‘It’s those skills slow-learnt in the depths of love / That I’m working at.’ (Pearl Diver final line – Lady Nakatomi, trans Graeme Wilson from the Manyoshu)
A proper letter on this occassion – even if brief. I had attended the John O’Connor Writing School and Literary Arts Festival (2-5 Nov) and had the incredible fortune to attend the Poetry Workshop, three sessions from Fri to Sun, with Lemn Sissay.
I don’t attend creative writing workshops that much any more but I had a real wish to work with Lemn as I admire his approach and his sharing his own story through the medium of poetry. I’m not a performance poet by any manner of means but there is always a lot to be learned about how you present yourself and the poetic choices made in the face of the context that you are expressing.
All poetry is love poetry
We tackled the lovely world of anaphora – I’ve been all over it myself in workshops these last few months. The first exercise was to write about someone we love (could be ourselves) using an opener and a bit of end rhyme. Challenging for those for whom end rhyme does not feel a support. For me the most challenging was the subject matter. While I subscribe to the old saw about all poetry being love poetry – between one thing and another, the humour has not been on me to write full-out poetic tributes for some time. I struggled with this most normal of subject matters and produced a piece with end rhyme and jagged edges. It was a joy to hear the sharing of the other workshop participants. It was a gorgeous group of people gathered there – some I knew before and some I met for the first time.
‘Overused and much abused promises of delight’
Sang Janis Ian and I’m one with George Orwell’s sentiments in 1984 and the contaminating influence of ‘doublespeak’. The Saturday writing exercise was to create a poem beginning ‘Let there be…’ (after Lemn’s ‘Let there be Peace‘). I’m a fan of the more sticky aspects of the love spectrum – anger, falling out, hatred etc so that you can get back to love. I decided having had so much trouble the day before to risk doing something that is like nails on a blackboard to my ears. Here is where I got to. Please know that I am addressing myself here rather than lofty wishes for humankind. But I’m sharing for anybody who might be going out in sympathy with me – whose life isn’t quite the cosy or picturesque world of family or lovers that we glide along looking like we might be, for the sake of not sticking out, or simply because rowing against that current is just too tiring.
Let there be love
so the harsh, strong tick of the clock is in favour
and the maggot-food flesh is welcome at table
and the sun and the moon swap places
with chairs, graves, winter gardens
so the past is all possibility
and the chill before dawn is a saviour
and Charismatics in the front seat of the car
lead with ‘They’ll know we are Christians by our..’
and mean it.
let’s find Orwellian words to express it
where the wreck that’s not recorded
is accepted for the exhibition
and rifts move on to other landscapes
Let there be love
and let it grow – stubborn as dandelions –
through the concrete we pave over it.
Thanks & Acknowledgements
I wanted to thank the organisers of the John O’Connor festival for having the opportunity to be part of this workshop. Lemn Sissay’s reading of ‘Something Dark’ and the discussions around the work and wider, and the participants all adding to this being a very thought-provoking workshop from my perspective – just what I needed, I suspect. The rest of the festival was just pure class. So fantastic to have caught up with some many great people. Looking forward already until next year.