Having booked tickets for BarCamp in Manchester recently through Eventbrite, I had a look around at events in Leeds. I am aware of the site but do not look on it, I usually follow a hyperlink, book tickets and bugger off.
Whilst looking I saw a workshop entitled ‘Write Me a Picture: Writing Workshop in Association with LIPPFest Literary Festival.’ I read the blurb and thought it sound interesting, and as a bonus, the tickets were free. Therefore, I signed up.
I have an interest in writing, as most of you will know, but generally not creative writing. It is something I dabble in, but without any real interest or skill, so a poetry workshop was quite possibly going to be a challenge!
By Saturday morning, I had roped a friend in. I should point out that said friend is a very talented poet, who performs regularly, so I was wondering why I was going even more. I had no idea what to expect. For starters, it was held in The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery at the University of Leeds. I did not even know they had a gallery! I have knowledge of three places at the university, and none of them are in the main buildings, unless you count the Union bar.
The workshop group was quite small, approximately twelve or so people. Suzannah Evans, who is one of LIPPFest’s young poets-in-residence, was facilitating the workshop; she gave a brief introduction and invited the participants to do a round of names and a brief introduction. She kicked off with an anecdote about a man practising at the skate park at Hyde Park. Several of the group had been to workshops held here before or knew each other from various writing groups.
I was feeling a little out of my depth at this point. By the time it got round to me I mumbled my name and something about writing factual work, etc. and was met with a few nods and nonverbal acknowledgments.
Suzannah quickly started us writing, she gave us a line:
‘I found a shell’
With no further description or clarification and asked us to write for five or ten minutes.
As predictable as I am, I choose to write about a seashell. A few of the group managed to work it into a different scenario. One lady interpreted it as a shell of a building, abandoned and unloved. The friend I was with used it as a metaphor for a man (drug addicted). Again I was back to feeling out of my depth!
After those who wanted read theirs for the group, Suzannah took us to view the current special collections exhibition. In a smaller gallery upstairs was the exhibition itself, which explored the history of independent publishing at Leeds University.
As I mentioned previously I do not know a great deal about the University, so I found this interesting, the local history and poetry / publishing. We were encouraged to view the materials and write if the muse struck us. My muse had not had enough coffee to strike me, but a few words stood out for me. I jotted these down and continued to read the poetry available. I had not come across any of the poets before, nor the publications.
A word in particular stood out to me and I noted down a few lines, more prose than poetry.
After a Tea break, again those who wanted to share their work could. I was intrigued how so many people could view the same things and interpret them so many different ways.
Suzannah asked someone to read Ian McMillian’s My Dog, which is a humorous poem. After a brief discussion about opening lines, McMillian having used someone else’s as the basis for this poem, we moved on to another writing task. She gave us an index of first lines, approximately one hundred and asked to pick one and write something from it. I struggle to write freely when told to, Write or Die would have been great for me here. However, as I read the lines, ideas were jostling around my head; I could not write fast enough.
I chose the line:
‘I killed them, but they would not die.’
Here is was I scribbled:
I killed them, but they would not die.
Their resilience to all, heart breaking.
Nature’s best, homeopathic,
Laser beams pin pointed,
Chemical reactions not revolutionary enough.
Prayers, chants, mantras.
Positive, pragmatic thoughts,
All in vain.
Beaten back beyond the border,
But three times no.
The fight harder than the disease,
My body’s system sending signals,
My brain unable to comprehend the direction,
The pain, the sickness, the loss.
The illness I can fight,
I have fought and won before.
The loss of myself is harder.
Not quite at the skill level of Keats or Byron, but not bad for five minutes (well I thought!). I even had the nerve to read it aloud. I had some encouragement and polite praise.
The next task was in response to reading Peter Sansom’s My Town. We discussed how it written and whether the line breaks were deliberately hard to keep in with the personalisation of it being his town. We discussed the use of places and borrowed nostalgia, to feel like we could identify the place and the memories. I was comfortable enough at this point to disagree with one of the ladies, and explain why I liked a particular line, what it meant to me and why it added something.
Before the next writing opportunity, Suzannah added some extra notes to include. She asked us to include:
A place we knew well, perhaps where we lived;
Some place names, shops, pubs, etc.;
The sound of the place;
Other people, who were there, what, were they doing?;
An urban myth or some gossip;
A piece of truth, an anecdote;
And we could only do one thing, for example, Sansom had laid down, we could feed the ducks, etc.
This was more of a challenge for me as I felt restricted by what to add and how. After ten minutes or so of writing, she asked if anyone wanted to read theirs, almost everyone did by this point. I could hear some very good poems developing.
Although we reached the allotted time easily, nobody was in a rush to leave. Overall, it was a very pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning, and I will be back. Well, if I can find another one…
For those that are interested in finding out more: