A writing weekend in Herefordshire. A long time ago. Most of us had to share a room. I arrived first, unpacked and hung my beautiful kimono behind the bathroom door. This kimono, black with striking embroidered butterflies, always made me feel elegant, tall. I am not tall.
The room allotted to me and my as yet unmet room-mate looked out over a wide valley of polythene "lakes", under which strawberries were nestling. The polythene was dazzling in the sun, and as I turned away to avoid being blinded the door flew open and Geraldine arrived, throwing her case down, running about and exclaiming with delight over the wide view, the bars of chocolate and bottles of wine plus Honesty Box provided, the space. She bounced twice on the bed then raced into the bathroom to inspect that too. A joyful shriek of delight followed her, then out she came, wearing my kimono.
"Look at the robes they provide here!" she squealed "Aren't they fab?!"
It was very hard to tell her it was mine and that the provided robes were those underneath, those white towelling robes that, though comfortable, make everyone look a fat white cocoon... For a moment her face was so crestfallen I found myself almost wanting to give the kimono to her.
Now I wish I had: Geraldine died two years later, quite unexpectedly, of breast cancer. When I was ill myself with ovarian cancer this kimono was the one thing that helped me retain my sense of dignity. It helped me walk tall, even when I was quaking inside.
I so wish I had given poor Geraldine the means of walking tall.
Monday, 17 May 2010
Robbie Burton who runs the Cross Border Stanza of the Poetry Society organised a workshop day at Llangollen, at Plas Newydd, the former home (and now museum) of the Two Ladies of Llangollen. Appropriate, since, in their day, many well-known poets and writers came here to visit these two infamous women.
Robbie had invited David Morley to come and lead the workshop and it was one of the most challenging and hectic days I've ever attended. We were set wonderful tasks: sent out into the grounds to interview a tree or other item from the natural world; sent out again to make an attempt at imitating the rhythm of bird song in our poems; again to create a new form, either in syllabics or possibly a concrete poem by using some form of mathematics in our writing about natural things. We had the use of a Sonic Explorer for the bird song exercise - a very simple machine like an ear trumpet with head phones that greatly amplifies sound - and this was a joy to use. Suddenly a single song comes through loud and clear as if you've never heard it before; just like being present at the Creation itself!
We finished the day by making poetry installations in the woodlands; I worked with Martin Zarrop and sent him scurrying about for pebbles, ramsons, leaves and twigs and together we made the three-line three-word poem pictured above on the right.
We had to use a rough crochet for the song bit as we ran out of pebbles and time (David set the strictest time limits on all our activities!)
Pictured centre is Robbie's own installation, a poem about Crow Castle which refers to Dinas Bran, the castle on the distant hill opposite these standing stones in the centre of the lawn at Plas Newydd.
And left is David himself pointing out the spider's web that someone else's succinct installation (two words only: Spinning Workshop) led to.
The day ended with an amazing happening: one of the group, Diane, sang to us, a beautiful song and a beautiful voice. She stood on steps by the cafe and filled the air with her singing.
What finer end to a poetry day could you have? I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it but I have to confess I could hardly get out of bed this morning: I was exhausted! But it was really well worth a little fatigue.
Tuesday, 11 May 2010
Left to right on this image are: yours truly, the poetry input for the weekend; Sue Harris, singing input; Gitika Partington, likewise; Kate, participant from Sheffield who runs singing groups there; and Polly Bolton, the organiser and singing facilitator.
Sue Harris (Herefordshire) runs singing groups, plays the dulcimer, and does gigs with poet Roger Garfitt.
Gitika Partington creates musicals for children in schools, runs a choir in London and is involved in the Berkshire educational project Sing Up.
Polly Bolton runs the Oak Barn workshops, a choir called Larks, and an a cappella group called Polisumi. She has also created a wonderful CD of her sung version of Housman's A Shropshire Lad, with the poems read by Nigel Hawthorne.
This was a weekend of writing your own songs and it's right to say it was a brilliant weekend. In every photograph I took everyone looks so absorbed and happy.
It began with my workshop, a rapid burst of writing exercises to get people going and I was so impressed by what came out: a lovely poem about the humble dandelion flowering in a Tesco car park; phrases like a branch of birds /the oxygen corridor/ singing the stars to sleep; and some very touching and also funny poems about items of clothing we have loved (or hated). I was delighted with the way the group plunged into the tasks set, and later both delighted and surprised that in the set-aside time for one-to-ones I didn't have a single space left. People brought me songs they were working on, poems they'd written and wanted help with, and lines they thought could be turned into song. It really was a great joy working with them all.
Not only that but when the rest of the time was spent in singing some of the work produced, what a treat it was for me to listen to all these experienced singers harmonising, creating new threads of melody, and giving voice like a million skylarks rising to sing. I'll never forget it! I had a wonderful, wonderful weekend.
Wednesday, 5 May 2010
This weekend I shall be near Ludlow, running a poetry workshop for natural voice practitioners. They will be seeking to learn how to write simple lyrics for songs suitable for a-capella style singing. I am bringing a whole bagful of poetry collections, including the work of Jane Kenyon, Gillian Clarke, Diana Hendry, Michael Swan, Charles Bennett, Marita Over and Chris Kinsey, plus some anthologies for people to look through. We'll be looking at some of my own poems that have been set to song by musician Polly Bolton, and at simple verse forms, the use of refrain, the importance of simplicity. This is the first time I have worked with natural voice practitioners and I am really looking forward to it. Over the course of the weekend some of the work we produce will be turned into song and we'll all join in!