Category Archives: Writing

Get your reading recommendations here…. more books added to the #100women100books library

Get your reading recommendations here…. more books added to the #100women100books library

Following yesterday’s post about our #100women100books library, I’m very pleased to list here some of the recommendations we’ve been getting via our website… ENJOY! And remember, we’ll be giving daily updates of our library on our Facebook page before revealing our whole library on 20th July when I’m off to the Compton Verney‘s Womens Library for our second writing residency there. Below’s a detail from one of the Compton Verney paintings!

Thank you so much to everyone who has contributed.

Book title: Geek Love

Author: Katherine Dunn

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): When I first read this book as a teenager I felt like I had discovered another planet. The Binewski family were so vivid, so fascinating and so real even when I read it again 20 years later. Just incredible.
Chosen by: Cait Morgan

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Book title: Good Behaviour

Author: Molly Keane

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): A novel from 1981 by the sharp and witty Irish writer Molly Keane – very funny, and also utterly agonising on family life, as well as wild socialising, and all its ‘glamour and malice’. A keenly intuitive and observant lover of people, food, creatures, mischief and life.
Chosen by: Katherine Pierpoint

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Book title: Life After Life

Author: Kate Atkinson

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): Everyone’s life is the result of chance happenings and ‘roads not taken’ (after Robert Frost). This book brilliantly explores these many possibilities in the life of a woman called Ursula whose life spans much of the twentieth century.
Chosen by: Clare Dudman

 

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Book title: Olive Kitteridge

Author: Elizabeth Strout

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): It’s a beautifully written, wonderfully insightful book that follows the life of central character Olive Kitteridge from adulthood through to old age. Olive is a woman as women are, not as she ought to be: she is flawed and fascinating and magnificently human.
Chosen by: A J Ashworth

 

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Book title: To Kill a Mockinbird

Author: Harper Lee

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): I first read the book at 12 years of age when I was at my most ‘priggish’ about what was right or wrong. My moral compass has matured but still consider it most famous quote to ‘walk in another man’s shoes’ as a good guide. I wanted to be Scout

Chosen by: Cas Holmes

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Book title: The Road Home

Author: Rose Tremain

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): I loved the way she turns predudice on its head, gifting us a wonderful character and illuminating his situation from the off.

Chosen by Zoe King

 

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Book title: Devil’s Cub

Author: Georgette Heyer

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): Any of he comedies are beautifully crafted and represent the Regency era and the English upper class at its worst and best. She started the regency genre -underrated -writing for her money for her ungrateful family ( I think) she churned them out and surely she is worth a mention somewhere on the list.

Chosen by: Hazel Stewart

 

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Book title: Himself

Author: Jess Kidd

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): This is a rollicking read, with rich language and amazing characterisation of both the living and the dead. It made me laugh and sometimes cry and I loved it.

Chosen by: Cath Barton

 

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Book title: Voyage in the Dark

Author: Jean Rhys

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): Because Jean Rhys wrote about difficult subjects in a time that didn’t want to hear about it, including sexism, discrimination, and that one harrowing illegal abortion scene in Voyage in the Dark. She was incredibly intelligent and she used her own harrowing and bleak experiences as inspiration for her passionate, stylistic and hugely under-appreciated novels.

Chosen by: Holly Anderson

 

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Book title: The Key (And The Name Of The Key Is Willingness)

Author: Cheri Huber

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): It is quite simply the best book on spiritual practice I’ve ever read; brief, clear, down-to-earth (if that doesn’t sound too incongruous for a spiritual book) – and requires no faith in anything unseen, only willingness face what is.

Chosen by: Tim Pieraccini

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Book title: The Weather in the Streets

Author: Rosamond Lehmann

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): I read this book (published in 1936) many years ago but it still resonates. It’s about double standards, women’s vulnerability in general and the suffering of a woman after a backstreet abortion.

Chosen by: Patricia Borlenghi

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Book title: The Left Hand of Darkness

Author: Ursula K. Le Guin

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): It’s science fiction, it’s queer and it’s about friendship … and such good storytelling. And it is journey … so many topics I dearly love.

 

Chosen by: Alice Puck

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Book title: God of Small Things

Author: Arundhati Roy

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): Because it helped me understand the power and magic of words

 

Chosen by: Vipasha

 

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Book title: The Red Tent

Author: Anita Diamant

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): No other book has stayed with me like this book. The strong sense of sisterhood mixed with the horror of what happens to the main character, Dinah, is both beautiful and haunting. It made me really appreciate the female friendships I have and realise how I couldn’t survive without the strong, intelligent and courageous women in my life.

Chosen by: Hester Mackay

 

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Book title: Joan Makes History

Author: Kate Grenville

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): This writes women into history, eg when Captain Cook discovers Australia, the woman in the McCubbin painting, The Pioneers, and many more. Intertwined with the story of an ordinary family, with our own moments of history eg moving out of home for the first time,first day of school etc.
Beautifully constructed as usual Kate Grenville.

 

Chosen by: Joan Ryan

Looking for something new to read?

Looking for something new to read?

Well, look no further… and not just one book but I’ve got ONE HUNDRED BOOKS, all written by women, and chosen by women, for you.

#100Women100Books is the result of one of the most lovely months Viccy Adams and I have just had, asking 100 of our friends and family to give us the one book they would recommend to put in our virtual women’s library for 2017.

JUST ONE BOOK!!! That was the cry we had most often, but then we got the books – a varied, exciting, yummy selection, all with the reason they had been picked. Some were funny, some were serious, some had made the chooser thing again, others had been favourites since they were children. Nearly everyone demanded a conversation – OH MY GOD, I REMEMBER THIS ONE or an immediate search to find out more, and yes, more than few purchases!

So why did we do this?

The picture above is one of the shelves of books in Compton Verney‘s 19th Century Women’s Library, where Viccy and I had a residency in January, and I’ll be going back to next month. All fine and good, you might say, but these aren’t real books – but rather false spines and were there just to give the impression of a well read woman, maybe? So Viccy and I decided to create our own virtual library of the books women should be reading today.

You’ll be able to read the whole list in July on our website, Spreadsheets and Moxie (and read more about the project there) but in the meantime if you like our page on Facebook (here) we are putting up two of three of the choices EVERY DAY – and with the reasons why they have been picked. Here are some of the ones so far to show just how varied the choices are…

Kerstin Uvnas Moberg, The Oxytocin Factor, Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love and Healing
“This book is a wonderful introduction to the ‘feel good’ hormone, oxytocin, released within just 40 seconds of giving someone nurturing touch such as big hug. Research by the Touch Research Institute in Miami shows that oxytocin can lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce the level of stress hormones and bring a sense of calm…. so the book is essential reading for every woman.” Mary Atkinson

Toni Morrison, Beloved
“It’s a book about slavery narrated from a woman’s perspective and definitely one of the most powerfully affecting novels I have ever read. I still remember when and where I read it for the first time, twenty years after the event.” Louise Page

Jung Chang, Wild Swans
“It follows three generations of woman who grew up in China. I read it when I was traveling in Asia at 19 with an awful boyfriend who I promptly dumped as soon as I got back to Heathrow: the book was my saviour. It brought me so much strength to read about what these women had had to live through. I don’t think I’ve ever been so absorbed in a book since. It has been totally unforgettable and stayed with me all these years. It still sits in my bookshelf covered in yellowing and crispy sellotape; one of these days I’ll read it again.” Helen Bishop

Charlotte Brontë, Villette
“Because of her insistence on her right to love and be loved despite not being a beautiful princess.” Amy Caldwell-Nichols

Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider
“I’ve chosen it because it is a bold, thoughtful and courageous collection of essays. It explores writing/poetry/the arts as forms of knowledge that are feminine and offer a contrast to patriarchal-academic constructs of knowledge. She urges the feminist reader to explore and embrace differences of race, class, age, sexuality, physical ability, etc. within their understanding of feminism, as they can impact women’s experiences of oppression differently.” Juliana Mensah

So follow us on this journey, and remember to come back on 19th July when the whole list will be published! In the meantime, you can add your own selection to the library via our website – here. We’ve been reading and enjoying those choices too – although with a certain amount of trepidation because our to be read piles are getting higher and higher….

 

Some new writing workshop dates….

Some new writing workshop dates….

It’s spring! So do you want to get a spring  in your writing life? Well, here are some dates for you…

Put some movement in your writing – Saturday 22nd April, Tunbridge Wells

There are still a few places left for the yoga and journal writing workshop this Saturday at the Freestyle Yoga  Project in the High Street, Tunbridge Wells. You can come and join Anna’s wonderful Mellow Yellow class at 1pm and then write with us from 2.15-4.15, or just come for the writing part at 2.15. More details are here, but it’s important to note that this workshop is ideal EVEN if you’ve never done either yoga or writing (or both) before – it’s about opening up your creativity, trying something new and playing both on the page and the mat!

 

Share a poem – Saturday 29th April and Sunday 30th April, Canterbury

I’m lucky enough to work with the amazing Poetry Exchange who have found a completely new way of introducing and talking about poetry. Book a FREE 45 minute spot with us (I’m with John Prebble on the Saturday, and Victoria Field will be there on the Sunday) at the Wise Words Festival in Canterbury and bring a poem that has been a friend to you to talk about.I promise it’ll be an enriching experience, and you get a special recording of your poem afterwards as a gift.

HURRY THOUGH because these spots do get booked up – click here for the booking info. If you’re not quite in time to catch your spot, you can listen to the podcast here. 

 

Retreat from the world and nourish your love of words, 10-5pm, Friday 5th May, Canterbury

Last year we were sold out for this workshop in the yurt, and this year places have been going fast. COME AND JOIN Fiona Bennett and I as we encourage you to play with words, write in completely new ways, get tons of new ideas, and just generally spoil your writing self.

The details are here, and all you need to bring is a pen and journal. A CPD certificate is available for this workshop.

Some comments from last year’s participants..

I’ve discovered a new voice that I didn’t even know I could write in. Inspirational.

 I’m coming away with so much potential new work.

 I feel like it’s been much longer than a day, I’ve travelled a long way inside myself and with words.

A writing exercise for International Women’s Day

A writing exercise for International Women’s Day

Here’s what we’re doing in my writing class tonight to celebrate International Women’s Day. You’re very welcome to join along with us!

First, a freewrite… to pick one of the glorious women from my postcard pack (below) and write for six minutes on the smells, tastes, sights, sounds, and touches they would experience in the environment they are in right now (in the right now of the postcard obviously)…. Just that. We’re not going into character yet, we’re walking into the postcard, as it were.

 

Then we’re reading two wonderful poems. First up, Lucille Clifton with one of my favourite poems of all time, Won’t You Celebrate with Me. You can hear her reading it here :

Then, Kim Addonizio’s What do Women Want. 

I think we should have an interesting discussion about these two!

The second writing exercise is to go back to our woman in the postcard. Now we’ve established the sensory aspects of her setting (in the freewrite), what about her? What does she want to celebrate, what does she want? We’ll be writing monologues from the imagined woman’s perspective – so in the first person – and with the one thing both poems have in common for me: a woman taking back and owning her power.

It should be interesting. A first line suggestion might be ‘I want a…’ or ‘Let’s celebrate how I…’

And the going-home gift? Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus. Not exactly a celebration but for me, one of the finest monologues, and another example of a woman in a poem who won’t be silenced. It gives me goosebumps every time.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

The photographs I didn’t take…

The photographs I didn’t take…

 

I went by train from London to Newcastle today, realising too late I’d left my phone at home, so here are some written snapshots of the shots I might have snapped….

 

1.     Walking through Bloomsbury and looking up as always at the flat with the blue plaque which says Lenin lived there, I spot a woman in the kitchen cooking breakfast. For the next few streets, my feet ring out to the phrase ‘frying bacon for Lenin, Lenin’s bacon is frying, Lenin’s frying bacon.’ By the time, I’ve reached Kings Cross, I’ve written a whole opera in my head, including smoke alarms.

2.     On the train, four railway employees come to sit across the aisle. They’ve just been on a course together, and spread drawings and plans of signal crossings across the table. For nearly the whole journey between Peterborough and Darlington, they discuss signals. With enthusiasm.

3.     Looking up suddenly and seeing the Angel of the North from the train window.

4.     There’s a queue spilling out on the street as I walk to the university, I imagine a restaurant, pub, nightclub, but it’s a gym. The bouncer is letting people in one at a time.

5.     At the bar, I sit and wait for Viccy. At the other end of the table two architecture academics are discussing ‘civilian architects’. Separately they both pull out the same huge heavy book from their bags. One has dragged her copy all the way from Denmark. For the whole time I sit there, the two books sit in front of them. Unopened.

6.     The Premier Inn I’m staying in used to be the old Co-Operative headquarters. On the stairwell there’s a memorial plaque for employees killed in both world wars. They are listed under their old departments – Butchery, Boot Repairs, Ready to Wear…

Nan Shepherd and Jane Austen compare notes…

Nan Shepherd and Jane Austen compare notes…

What might happen during a Twitter conversation between Nan Shepherd and Jane Austen about what it’s like to appear on banknotes?

Linda Cracknell and I decided to find out recently for Edinburgh University’s Dangerous Women Project.  The results can be found here…

The conversation contains a lot of imagination, a little Mark Carney, although sadly no Moomins…

 

New dates for Writing for Wellbeing Workshops

New dates for Writing for Wellbeing Workshops

Using writing for self-discovery and wellbeing has always been a cornerstone of my teaching practice. Over the last decade, I’ve been part of the tutor team on the MA in Creative Writing and Personal Development at Sussex University, trained in journal writing with American experts, run writing workshops with different groups ranging from teenage mothers, school disaffected adolescents, gardeners older people, yogis, business people, and PhD candidates in economics, statistics, biochemistry. I’ve worked with people who are confident that they are destined to become bestselling authors and others who come into the room declaring that they feel physically sick just looking at an empty page.

And, through all that, my belief that the act and practice of writing – particularly when guided – can make us more alive, increase our empathy, our self-awareness and even our contentment has grown. Largely because I’d never tell anyone to do anything or write to any prompt that I hadn’t done myself. Many times! My journals have been my very best friends over the years. 

 

So I’m really happy to tell you about some new dates for workshops and courses coming up. Join me! Let’s write together…

 

Mat and Page – a yoga and writing workshop 

Saturday February 11th 2.15-4pm

 Freestyle Yoga Project, High Street, Tunbridge Wells

what is it?

After our really successful retreat at Tilton House last year (that’s us writing in the yurt above), Anna, the founder of Freestyle Yoga Project and I have been working together to look more at how we can combine yoga and writing as a way of opening up and writing a new story for ourselves! The session will involve guided journal writing – both for exploration and creativity – and movement. You will be exercising and writing on the mat, with visualisations, breathing, and writing exercises.

do I have to be an expert yogi or writer?

No! We have designed this for both beginners and experts because Anna and I believe that every time you go to the mat and the page, the only person who directs your practice is you. Sometimes we want to challenge ourselves, other times we just want to go back to basics. We always want to be beginners in our practice – both yoga and writing – because that way we can surprise ourselves. It’s a chance to experiment in a friendly safe environment, and also to enjoy it.

where is it?

The Freestyle Yoga Project is in the High Street in central Tunbridge Wells. It is a dedicated yoga studio, with plenty of drop in classes. The best news is that it is only a five minute walk from the train station – with regular services from London. You don’t have to live in Kent to join us!

how do I book?

There are two ways of joining us – either come at 1pm for the one hour Mellow Yellow yoga session, and then stay on for the two hour writing and movement session. OR come at 2.15pm for the second session alone. The writing session is £20, on top of your yoga class. We are limiting the numbers, and have already been taking bookings so do contact us as soon as possible if you would like a place – info@freestyleyogapractice.com

  Writing for Wellbeing

March 1, 8, 15, 22 – 1-3pm at University of Kent, Tonbridge Centre.

This is a four week course, based on the acclaimed Journal to the Self © workshop, created by Kathleen Adams. The sessions will support personal growth, creativity and life management skills through different journal writing techniques. These will include character studies, letters, expressive writing, lists, visualisations, stepping stones and springboards.

It is suitable for all standards of writing. For more information and to book, click here or visit the University of Kent, Tonbridge Centre website. Full details of the course are here. 

 

 

Here are some lovely things writers have said about past workshops:

“Lovely time writing with Sarah Salway today. It was just like a spa. I came in bombarded by the world and finally felt as if I had two hours where I could think”. TG

A Saturday afternoon in a yoga studio. Tucked away for a couple of hours to explore our creativity. To let the words flow, from our minds, our hearts, through pens and onto the page. Creating new poems and prose. An hour ago we were strangers; now we sit here, a new group of writers. ND

You are such a generous teacher, it’s a total pleasure to be stretched by you. JW

I am not sure what I imagined but this was beyond my expectations. I think I had expected just to sit writing notes but your talking and exercises certainly made me think. I really hadn’t realised there was so much out there. I didn’t have the tools… but now I do. KB

“This retreat really helped to shake me out of myself and re-gather some perspective. Anna and Sarah were the perfect guides.” Amy

A year of artists dates

A year of artists dates
A year of artists dates

Last year I put up a post about artists dates, and listing 52 possible ‘dates’. It was based on Julia Cameron’s definition:

“a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic” — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it.”

I was so pleased the post hit a nerve, and to hear what other people have been doing over the year. BUT I’ve just had possibly the best artists date of the year for me – going through my photos to see my own dates. Not least because it’s a reminder that what is fun for me may very well be your own personal hell, and that just doesn’t matter. It certainly has helped me focus on what spikes my attention as a creative person. So what have I done…

I’ve been to exhibitions I wouldn’t have gone to without this impetus – on my own, wandering round and spending hours in certain corners, often ignoring the publicised ‘greatest hits’ and finding new artists for myself.

 

I’ve made small corners of comfort – to daydream, hide books I love away in, DVDs that make happy.

Done quite a lot of this…

Laughed with beautiful new friends…

Played with flowers…

Walked…

Learnt new ways to tie scarves (a surprisingly popular artists date!)

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Made lots of discoveries…

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Mucked around outside and in nature (A LOT)…

 

Had my own perfume blended just for me…

Made visual images of favourite poems (here’s Edwin Morgan’s Strawberries)..

 

Pondered the important questions in life..

Written a bit and drank a bit….

The funny thing is I wouldn’t have remembered half of these things if I hadn’t have written this post, and looked out all these photographs. When I started my blog – WAY BACK IN 2004! – I saw it as my own writing journal, a place I could keep all the things I wanted to remember and work out for myself through writing what my world was like. And it still feels like this. Today I’ve realised all over again that I keep this blog because I really love doing it – finding out new techniques like the collage editor I’ve gone a bit overboard with, and other ways of getting information across. But then I’ve always been the one in the corner, sorting out how the latest gadget works. That’s the way I can really get my artist excited.

And for this year, I’ve been given a new resolution by someone I respect – so I hope I keep it up. It’s to record a weekly encounter with a stranger – a different one each week, I’m not going to start stalking… so here’s one from last year. Being challenged to table tennis in a gallery in Colchester…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Christmas reading party

The Christmas reading party

 

Inspired by this news story of how books are given – AND READ – in Iceland on Christmas eve, we had a different ‘Secret Santa’ at the Christmas party for my writing group this week. Every one picked a name of another writer from the group out of the hat, and bought a book especially for that person. It was a chance to read something different – and show me any writer who doesn’t like to get a new book! Also, as is traditional, everyone also brought along something they had written themselves to read out – we had songs, poems, bits of novels, short stories… it was a treat.

BUT this is possibly my favourite photograph of the whole year. And all the better because it is absolutely not staged – I took it just after everyone had opened their book. A perfect five minutes of silence as we read quietly on our own. My perfect party, in fact!

 

But that’s not to say that reading is all the writers I’m lucky enough to work with do… this year has been a bumper year, with pamphlets, books, publications and shortlistings and competition prizes. I forced some of the writers to pose with their books recently, and under the picture are some of the links to books published by these talented writers… STILL TIME TO BUY BEFORE CHRISTMAS!!

 

Please note, I’m not taking credit for these books – most of the writers I work with are far more talented than me and ALL the hard work is theirs BUT they come and sit round my table on Wednesdays to write with me so that means I’m allowed to shout about how great they are!

Mary Smith, A Schoolgirl’s War – this is a really lovely account of Maidstone Grammar School during wartime – with photographs, first person accounts of girls (now women!) who were there at the time, and some really wonderful paintings by the art teacher at the time. A gem.

Jess Mookherjee, The Swell – if you’ve read any poetry magazines this year, you will probably have seen Jess’s poems in them. This is her first pamphlet and it’s beautiful.

Steve Walter, When The Change Came – This is actually Steve’s third book, and he has performed his own show in both the Edinburgh and Brighton Fringes, but it’s his first poetry collection, and like Jess’s, it’s personal, interesting and brave.

Ellen Montelius, Rock Paper Scissors – Ellen is a graphic artist, and her presence in the group has shown us all that sometimes the hardest stories can be told with very few words, albeit carefully chosen ones…

And there are more books and publications in the pipeline…

BUT hopefully for the time we are writing together we are not thinking about publication, or book contracts, or glory. And of course we are not thinking about NOT getting any of those things either. It’s just a case of putting one word in front of the other, searching for the best word to say what we mean, finding the courage to look a little harder at what it is we want to get across, and supporting each other by listening – HARD – to what we all have written. The exercises I give are often mad, hopefully surprising, and sometimes difficult but the wonder of all my writing groups happens when everyone is generous enough to give it a go, and the energy in the room just fizzes. No wonder sometimes we need a night off just to read…

 

Lavender Maze, two toddlers run in circles….

Lavender Maze, two toddlers run in circles….

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I ran a workshop at the Physic Garden at Westgate Gardens in Canterbury today. That’s the garden above. And the sun shone, and the cake came. Look!

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But more importantly poets came too to write with me, some new poets, some already established, some drawn by the plants, others by the words. It’s the joy of the mix always, you can do the same exercise daily with different groups of people and get new results. First off, we mixed body parts with emotions with surprising and beautiful results – Blood is care for others -Fear is red, the moving life force of the body – A heart is a feeling that something good is going to happen… 

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Then inspired by Basho, Jack Kerouac and winners of the Iafor Vladimir Devide Haiku Award, we wrote haikus. ‘Walk round the garden now and write ten!’ I demanded. And they did. Sometimes it’s better to write like that, rather than trying to craft something perfect. We concentrated not on the 5-7-5 rule, but catching a moment, conveying an emotion:

Poets
on toadstools
read Basho… 

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Then after reading them to each other, we wrote our favourites out, turned them into Haiku bunting, which we left behind for others to enjoy and for the wind to blow our words this way and that…

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Next we talked about list poems, and hey, we made a group list poem:

We’d like to be kind,
to counteract disunity,
cure the common cold.
We’d like to find a way
to stop people being so angry,
make a remedy for greed,
and living with uncertainty,
in fact we’d want to stop all disease
and then please, to have a peaceful sleep.

Talking of curing things, round the garden, I’d put buckets of poems as remedies. Please pick one, I wrote…

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and lots of different people did as the workshop was going on… often stopping to unwind one, read it to each other and then take another. That was beautiful to watch.

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For the last exercise, I’d copied Geoffrey Grigson’s descriptions of plants, with their common names. Oh the joy – a poem in the words here alone…

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And what we did was to turn the plants into characters – wondering if they wanted to stay where they were planted – examining whether they might want another life – what their secrets might be. What if … what if…

And did I mention we had cake?

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