Not another day must go by without me saying how much I enjoyed this recent workshop, another writing session organised by Hilda Sheehan who had recruited Martin Malone at the 11th hour to replace an unwell Carrie Etter (now, happily, recovered).
Martin introduced himself by stating that what he wanted most when he signed up for a workshop was the chance to write a keeper; a poem that wouldn’t end up in the recycling box. We all liked the sound of that.
So Martin started throwing us writing prompts. He’s obviously an experienced writing teacher and workshop facilitator, as well as being a successful poet, and has a seemingly endless stream of exercises to encourage the words to flow. Hilda, also participating in the session, urged us to get creative, “Don’t over-think it! Just write!” was her rousing slogan.
And we wrote: our life stories in six words; we drew maps (no text allowed) of journeys for another person to interpret into poems; we interpreted their maps; we played ‘The Exquisite Corpse’. For those of you who don’t know, the last mentioned is a tested and tried writing workshop exercise: each person writes the first line of a poem then passes their notebook to the next person, who writes the second line, then the book is passed to the next person for the third line, and so on, until all participants (ten, in our case) have written ten different lines of poetry and ten, ten-line poems have been written by the group. I loved this exercise, loved the pressure of being ‘gifted’ a line of poetry to respond to on the spot. The atmosphere was consistently friendly and supportive, and Martin was gentle and encouraging, but there was a delicious edge of fear to this exercise, (what if I can’t write anything? what if I ruin that brilliant line I’ve been given?) which I found exciting (I don’t get out much!)
Actually, the playfulness and spontaneity of ‘the Exquisite Corpse’ (presumably the name reflects the unlikely juxtapositions which this exercise inevitably generates) reminded me of Chapter 9 in the ModPo course (which has only just finished – I will write about that soon) when we looked at Bernadette Mayer’s list of Journal Ideas and Writing Experiments. The ten-line poem in my notebook didn’t really work, I have to admit, but that wasn’t the point of the exercise, not for me in any case. The lines I liked the best were my lines, gifted to other people’s notebooks but still my lines, the ten unplanned lines I wrote without consciously knowing how I’d arrived at them, a very different method of working for me, a dreaming, plodding kind of person. I have since been playing around with the ten lines, trying to work them into poems; they feel strange and slightly dangerous, not really mine at all, stolen goods, as if it was another person who wrote them. I enjoyed the feeling of being slightly nervous, on edge, out of my safety zone; more importantly, I like the writing that emerged; not just one poem but, possibly, several keepers.
So, again, another really useful and enjoyable writing morning which was followed by an afternoon session of participants workshopping one poem each; closely reading each other’s work under Martin’s guidance. Here, Martin was really thorough, keeping the session focussed and putting each poem through its paces in order to get to the nub of what was and wasn’t working. Extremely helpful and always enjoyable, I’m delighted to have found these writing events organised by Hilda in Swindon. Another session with Carrie this weekend, all details on her website, and Hilda has incorporated more workshops into the Bluegate Poets Programme, details here. I see that there is a Jo Bell workshop on offer for January which looks extremely interesting.