Last month, though I watched quite a lot of on-line readings, I felt isolated from making poetry, being wholly caught up in looking after my ancient mother post-operatively. So it was positively exciting this week to log on to the weekly Zoom group I’ve been missing and share proto- and not-so-proto poems. There’s nothing like spending ten minutes ruminating on the difference between ‘recollect’ and ‘remember’. I know some poets ardently dislike workshopping but for me it is a way of testing the independent life of a poem in the making – does it walk on its own legs?
While in Nottingham, I met up with poet Jo Dixon. Jo teaches at De Montfort University. As well as celebrating and talking over the publication of her first full collection, Purl , we talked about the difficulties of introducing new creative writing students to workshopping – how hard it is to establish the trust needed to be frank and forthright, to listen without taking offence or fright especially now when the students are unlikely to have met each other IRL.
The virtual group I belong to was instigated by Brussels-based Paul Stephenson. The rest of us are scattered – The Netherlands, Leicester, The Fens, Cambridge, Norwich and London, but we each know at least one other member from previous groups and have settled into a productive way of working together – supportive but rigorous. The key is mutual respect and trust. I think it takes experience and a certain level of confidence to get the best out of workshopping – to listen with an open mind but also to know what to take on board and what to politely pass on. I am very grateful for all of my poetry friends.
My good news for this month is that I have a poem long-listed for the Live Canon Single Poem Competition - which means it will be in the anthology – extra welcome as I’d forgotten I’d entered – AND I’ve written a new poem, which it seems, from today’s workshopping, does walk on its own legs.
Jo Dixon's Purl (Shoestring Press); Sean Hewitt's Tongues of Fire (Cape); Geraldine Clarkson's Monica's Overcoat of Flesh (Nine Arches); and Katrina Naomi's Wild Persistence (Seren).