wouldn’t be able to breathe up there.’

They laughed.

He pointed outside. ‘The trees can’t dance like that in the city – too much concrete. Not enough space.’

He glanced at her. She nodded. The wind was slowing. He pre-empted the youngsters’ interruption and raised a hand. ‘Hear it now;’ water dripped from the rocky ceiling, ‘this the closing sequence . . . Listen, or you’ll miss the rest of the music.’

Akeem Balogun

Ashley Holmes Speedwell Cavern 5
Ashley Holmes.

The Elements


Earth is mother
And I see her rubbing the gun
on the small of her back
with revolution sowed, seeded, seeping under
her sharp blades of grass
Blades cushioned by the softest, toughest soil
the same soil that holds me
the bones of my feet
the bones of my earth
the earth in my bones
I dig and dig
deep into the archive of my fingers and toes
My mother’s, her mother’s feet
Tenderly, preciously
Listening to the living memory of her
in and of the soil
A loving memory of ferocious jungle
soothing blue skies and wild green leaves
from trees bearing, dropping beautiful fruit
And though we moved from community soil to city cement
from a warm fresh breeze to stone cold concrete
Earth never left


And if I listen there’s the wind whispering
Loud enough to hear beside the city traffic and
the beats of my eyelashes
A whipping, a lashing on my deep brown skin
already laid
with welts of sunshine, kisses
I wish I could return but every exhale
disappears and dissipates
into the ether, like embers, like ashes
A cool puff of nothing but empty love
A soul sucking, life-giving moment of breath that becomes air
and air becomes whistle, a song, sweet music
In and around my ears
I take deep heavenly breaths, air flowing
through my wide nostrils, buxom chest and soft belly
Gentle but spirited, like the water that moves beneath me
And the rain that falls above me


On this boat
My body is a vessel in a vessel
My body is
a living, floating memory of my father’s mother
in and on the loam
Sat on a lake that becomes river, and will become sea-- amen
So listen
tenderly, preciously
to the groans of the stream
the groans of my bones
and the groans of the sea
Listen to the gentle hum of the engine
that spurs her on, wave after wave
Listen to the sweet sax
Held and caressed in loving fingers
and cool hands
Vibrations of the breath, vibrations of the sea… mmh…
With breath as engine
A cool puff of something
Deep, rich, wet and fiery
Wow, what a bullet.

Wemmy Ogunyankin

Accessibility info

Soft Ground is a space occupied on a temporary basis. It is on the first floor of a building on The Moor. It has lift access and a disabled all gender toilet.

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