In the circle of fire, lamplight and kindness something magical happens. We know each other well enough and trust each other deeply enough for very little to remain hidden or secret. And poetry, of course, allows us to share thoughts, feelings, experiences and the twists and turns of the life of the soul in a way that little else does.
In the afternoon, we do a crit session. The morning, though, is entirely devoted to my prompting the creation of new writing. I suppose I've dreamed up now maybe close on 250 different creative workshop sessions for this group, the Two Rivers poets, though sometimes naturally I repeat, with variations, an earlier session.
I like to offer workshops that are specifically aimed at disrupting the all-too-linear processes of the rational mind. While poetry needs an objective eye and the shaping ability of the more analytical aspects of the mind, I consider that to be very much the secondary part of the process.
Most of us can write to make sense to the logical part of the mind. Much harder, for many people, is getting out of one's own light enough as to allow the subconscious to throw up images and ideas in a lateral and surprising fashion, so many of my exercises are geared to that. Someone, Ben Okri perhaps, described this as dropping a fishing line into the subconscious.
To do this I offer sessions that require letting go of the 'thinking' process, that circumvent the inner critic before s/he gets a foot in the door, and especially ones that encourage juxtaposing phrases, images and ideas that don't necessarily make 'sense' in a logical way but that do ignite in conjunction in the psyche. My timing for all of these is fairly tight, so that in order to create something the writers simply don't have the time to think too hard (they can always go home and do that with the raw material).
Today's session was one of these: doing long speedy freewrites and then tearing them up and swapping pieces; choosing non-adjacent phrases that began with the letters of our name from books of poetry then finding ways to rewrite, redraft and recombine the phrases to make something new; tearing up old poems of ours to collage with last year's calendars. Although I call this play, the poets look at me sceptically. They know enough about me by now to know that I'm going to try and slip one past them; one that will be quite taxing. Although without fail deeper possibilities will emerge, it's tiring keeping the personal syntactical pedant, the 'sense-maker', at bay for any length of time. However, the results today, as always, were so rich.
Of course, that inner editor is finally allowed in to shape the poem into something coherent, though I like to stress at least some of the time to stop short of tidying the edges up too tightly or tying the ends too neatly. 'Whatever you have to say, leave / The roots on, let them / Dangle // And the dirt // Just to make clear / Where they come from', said Charles Olson, and that's good advice on several levels for the poet. Let it breathe, give it space. Take a risk that some people won't get it and many won't like it.
(after Sharon Olds)
He was, he wrote (the morning bruise-coloured)
tending his own life now: redressing the balance
of what could be required or might be asked
I scarcely recognised his hand or the language –
my gaze so easily escaped me, climbing the ladder
to light, or hex, or spell; or to the precipice edge –
what might have been become instead that crazed
eggshell, pigeon or jackdaw, fallen untended
and unhatched onto the cold slate hearth at dawn.
© Roselle Angwin