Tag Archives: Poetry

Creating connections through poetry

Last year  the Director of Bridging Arts, Susan Roberts, contacted me to ask if I would like to provide a poetry workshop at Truro Museum, helping people to explore their personal responses to the Heart of Conflict exhibition about the Cornish experience of World War One.

I visited the Bridging Arts website to find out more about them, and really loved their mission statement. I said yes, please!

Bridging Arts links real people to real issues with real action.

We bring people of different cultures, interests and backgrounds together. We commission work, stage and tour exhibitions, develop educational resources and offer workshops

After the workshop, Susan applied for Heritage Lottery funding to develop the project further, with a series of talks and writing workshops focusing on one part of Cornwall that was of surprising importance in that war – Hayle.

The project was given funding, and the three talks by local historians have already taken place. They were incredibly well supported by the local community. There was standing room only at the war graves talk in Phillack Church; a throng of people at the guided walk around the National Explosives Factory site and a full house for the talk about the 251st Tunnelling Company, who fought deep underground beneath the trenches.

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Phillack Churchyard, where local servicemen and civilians killed in an accident at the Explosives Factory are buried
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The talk at the Explosives Factory site in the Towans
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A full house to hear about the brave Cornish tunnelling company

The second half of the project is three poetry workshop days that I’ll be running, in which we’ll explore the same three topics through writing.

My task, in planning the workshops, is to make them

  • completely accessible for anyone in the area who would like to see how writing poetry about their own place feels, even if they have no experience of creative writing at all
  • suitable for people from outside the town,  or who didn’t go to the talks, so will know very little about the history
  • engaging for writers and poets throughout Cornwall who just love writing and enjoy the feeling of instant community that comes when people sit down to write together
  • effective as stand-alone sessions, so people can choose to sign up for one, two or all three.

These are the things that are in my mind as I ponder the content of my Heroes of Hayle writing days. Planning workshops is a challenge I always enjoy, like any other kind of creative process. But it’s been particularly pleasurable with this project because, as well as learning all about the experience of WW1 in the West of Cornwall, I’ve ended each research trip with a wonderful walk and a pasty on some very beautiful beaches.

If you come on one of the workshop days, you could head to the beach with a pasty afterwards too!

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Full moon on the beach after the Explosives Factory walk

The workshops are scheduled for September 8 and 22, and October 6th. There are only 10 places on each workshop so, although they are absolutely FREE, booking is essential.

More information: https://jennyalexander.co.uk/writing-workshops/

Bookings: http://bridging-arts.org/contact-us/ 

 

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‘Poetry is an act of peace’

I came across this quote from Pablo Neruda when I was preparing my workshop for Bridging Arts at the Truro Museum in June, and it was very much in my mind as I watched the writers who came to the workshop engaging on a deep emotional level with the stories in the ‘Heart of Conflict’ exhibition, about the Cornish experience in wartime.

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Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread. Pablo Neruda

Writing is always about connection, whether we’re writing poetry or prose, fiction or non-fiction. In stories, we connect with the characters we create; they come alive for us because of the way they make us feel. In non-fiction, we connect with the ideas and experiences that spark our interest and passion; in poetry, we connect with the symbolic layer of the psyche, where meaning is not objective and exact, but something the heart understands.

Every kind of writing connects us with our shared humanity and helps us feel and appreciate the rich complicatedness of our shared human condition.

I’m thinking about this quotation again today because we seem to be bombarded in the news with reports of appalling acts of ignorance and cruelty, from the vicious suppression of citizens in Catalonia to the treatment of the poor and disabled by our government here. The maverick gunman in Las Vegas. Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump… well I really have no words for them.

What we have, on the side of civilisation, is books. Reading, like writing, strengthens empathy, creates connection. It’s frightening to me that communities are losing public libraries, and schools are losing libraries too. Children are not encouraged and taught to read for pleasure, but rather to analyse and imitate, in order to gain good marks.

In my familiar world of children’s writing, the World Book Day list has just been announced. It’s full of books by celebrities, as if books by wonderful authors are somehow of less value than those that carry a famous name on the cover. We are not teaching children to value writing, but only to value fame.

Sometimes in the madness that seems to have the world in its grip, it can feel as if our civilisation is going to Hell in a handcart. Writing and reading are small acts of rebellion against a dominant ideology of greed and division.

I was really keen to teach the poetry workshop in the ‘Heart of Conflict’ exhibition – it felt like a privilege to have that opportunity. It felt like something really good to do, and I loved the ethos of Bridging Arts, which is all about creating connections.

I’m delighted to say that I’ve just heard from Bridging Arts that they would like me to run some more writing workshops next year in the run-up to the centenary of the end of WW1.

Write, read, remember. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s important.

What do you think? Does reading and writing feel, to you, like ‘an act of peace’?

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‘Writing, for me, is liberating…’

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Judy Dinnen in the House of Dreams to talk about her personal writing, as part of my occasional series of guest blogs on journaling. Judy has an MA in creative writing from Cardiff university and is ordained in the Church of England. Some of her poems have been published in magazines or resource books.

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Judy Dinnen

I write because I need to, because some story or story seed beckons. I think pen and paper is best and sometimes it’s in my book of skies, so I write around clouds or through sunsets. You can see this notebook on a stone on the north Wales coast.

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These clouds might seep into my words but not always. Now I have a book of walls and I wonder how this will constrain or inspire my writing. In the first year of Trump, I have reservations about the effects of walls. I need to become a graffiti writer out in the open air.

I write sporadically, often in holidays or trips to new or interesting places. For example I went to the Nazi parade ground in Nürnberg last year and was moved by the scattered names of prisoners on railway tracks. That’ s a bit like piggybacking on the artwork of others, but I’m glad to say I wasn’t on the trains to Auschwitz. It was the names that spoke to me, that shocked me, so many, yet each one recorded for eternity.

I often pick up on moving words or personal stories and turn an event into poem. I sometimes write freely and carelessly when faced by some problem or angst. I first wrote like this the night my mother died. I never turned that into a poem but it did serve to show how releasing writing can be. I felt also that she had given me this gift of poetry.

Writing for me is liberating; it helps me to think, to feel, to untangle conundrums. That’s why I belong to Lapidus and to The Creative Arts Retreat Movement, or CARM. I have led workshops with the homeless, bereaved and village groups and in this new phase of my life I lead poetry retreats with CARM.

In these retreats I offer Christian prayer, space, poems, writing prompts and plenty of time for punters to explore words. They might explore the joy and value of words, words placed alongside each other, words echoing or enhancing each other, crying together or arguing.

Sometimes I’m just a writer on these retreats and then I use lovely surroundings to inspire me. In that place in North Wales I like to sit on the sea-shore and listen to the waves. They tell me what to write. In that house of prayer there is an intriguing labyrinth and walking round and in and back is a metaphor for life. Scope for raising questions; scope for adventures too!

I love that Judy felt her mother had given her the gift of poetry. That is a wonderful gift indeed.

You can find out more about CARM retreats here

If you keep a diary, journal or notebook, we would love to hear your story. Please send a piece of about 500 words, some pics of you and your journals, plus any links you’d like to include to  author@jennyalexander.co.uk

Leave Judy a comment if you have enjoyed her contribution. 

10 Fantastic Christmas Presents for Writers

It’s that time again, and the great thing about buying things for writers is that you can give them something that will provide weeks or months of writing pleasure and inspiration without breaking the bank.

Here are some suggestions for things your writing friends might like – or if you’re a writer, why not treat yourself?

Gorgeous Notebooks.

The name says it all, and they really are gorgeous. I’ve been using them for my writing journals for several years now, as readers of my newsletter will know. Great quality paper, beautiful binding, a useful ribbon to mark your place and a handy pocket at the back for bits and pieces.

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Disposable fountain pens.

They write just like a fountain pen but the ink doesn’t smudge, and they come in every colour. If you aren’t keen on sharpies for book-signing, these are a good alternative, as well as being excellent for writing in your gorgeous notebook, of course.

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Coach Yourself to Writing Success

Whatever kind of writing you do, it helps to understand what’s most important to you and create writing goals that fit with your core values. That way, you’re both more likely to succeed and also more likely to enjoy your success when you do. My friend Penny Dolan recommended this book to me a while ago, and I’ve recommended it to other writer friends ever since.

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Go Stationery pocket notebooks

Even in these days of mobile phones, most writers like to carry a notebook somewhere about their person when they’re away from home, and these are perfect – not too big, bulky, or heavy to put in your pocket; soft but not flimsy covers; good quality unlined paper and attractive cover designs.

I got mine from Waterstones.

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100 Prized Poems

Not just writers, but everybody in the world can find solace, joy, companionship and inspiration in poetry, and this new book is full of wonderful poems. My thanks to Jackie Kay for recommending it during her brilliant workshop at the North Cornwall Book Festival 🙂

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6 A writing workshop – any writing workshop!

Speaking of Jackie Kay’s workshop, which was pure delight, a place on a writing workshop will please your writer friends or writer self, and it’ll be something to look forward to at the end of the Christmas festivities.

I love going on other people’s workshops, and I’ve yet to meet another writer who doesn’t. (I’ve added the link to mine, but you can just google writing workshops in your area to find ones local to you)

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7 Probably my favourite book on writing ever

Being a writer isn’t just a way you pass your time – it’s a part of the way you are. Developing a practice of writing is a profound kind of self development, and Natalie Goldberg brings a Buddhist sensibility to it which I love.

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And speaking of self development…

8 Shamanic and Jungian tools for writers who want to rewrite their own story

This is a fascinating workbook with loads of writing exercises. Not for everyone, obviously, but I really enjoyed it.

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9 A day out to somewhere interesting

Most writers are more excited by experiences than things, so how about a ticket to somewhere that might spark their imagination, such as the Foundling Museum?

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10 And finally…

Two companionable books for writers from me, which both offer plenty of short writing tasks for you or your writer friends to take refuge in if you need to pace yourselves over the festive period.

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Happy Christmas shopping!

Have you got any recommendations for Christmas presents for writers? Please share!

 

The shortest book review ever

The book: Grief is the Thing with Feathers, by Max Porter

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The review: Wow.

***********************************************************************

That’s it. Everything I want to say.

Can I tell you what happens? I don’t want to tell you what happens.

Can I tell you about the writing style? I don’t want to tell you about the writing style.

Am I glad I read it? No, because now I’ll never be able to come to it new again.

If you haven’t read it, you can come to it new, which is why I don’t want to tell you anything about it.

So there you have it.

Wow.

 

 

Acquainted with the night, by Victoria Field

I’m delighted to welcome writer, poetry therapist and tutor Victoria Field into the House of Dreams today. I’ve attended several of her poetry therapy workshops over the past few years, which I can highly recommend, and I always look forward to reading her blog

Victoria Field
Victoria Field

I have always been aware of my dreams.  I still remember one from my pre-school years in which I went to watch a Punch and Judy show at the bottom of the hill where I lived.  I sat on my tricycle and was both drawn and repelled by what I saw happening on the stage of the booth and feared I’d be sucked in.  I’m not sure I’d ever seen Punch and Judy in real life.

It seems dreams are informed by more than direct experience.   I know that on residential courses, participants report shared dreams and that when I was married, my husband and I somehow occupied the same dream space as we shared a bed.  As a student, I often dreamed of tents.  I loved back-packing but there was also something mysterious about my dream tents and when I recently sat in a Bedouin tent in Kuwait, it felt familiar.

Many of my poems begin with a dream image and they find their way into prose too.  Several years ago, I began writing down an exceptionally vivid dream that centred around finding a white horse in my tiny kitchen in a terraced house in Chester.  As I wrote, the dream took on a life of its own and eventually turned into a novella of 16,000 words recounting what happened next.  The white horse can stand for many things in my life and like all dream images is mutable and outside time.  Writing happens in a liminal space and to my surprise, the horse surfaced again in a comic short story. 

I’m also aware that dream-work happens without our conscious mind being involved.  I often tell an anecdote when people ask how I became involved in poetry therapy.   My first encounter with the practice was when John Fox, an eminent practitioner based in the US gave a workshop in London in 1999. It was a two day workshop and on the second day, I felt utterly unable to keep my eyes open, in spite of being fascinated by the work.  I’d had a leg injury and was on pain-killers which I blamed for my sleepiness.  I excused myself and found somewhere to put my head down and went into a deep sleep for a couple of hours. I can’t recall any dreams but I woke up thinking utterly clearly, ‘I want to be a poetry therapist’.  And so began my journey of the past decade and more.

So, if people fall asleep on my courses, I never object.  Important work is being done as we sleep, whether we know it or not!

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Victoria’s latest collection

Victoria Field is a writer and poetry therapist.  More information is available here http://www.poetrypf.co.uk/victoriafieldpage.shtml  and she blogs at www.poetrytherapynews.wordpress.com

Are you a proper writer?

Years ago, I was on a Society of Authors retreat at Totleigh Barton, the Arvon centre in Devon. It wasn’t a taught course, but an opportunity to explore our writing ambitions as a group and with individual tutors.

Totleigh Barton

The group was made up of successful authors from every area of writing – medical books, Black Lace, children’s fiction, ELT, poetry… Without exception – well, except me, because I wanted to have a go at poetry – they all harboured a secret ambition to write a literary novel. They said they wouldn’t feel like a proper writer unless they could achieve it.

I was struck by this hierarchical view of writing. It reminded me of a conversation I’d had with a prominent commentator in the children’s book world at a conference, which went:

Him: So what are you working on at the moment?

Me: I’m mostly writing for educational publishers

He gives me a disparaging look. I give him an enquiring frown. 

Him: Well, it’s second grade, isn’t it? Educational books are never so good.

I was cross and astonished. I’d written for both trade and education, and had always given both my absolute best. I was the same writer, whatever I was writing.

Until that moment, it had not occurred to me that mainstream authors might look down their noses at educational writers; they were just different kinds of writing, and demanded different skills.

I had taken, and still take, a holistic view of writing, rather than a hierarchical one. I write all kinds of things for publication and for my own entertainment, including childrens’s and adults’ fiction and non-fiction, educational books, self-help, poetry, magazine articles and blog posts, and every single line I write feels fruitful and worthwhile, whether it finds a publisher or not, because it is helping to develop the writer that I am.

Of course, you could say I simply lack focus!

The holistic approach makes for a joyful writing life. You aren’t trying to hit goals set by the market, or other people’s judgements. You’re open to experiment because the goal is self-discovery, and every new discovery involves an element of adventure.

That’s how I view my writing life –  I’m a proper writer simply by virtue of the fact that I write, as are all the people who gather round my table for writing workshops.

How about you? Are you a proper writer, and if not, what would make you feel as if you were?