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Poetry workshop with Becci Louise; 5th in the LinkUpArts ‘Travels’ series

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Asked to draw myself using only triangles, circles and lines, I’m apt to take things very literally. It sounds a geometric exercise. I go for the triangular head and some smaller triangular spikes for hair, before our workshop leader mischievously explains that the lines can be wiggly ones.

Drawing by GiniI’m geometrically committed, but loosen up enough to add ‘toothbrush moustaches’ for some luxurious eyelashes.

A second triangle, reminiscent of my childhood drawings, forms my body and the wheels are attached at the corners. I’m liking the spiky corners.

A person can be too rounded, too soft, too compliant, but I do add on some wiggly ears and a smile.

The smile widens at the introduction of our first poem. From Billy Collins, The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems, we have poem: ‘The Introduction’

This poem, capable of deflating the most intense of poetry police with its way-over-the-top pretentiousness, is a non-introduction to Picking Wild Strawberries – a non-existent poem, and I warm instantly to our workshop leader.

She spares us the fumble with Collins’ deliberately unfamiliar vocabulary and prompts us to respond to this cheeky challenge to the poetry establishment.

I resist the temptation to play with those complex words and launch headlong into Picking Wild Strawberries.

Sunshine prairie with Sienna Miller,
bo-ho dressing, wild and floaty icon.
Or not. The wild bit, a contradiction
here in berry seasoned Wimbledon.
I know chefs rave about the wilder taste,
but the size. I mean, so very mean; and
how to grasp the wild, the fiddly little
things. The berry, berry red I first knew
as jordbaer, perfectly aware that the
English ear hears not the soft hint of d,
hears something naked and far more primal.
Being bare facilitates the intro
to picking; the pick, a sound not mentioned
in polite company – just add an r
strategically, to get the picture.
Detour round the sounds, and sense of words, and
oh my, whatever happened to Picking
Wild Strawberries on a sunny prairie,
bo-ho dressing, all that floaty heat and
Oh Sienna!

Maybe it all got too cosy, joyful, relaxed even. Poem number two was a punch in the guts.

I doubled over and watched myself reeling. And the workshop continued, like that sunny day my marriage fell apart and we had guests sipping fruit punch on the lawn, oblivious, laughing and having fun.

Jeanann Verlee’s poem: ‘Swarm’ was about saying ‘no’

Unbidden I hear the voice, that attractive French accent pleading ‘no’. I see her eyes seeking out someone, anyone, who will step up and intervene. I hear her ‘no’ dissolve into stifled sobs.

And I feel my own fear. I feel the powerful arm across my back holding me in place, forcing me to bare witness; the thumb thrusting its circular rhythm into my increasingly sore shoulder.

I feel the fear, I taste the fear of the fourteen year old child.

And it’s my turn to say no. No to the memory. Pack away the past and return to now, the workshop, the exercise; the free-write that begins: when we discovered the mountain:

Of course we did chat about the importance of saying no, the importance of self respect, but I was busy swimming against the tide of memory.

The mountain; now that set a stream of neurones darting about my reluctant brain. The mountain took me to a better place and I clutched gratefully at the joy.

When we discovered the mountain, I was drawn out of myself literally and metaphorically. I leaned so, so very far forward in order to maintain the contact. I leaned in a bubble of excitement, precarious, my senses tickled to a peak of awareness. Fujisan is renowned for his elusiveness, yet here he was exposed in all his glory, a majestic gift as I sped past, peering from the porthole window of the Shinkansen. And I leaned. I craned my neck and leaned until suddenly, explosively I lay on the floor, touched by the Kami, the spirit of Fuji.

Stunned, I rediscovered my crumpled self, laughing. Laughing with joy, laughing with the privilege and with the shock of falling off my wheels. Laughing with the trembling floor of the speeding train. Laughing with the rich blessing of discovering the mountain.

I chose a purple pen to underline four phrases I liked, before we moved into the next phase of this fascinating workshop.

Choose an emotion, we were instructed, and of course I chose joy.

We went on to describe how our emotion looked, sounded, smelled, tasted and felt. Glad of my choice, I immersed myself in joy. My ‘summing it up’ sentence described the occasion I rolled home in a glorious fiery sunset, my previously sealed and padlocked heart cracked open, my head spinning in the realisation that my once empty skin now held a real, live person.

Like other workshop days, there was food. Lunch, drinks and cake flavoured our conversations; listening lightened my load, eased the ancient burden of persistent misplaced guilt. Laughter and chocolate comforted the unquiet child and I gently let her go.

And continued to smile. Somewhere I’ve heard that the feel-good factor in one smile is as mood altering as 16,000 chocolate bars.

I focused my awareness on the paradox of light; a topic initiated by our workshop leader which joyfully engaged my attention. I had, myself, spoken about it in a previous workshop.

The world around the edges of knowing is mesmerising. How could I be a poet with my nose buried in the sand?

An article in the Scientific American had recently caught my eye: Nil Communication: how to send a message without sending anything at all …particles connect to each other using other particles. The force of electromagnetism between two electrons is conveyed by particles of light, and quarks huddle inside a proton because they exchange gluons. Physics is, essentially, the study of interactions…

This was a workshop about growing and the personal journey – body building for poets – looking inside at ourselves, while simultaneously looking out on the world with eyes wide and eager.

The culmination of all this flexing of poetic muscle was to be something personal. A letter to our younger self.

The letter to my younger self could have gone anywhere. It was the twelve, thirteen year old me I chose to address:

Joy is in the walking
and yes I’m so glad you
put all of you into
that strut. That bounce, that
hint of arrogance in
the swing of your hips. Good
for you! Good for every
step and every dream; of
walking Africa, of
climbing mountains and of
scrambling wild rainforest.
Thank you. You couldn’t have
done better. My store cupboard
of memories is a
great motivator – to
swing over forest-clad
mountainsides, fall off my
wheels in awe at Fujisan;
roll out into the heart
of Shibuya crossing.
Well done! And thank you – for
the legacy of bravery,
bounciness, innocence and joy.

And having completed our poem, we were invited to retrieve our drawings from the start of the day. We were given the opportunity to think, to compare and to illustrate the journey we had travelled; the emotional roller coaster of the day. Each one of us flying, diving, gliding and tumbling through our memories, thoughts and experiences. Each one emerging unique and ready to take a stab at a personal poetry manifesto:

Poetry is that clear fluid dripping into a tube – needled and taped into my thirsting body.
My lifeblood.
It is also the Kami whispering, shouting – the wind in my ear.

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Trish Wheatley
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Gini, you make me want to write something other than reports and funding applications. Sounds like a fruitful workshop!