Corporate storytelling

The writers groups for young people I’m running this summer are coming together brilliantly. 14 great volunteers, 15 lovely, motivated young writers and a sense that this initiative is wanted, needed and kind of good and beautiful at the same time. As a CLP outcome this one is feeling very right.

However there are so many more nebulous questions and wonderings still opening up. Meeting with the other artist/practitioner people Nina Edge and Helen Carnac was wonderful for this. We’re all based in busy, fast moving cultural organisations, whose busy fast movingness sometimes means that more contemplative, spiralling, slow ways of being get lost.  The very different three of us seemed to gain strength in talking about our experiences of trying to define ourselves in relation to our hosts, and a cultural landscape, and in thinking about formulating a vision together-based in our actual practice.  Making work about leadership together. We reflected on how often arts conferences don’t have many artists at them-and if they do they tend not to be paid. We’re pondering whether artists could be more visible-could we do some speaking?

Watching “Imagine” on BBC1 the other night with a spread of mainly male, posh suited blokes talking about “the arts-they’re always positive!”, I had an even greater sense that there may be some viewpoints that are under represented…

Before this placement though I wouldn’t have thought so much of attempting to be a representative voice.  Now, I’m wondering how. How do people get the ear of DCMS or the Culture Secretary etc? Could they do with hearing from more artists directly?  I’ve been reading about the New Deal of the Mind folk (lobbyists? campaigners?) and they seem to have impressively pulled together a report, got some ears and voices. I wonder what gave them the confidence and motivation? Perhaps that’s one of the CLP questions I could ask.

So much of this leadership stuff (when it’s done in a fluid, flexible, feminine way) seems to be about relationships. So it’s with a bit of sadness and perturbment that I find out a really strong leader of a national literature organisation I’m on the board of is leaving. Can’t imagine who could replace her. In conversation with NWN Claire she was saying there’s a real dearth of leaders in this sector and that’s why organisations have to have a “succession strategy” which sounds like something King Henry 8th would have.  I couldn’t imagine wanting to be an organisation management type leader, but there’s obviously a need for more of them in the arts, as well as the other different types of leader. Not fast and furious in organisations, but influencing through their work, expressing attitudes and ways of being that might sometimes contrast current organisational models of efficiency and “power”.  I’m also sad that Isobel who has overseen and helped broker the relationship between me and NWN is leaving. It feels like she carries some of the narrative of this journey- but i’ll just have to have faith in my, and New Writing North’s abilities to construct and re construct the narratives and find shared ones. Apparently Aviva (formerly Norwich Direct) employ a corporate storyteller, to help employees and the company share their senses of who they are and when they’ve been. It sounds sort of beautiful and sinister at the same time.


Serves me right. I blog about disappearing writers and then I disappear a bit. In various ways.

One way was that I found myself agreeing in conversation with a teacher about how I couldn’t add  much to her way of teaching writing. But then, Anna from NWN pointed out, if I can deconstruct the way I write and reconstruct that into ways to pass onto other people, I do have something to offer. I went back over all the other projects I’d done and wondered what I had in fact given. Usually it’s an energy, some ideas, the point of view of a performer and a permission. All things teachers can give perfectly well too. The unique thing I have I suppose is that I’m actually doing it. Though I would never do it in a classroom over several sessions. Much food for thought. The other disappearance, in the same project came where it isn’t written in specifically that the writers will learn and develop. Of course they will and we are, how could we work in close partnership with a school or teacher or children and not be alchemically changed each time?

Other disappearances; Actually,  there’ve been some good appearances. A wonderful two days in Hull getting people to write topical poems as part of my commission from the Humber Mouth Festival. I could have written my own news poems for two whole days (an alternative snapshot of my news) but it was much more exciting (and the poems were much bettter) for being created by listeners to Radio5Live, Radio Humberside, kids at the Warren youth project and the gig audience.  I got the teachers at an Artsmark Celebration Conference to swap their favourite words with each other yesterday and I traded “dappled” for “polyphonic”. That polyphony helps me to have a voice sometimes.

In other CLP-ness, had a meeting with Isobel from the scheme and Claire and Anna at NWN, which reassured me that they do feel there’s a value in having a writer hanging around. Claire said she thought it was powerful because it was making them think about some different directions. Since my fear was that they thought “she’s not in the office often enough and we’re not getting enough done” it was also reassuring that they thought I was managing the having a billion things ongoing well and feeding it into the placement. That’s good, because I do feel everything connects, but it can be quite scary when you’re in the middle of something, wondering if you’re “enough”. More so when on the school project I mentioned, there was an explicit questioning of whether I was enough. My worst fear generally being voiced. Actually, it’s not so bad if someone says you’re not but you and they are open to exploring how you could be. (Like in any relationship that makes me think).

Exciting stuff is afoot around performance poetry and youth slams at the moment and I hope I could mediate some of the work and thinking around this. I felt a bit like Lorraine from the Apprentice in a way. Having said for ages this would be a good idea. The Cassandra role of wanting to say “I told you so”. But that’s another means of shoring up low confidence I suppose.

Another disappearance and reappearance on the way…

Most bizarrely I’ll be doing a Michael Jackson poem to launch the Durham Brass festival, accompanied by the Oompah brass band who  perform pop songs with a slight Bavarian lilt…

The image is too surreal and enjoyable to not do.  I did at least say no to doing the poem through a megaphone. Hmm. Louder unamplified.