Workshops

It was a privilege and a delight to run Saturday’s workshop at Carlisle’s Phil & Lit. I have enjoyed every event I have ever done there – either the Poetry Symposium, or poetry workshops. As some people commented on Saturday – you go into the day thinking that six hours of poetry is a long time… and then you blink and it’s done.

I have been to my fair share of workshops, and (truth-to-tell) I have found that they vary, obviously. That variation depends wholly on the person taking the workshop; not on their published status, not on whether they are a fluffy person… but who they are as a teacher. That’s right. It is difficult not to come back to teaching and teachers. Some quite prestigious poets have presided over highly mediocre workshops that I have been at. Workshops of this kind always seem like an aged rock band has slumped, sullenly into town and is sullenly going through the motions with you; here come the hits… thank you… thank you… lovely to be here… Elvis has left the building…

The best workshops go off like a flashbulb – there’s a moment of sudden illumination and the afterglow maintains itself into your actual work. Dear Old Nick used to say that he only ever went to workshops to be forced to write something – and there’s no doubt that this is another reason for running one: you might stumble across something yourself. Mind you, should the workshop leader be writing… or should they be looking at how to others are getting on – weighing up interventions and gauging the level of input at the next opportunity? This is the teaching bit. The best workshops also provide you with different working methods – perhaps ones that you hadn’t considered before. The best workshops feed-forward – and perhaps energise. And they should be a challenge, I think. There should be times that you scratch your head. And there will be times in years to come that something said – perhaps an off-hand comment from a more sagacious workshop leader – will reveal itself as further guidance: news from another star, almost.

I can make no claim for any of the above. And I have no right to. However, I can only repeat what an honour it was to work with the writers at the poetry workshop on Saturday. It is very special to watch poems happen. I love running workshops.


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