London bound

Down to London and back in a day on the train and not such a big deal really. Someone from an animal shelter also took the 11.30 down and the 7pm back; they had a board with a photo collage on pleading for more funds, and a picnic basket with either a picnic or an animal in it.

My meeting was with Isobel from the Arts Council and Nicola from the Cultural Leadership programme itself. Three hours of talking and listening has helped refine what I’m doing in my head. And vindicated my horrified reaction when people say “Congratulations on your new job”. It’s not a job it’s a placement. Phew.

I’ve started talking to writers about their work with young people and am interested in the things that don’t often get talked about. Or maybe they do, but I haven’t. Energy and work in education- where does it come from, where does it go? Writers talk of the kids giving them energy, but the work taking energy. One writer talked about working in schools feeding her humanity if not her creativity. I thought that was a definitive and final statement- but then another writer attributed having learned everything he knows about writing poetry to his work in schools. And made such interesting links between communal creativity (How humankind had always written up, until the last 130 years) and the development of an individual “authentic” voice (Privileged in our dominant cultural discourses).

Isn’t marrying this stuff up hard? Are there new ways to do it? I’m getting more interested in the research side of this work. I like the listening/speaking process. I had a wonderful few hours of it yesterday when Annabel, director of the Arc in Stockton acted as a “critical friend” while I talked through possible structures for my one woman stand up poetry show. So much seems to happen in that space between people when words are swirling and being played with and freed up.

That’s what happens in good workshops too. And it’s shared not lone.However I would much prefer to be in a lone space on this packed train. Perhaps I should do what 40 stone Americans do and book two seats in future…

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Re; Search

In the hallowed land of Borders bookshop I got a “How to Research”  book by the Open University Press and have constructed a short questionnaire for the writers I’m going to interview in the next couple of weeks. They’re writers who already do lots of work with young people and work with New Writing North alot.

It feels good to actually be doing something concrete now. Quite alot of things I’ve done this week have fed into my thinking. But more in a mushy sort of way. “Full on Futures” was a day organised by Creative Partnerships at Arc to get year 9s motivated to think on creative careers. I did very practical half hour workshops, getting them to storytell, speak about themselves and explore their opinions on the value of creativity- but what I didn’t do, and couldn’t have done at this point was advise some sort of obvious career path into writing. (and I don’t think it’s enough just to say “Write!”, though heck, that does help). Claire, the North East Apples and Snakes co ordinator was there handing out info and it does feel that hopefully that performance poetry organisation may plug some gaps, but there is still a big, gaping void mostly for writers aged 11-18.

I’ve also been to the launch event of the African writers Festival at the Northern Writers Centre and been inspired by Ben Okri (“Doesn’t life have a dream like quality?” and Jackie Kay, in very different ways. Then, last night, a gig at the Chillingham Arms in which I tried out a new poem on stage and hoped it might give me a key to the one woman show I’m doing (as an associate artist for the Live Literature Consortium). I also heard a writer say that working in schools made them tired (and knew that feeling so well, but wonder if anything can help balance this for writers?). 

Now I’m getting on with writing a poem for the Journal Culture Awards (that will somehow mention all 39 nominees and be interesting and funny and read well on the night…) I’m looking forward to freer time for writing from September for a while, but for a now feel like I’m learning a hundred things a day and really caring about the role of writing again. For a time after I’d finished my family memoir that somehow drained away for a while. Now I keep coming up with plans to get more people writing and reading and more voices heard. Being in the centre of that again is encouraging the feeling I think. So many people and organisations are doing it.  Which ones will stick?

Wor Poetry

I went to the launch of the Foyle Young Poet’s competition at the Sage this week. Was surprised that anyone would express surprise that there are few North East entrants. Foyle and Poetry Society feel far away from the North East and I don’t see much publicity around. Quite apart from the fact that it feels like lots of teachers are battling issues in ways that may make them feel getting their kids into a random poetry competition isn’t the answer. However I was left feeling that it would be wonderful if there was a sudden huge influx of North East lads and lasses entering and they stormed the competition in future years. Twice winner Caroline Bird read-I really enjoy her work and wondered how on earth she found and used such a strong poetic voice so early (first collection published by Carcanet at 14). She said she went to a Steiner school, which seems not unconnected, though their emphasis on everyone being equal she said, meant her early literary success was played down (maybe even derided a bit) there. What was huge for her and fellow two times winner Richard O Brien was going on an Arvon Course, being treated like writers and meeting other young writers. Richard has started an E Zine, Pomegranate, to publish some of their work.

I’ve also had random useful chats with Mel, the Tyne and Wear Museums Hub Literacy Officer who said maybe museums could host young writers groups, and with Colonel Bob Stewart. Former commander of UN forces in Bosnia. He was a guest on Radio 4’s Saturday Live when I was poemming and defined leadership as inspiring people, and having good and definite ideals to do it with. I’d been thinking about and wondering about leadership, since I’m on this Cultural Leadership Development programme. I also spoke to Isobel who helps co ordinate the programme and she was saying i’ve to make sure I take out of it what I want. I’m still thinking on that.

As I left Broadcasting House pondering these matters, a couple stopped me and asked which direction the Oxford Street shops were. I pointed vaguely to the right and said they were that way. Then said Regent St was the other way, but hesitated and said it wasn’t but superfluously added  “You’ll get to them sooner than you think though” as they walked off. A minute later I was in a newsagents looking at crisps when I heard a man’s voice round the corner asking the counter assistant which way the Oxford Street shops were. I was torn between revealing myself and saying “Told you so” when the assistant confirmed they should head right, and making sure I stayed looking at Hula Hoops an unnaturally long time so they wouldn’t feel embarassed. I felt I had failed a test of leadership. Clearly I’d been vague, unconvincing and somehow seemed like the sort of person who would lie about the best way to the shops.