Hurray! A beautifully sunny day, and it’s Saturday, so I don’t have to go to work and can take advantage of the unaccustomed warmth and relax in the garden, listening to the blackbird belting out its song from the chimney pot behind my head. Bliss!
(The rest of this post might make more sense if you read the ones below, first)
Winning that competition had been an amazing boost to my confidence after all those years of rejections. Did this mean that I could be justified in calling myself a poet? Whether it did or not, it made no difference to the amount of courage I had to summon up when I visited my first ever writing group. It was even more daunting than my trip to Lumb Bank. Everyone there would be a stranger, and unless I chose, I’d never see any of them again after the end of the course. (I’m still in touch with people from that group)
What was particularly scary about the idea of this first writing group was the fact that it was so close to home. Oh my god, I might even bump into someone I knew, and expose my lack of talent and inability to read aloud without my voice quivering and flapping like wind through a line of washing. As it turned out, there was someone I knew, but she, and every one of the other twelve or so present was welcoming and very encouraging about my work.
After a few visits, I began to see that though it had been a good place to start, it fulfilled only one of the two-fold commitment of Adult Basic Education: to offer maximum challenge and maximum support (not always an easy balance to achieve) . Everyone was kind, but I knew that I needed more challenge if I was going to develop my work. Praise needed to be tempered with incisive critique.
Having scoured the local papers and libraries for more information, I located a group called Cannon Poets on the other side of the city. Here, I found what I was looking for: an open-to-all meeting place for poets and would-be-poets. The small workshop groups that formed after the main meeting almost invariably contained at least one or two men or women who were further along the road of experience and skills in creating and critiquing poetry.
Sometimes the feedback came as a rather bitter pill, particularly when I’d brought a poem that I’d felt had been honed to perfection, only to realise that what I was being told was true – there was still more work to be done before I’d got it to the stage where it was actually saying to others as well as myself, what I’d wanted it to say, rather than what, from my exclusive viewpoint I’d thought it was saying superbly.
I’d already discovered that the passage of a few weeks was usually a sound critic - (what a disappointment it was to take a cherished creation from a drawer where it had been left to ‘prove’ itself, and to find, instead of a nicely risen, nourishing object, a few dull stanzas lying flat on their face). No, to be fair to myself – there were sometimes a few real nuggets in there, but they’d been smothered by over-explaining, rather than being trusted to speak for themselves.