Sunday, 27 January 2013

'Walking Stories/Leaving Footprints' - Creative Writing Workshops


I wasn’t sure if yesterday’s creative writing workshop would go ahead. Like other parts of Britain we had snow snow and yes, more snow! Cumbria had its share of the white stuff mostly dumped on us on Friday. This meant that members of our writing group who live in parts of Cumbria that gritters don’t reach, would have a struggle to get out of their drives, lanes, farmyards, let alone reach a passable road!

However, three out of the eight signed up arrived. Lancaster was a green patch in the white so that was fairly ok for two of the group who came by train. Roads between Grange and Ulverston were still slushy and slithery in places, so thank you to our new member from Grange for joining us – complete with home made lemon-drizzle cake!

We began by workshopping a piece of writing each of the group had brought along Our new member A. shared a poem that meant something to her and read it to us:  ‘The Journey’ by Mary Oliver - which nicely took us onto the next part of our workshop, the outdoor writing/walking/reflecting session.

I themed yesterday’s workshop around the idea of Peninsulas which are “almost an island” and what that means in terms of geography, possible social isolation, its benefits and drawbacks and also the idea of metaphoric and symbolic peninsulas and asked each of the group to ponder on these ideas. I ended the morning session by inviting someone to read Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘The Peninsula’ and we discussed this, sharing what worked, perhaps didn’t and if or not we liked it and why. I shared with them a quote from Helen Vendler who has written excellently and extensively on Heaney’s poetry, then shared Heaney's poem:

The Peninsula

When you have nothing more to say, just drive
For a day all round the peninsula.
The sky is tall as over a runway,
The land without marks, so you will not arrive

But pass through, though always skirting landfall.
At dusk, horizons drink down sea hill,
The ploughed field swallows the whitwashed gable
And you're in the dark again. Now recall

The glazed foreshore and silhouetted log,
That rock where breakers shredded into rags,
The leggy birds stilted on their own legs,
Islands riding themselves out into the fog.

And drive back home, still with nothing to say
Except that now you will uncode all landscapes
By this: things founded clean on their own shapes,
Water and ground in their extremity.

- Seamus Heaney 'Opened Ground - Poems 1966-1996' Faber & Faber

“A Pack of four she-wolves and Roy the dog” (Thank you A.)

Yesterday’s a plein air session took place on the beach at Newbiggin. The tide was going out and the horse and rider I often see were curvetting on the silver-lit mud flats as we got out of the car. We wandered along the beach, each of us absorbed in our own actions, pauses, reflections, uplifted heads to the sky, clouds, distant horizon of tide returning to the Irish Sea…

… picking up shells, driftwood, sea glass, stopping to contemplate, in silence, an outward action: oyster catchers prodding wet mud, a solitary walker saying hello her dog eager for attention before scampering after her… our inner thoughts our own, mapping inward landscapes of memories, the outer and inner meeting on this place that is almost an island marking time and space between sea and land.

We returned home for late lunch, chats and much laughter, then settled down to write in response to stimuli I provided. The following kicker lines were used taken from the highly recommended “Earth Shattering - Ecopoems” (Bloodaxe Books, ed. Neil Astley).

Its mouth is stopped with bramble, thorn and briar  fr. ‘The Combe’ Edward Thomas p.60
The plum orchard/tidal with bees fr ‘Livestock’ John Burnside p.204
I sit at McDonald’s eating my fragment of forest fr. Fast Food, William Heyen, p.172
It gathers the river shivering in a wet field fr. ‘Birdsong for two voices’ Alice Oswald p.116
This is why, sometimes, the grass looks electric fr. ‘The orgasms of organisms’ Dorianne Laux p.111
I was pushing my cart through the sharp/fluorescence of the supermarket fr. ‘The Devil I don’t know’ Chase Twichell p.96

I asked each of the group to choose one and write in response to it. Later, after sharing what they’d written, I asked them to read out the poem their line came from. This was a lovely way to end the workshop. Thank you.

Geraldine Green 27.1.2013

Next workshops:

February 23rd, March 23rd, April 27th, May 25

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