Interesting, engaging and very useful

Today it seemed as if life really is getting back to something like ordinary and normal and I went to a workshop in Weston, entitled ‘Tomorrow’s voices – new beginnings’. I was with a couple of writing friends, there were two others who I know socially and another person who was new to me, so we were only a small gathering with the course leader, Shagufta K Iqbal. This is what the blurb said:

One of a series of poetry workshops that look at the relationship between self and space, using the backdrop of Weston to explore how we fit into our environment.   Shaugfta K Iqbal is an award-winning writer and TedX speaker whose collection ‘Jams Is for Girls, Girls Get Jam’ has been praised by Nikesh Shukla as “a social political masterclass.  Shagufta is passionate about using art and storytelling in all its forms to tell the most pressing stories that we face as humans.

I guess it was partly because we knew each other, but mostly due to the way Shagufta led the session that it was interesting, engaging and very useful. She shared a couple of videos of the poets Carol Ann Duffy and Kae Tempest reading their work; I was familiar with Duffy as had used her work when I was teaching, but Tempest I had never come across before, and I found their performances interesting and impressive. The time flew past and I could hardly believe two hours had gone so quickly when we packed up our pens and notebooks. We had several exercises to do, and I may try them again as they definitely were great prompts for writing, challenging, and made me think about aspects of myself and my thoughts which I’d not particularly, or maybe not specifically thought about before.

One of the exercises was to think about a particular legend or tale or type of myth which particularly attracted or interested us. We worked in pairs exchanging our thoughts and ideas. My partner was fascinated by the Atlantis myth and between us we discussed other ‘lost lands’ including Doggerland (which particularly fascinates me) the lost towns of east Norfolk and the Bermuda Triangle. We talked in general about places and civilizations lost, or concealed, hidden through time, but still somehow there – whether in reality like Doggerland, or imagination as with Atlantis. A theme I return to in short stories and in some novels is the idea of the wood or forest which contains something hidden, monster, Green Men, wolves or were wolves, Robin Hood, beasts in castles, lost children, vagabonds and thieves… I don’t find real trees, woods or forests threatening or intimidating at all, but they often appear so in what I write!

Another exercise was to think about our names, and why we were given them, and what we might have been called. I think I was always going to have been Lois, but if I’d been a boy I might have been Alex. Other people had learned that a different name was a contender for the one they ended up with, one person was glad their surname had changed on their marriage, and two people ‘writing names’ which in fact, have become what they are known by! We talked in general about names and the importance and significance of names as part of our identity.

The final exercise was to choose one of several dozen pictures and write about it in a poetic way, thinking about the language we chose, and the sounds of the words we used. I’m afraid for some reason I struggled; none of the pictures seemed to click with me, but the first one which caught my eye was actually a drawing of an Indian man, a magnificent man, just his head and shoulders, in red and black. He wore a turban, had a neat dark beard and a gorget at his throat. There was a snake with an angry face coiled around him, appearing to be about to strike his face, or maybe was just whispering sibilantly into his ear. I looked at  other pictures and photos of places but I was drawn back to the man, and eventually feeling very uninspired, picked him up and went back to my place to write.  I was still pretty stumped, and there were a lot of crossings out by the time I decided I better get some words on the page and just began to describe the man. Gradually as I worked, my language began to change, and the beginnings of something which came near to the brief began to emerge.

Suddenly – the time had passed in a flash,  Shagufta was telling us we were nearing the end of the session, although welcome to stay on in the room to continue if we wished. I had to go, however, but thanked her very much for her excellent workshop and looking forward to seeing her again next Saturday for another.

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