SPRING SCHOOL, APRIL 1st-5th 2019, NEWCASTLE UNIVERSITY
From 1st – 5th April 2019 I participated in a Spring School, ‘Strange Meetings: Poetry’s Encounters with the World Around Us’, a Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts special poetry course at Newcastle University. The week of intensive creative practice explored poetry as a site of encounter with the world around us, focusing on history, visual art, music and translation as a source of poetic inspiration.
Monday’s tutor was Sinéad Morrissey, a wonderful poet and educator, who’s teaching I had already enjoyed for a semester as part of my syllabus in MA Writing Poetry at Newcastle University. In Sinéad’s session we explored Docupoetry (poetry which responds to current affairs), looking at models such as The Book of the Dead by Muriel Ruckeyser and more contemporary examples like Grenfell by Nick Laird. Prior to the class I had researched some aspects of current affairs and news topics, such as violent video games inspiring young people to commit acts of violence, with the intention of using the classroom work to begin to draft on this subject, but writing exercises and discussion took me in a different exciting direction and I began to draft poetry on new themes and in structures I had never anticipated trying out.
Gillian Allnutt taught our session on Tuesday. I found Gillian to be a magical lady. She has never taught me in a formal or informal capacity, but I have enjoyed her readings at literary events at The Lit and Phil Library, Newcastle, as well as The Newcastle Poetry Festival 2018 and have read her mysterious poetry in magazines I subscribe to like Poetry Ireland Review and Poetry Review. This session was very interactive, filled with lots of little exercises inspired by Music. An almost spiritual aura filled the room, floating somewhere between composition and choreography.
‘A poem can’t take the place of a plum, or an apple, but just as a painting can recreate, by illusion, the dimension it loses by being confined to canvas, so a poem, by its own system of illusions, can set up a rich and apparently living world within its particular limits’.
Sylvia Plath, 1961
Tara Bergin’s Wednesday class on Ekphrastic poetry was the session I was most looking forward to, partly because my forthcoming MPhil study at Newcastle University will incorporate some ekphrastic poetry into my pamphlet length sequence. I have loved Tara’s teaching on the MA Writing Poetry in the past and have found her to be a hugely supportive kind person. In the classroom we experimented with form and modes of expression like symbolism, metaphor and fragmentation. For one of the first times I actually enjoyed reading my poetry aloud in front of others and I found the writing exercises we did to be unexpected and interesting. More drafts of new poems were spun and nurtured.
Olivia McCannon’s NCLA First Thursday reading on National Poetry Day last year was very inspiring and I was enthusiastic to begin Thursday’s class on Translation. In this session we used a collaborative model to translate another poem from another language pooling the diverse strengths, skills and perspectives we could each bring to the table. We experimented with individual and communal ways of working and whilst questioning our relationships with the source, explored the transformative terrain of translation. I found this to be the most challenging class of all and initially struggled to comprehend the visual and written prompts we were studying but decided to create my own interpretations from what I could understand. Ironically, I found that my most successful poems came from this session, one of which I read aloud at Newcastle Poetry Festival 2019.
After a week of exploring various poetic intersections with the world around us and with lots of ideas gathered in our notebooks, we spent the final day of the course thinking about the process of Editing. Our teacher for the day, Sinéad Morrissey, talked us through editing principles and we were able to each workshop one of our drafts in class. I found the supportive atmosphere in the classroom to be hugely rewarding. I feel that insightful comments made by Sinéad and my fellow students improved my workshopped poem immensely. I observed some of the poems workshopped in class to be particularly beautiful, an experience which I found emotional and enchanting.