I am a big fan of writing workshops. Writing amongst other creative people with similar interests to mine is rewarding and different because writing is mostly a solitary activity for me. Engaging in workshop exercises, I am compelled to fill my empty white pages. These are designated moments to write and I make time for it to happen. Who knows who I might meet at a workshop? The reading materials provided in workshops are often a treat. A booklet of poems to devour later in bed, or the next morning with my breakfast. I discover more authors and writing styles that I had never encountered until now. If particularly enchanted, I may even decide to mimic their magic, steal something I want for my own.
One of the reasons I enjoy workshops is because of the opportunity to get feedback on my poetry. The views of others in the group can steer me to identify strengths and weaknesses in my writing. Feedback I get from a workshop has influenced subsequent drafts of different pieces. And I think the feedback I have encountered so far is always constructive. Hearing that someone enjoys my work is lovely, but I want to know why they enjoyed it. And I want to know even more what they didn’t enjoy it; why ask for feedback on something that you think is perfect.
Last Saturday, I participated in a ‘Creative Saturdays’ workshop, organised by the NCLA in Newcastle University. Saturday’s workshop was ran by Gillian Allnutt; Folia/Folio. Gillian has published nine collections of poetry including wake (Bloodaxe, 2018). She gained The Queen’s Gold Medal of Poetry 2016. She currently holds a Royal Literary Fund Fellowship at the University of York.
Gillian Allnutt’s workshop is an example of a workshop I enjoyed for a host of reasons. I sat in a room in the company of others with an enthusiasm for poetry and had lots of fun. I stepped out of my comfort zone, even singing a traditional verse in a dramatic performance with a partner. The workshop inspired new drafts of pieces and I gained appreciated feedback from the rest of the group to improve them. We sat in spellbound silence and listened to beautiful music to gratify our heads with memories and words. It was delightful to hear the often unexpected ideas from others; clearly we had all been inspired by the workshop activities in different ways.
In Gillian’s workshop we considered theme and variation in poetry and experimented with refrain and repetition in our work. We studied ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ by Wallace Stevens, reading the poem in a round, together as a group and discussing our most favourite moments in the verse. We wrote our own takes; ‘7 ways of meeting X’. X could be a deceased grandmother, an evil ex-boyfriend or even an imaginary someone, an X. X turned into many somethings. I left the workshop with a notebook of ideas for potential Xs, new poems quietly waiting to be written.