BlakeFest Poetry Workshops Sat Sept 9 2017

BlakeFest Poetry Workshops Sat Sept 9 2017

BlakeFest Poetry Workshops Sat Sept 9 2017

INTRODUCTION

‘Dandelion Visions’ was the theme for two ninety-minute workshops held at Bognor Regis Library on Saturday September 9, facilitated by me, Stella Bahin, for Blake Fest. The first session was attended by Rachel Searle, Sedge Seymour, Sedge’s teenage daughter, Caitlin, and his nine-year-old son, Toby, the couple, Johnny and Sue, and Olivia Stevens. The second session was attended by the same people, minus Olivia. Here’s a transcription of some of the text we put together, together, and some of the details of the workshops. The workshops were about sharing and opening up the writing process, with the poems produced intended for later reworking to become part of Blake Fest 2017’s publications: online; and in the library – where the Blake Fest exhibition, also ‘Dandelion Visions’, curated by Mikey Georgeson, is to be held.

FIRST SESSION

Before we began, some of us collected dandelions in all their above-ground stages and manifestations (not digging them up down to their roots) from the library’s lawns: green leaves, yellow flowers, green heads tipped whitely and fluffily, and open, round, clocks. The notion was that, as Blake had perceived angels in a tree, and ‘a Heaven in a Wild Flower’, we would try, with simple, down-to-earth words about a down-to-earth plant, to connect with our own, and any readers’, imaginations. Try, here, in a simple grounded task and with a simple common weed as a prop, to see what we could come up with which might be evocative of what wasn’t there, as well as what was there. How the ordinary can lead to, or suggest, the extraordinary. The dandelion was both our ‘tree’, and our version of Blake’s envisaged ‘angels’ with its far-reaching, ‘winged’ seeds.

(Bargain. Well, free, in fact.)

Each participant had their own paper to write on, I had a flipchart to write on. I encouraged the participants to jot down anything that came to mind while I, or anyone else, was talking. Otherwise, I’d put what I could on the communal flipchart. Some doodled and wrote all over their sheets of paper, freely, rather than writing in a way ordered for reading; I will reproduce their words in an ordered way that’s convenient for this blog-type form. I will correct any spelling errors, also for ease of reading and so as not to appear to be shaming anyone who wrote ‘Dandiliions’, for example. Misspellings have their own charm and potential for fun: does a dandelion produce dandillions of seeds (like millions), I wonder, for example, looking at that? But we didn’t explore misspellings (or the possibilities of the typo either) on the day, and this is a record of, and extension of, the workshops.

Anyone reading this who’d like to have a go at writing some prose or poetry along these lines; I’d love to see what you’ve done and to possibly include it among Blake Fest’s ‘Dandelion Visions’ publications, as above? (With your agreement.) Please do use these notes, if you like. Pick some dandelions – and, as we did then, to begin – look closely at the dandelion parts; its petals, leaves, stems, clocks; and describe them and expressing what thoughts and feelings are provoked by the sight and smell and feel of them?

NOTES ON THE FLIPCHART

Dandelion Visions/Late spring/Summertime, comforting, cycle seasons/Perhaps the bees pollinating/NATURAL SELECTION STRONGEST SCENT [perhaps attracting the bees]/What would bees see? Or [the] dandelion?/*Clock not working in room – theme for Bognor currently, public clock/*Dandelion & Clover – rabbits/[grows] from the taproot/It’s YELLOW/pick off the lawn so they don’t seed everywhere/they take over/the dandelion threat/the bees like them/So common/Seeds/clock/wind blows/one of the first things to flower in spring/I like the seed heads especially when they’ve got dew on them/don’t like them sad and scruffy/you just know when you look at them, really distinctive/parachuting bailing out/slave to the wind/It’s fluffy to look at, when you touch it’s fragile; [its] fragile but spiky clock/I found out at the bottom of the petal it’s got brown stripes/Never looked at it upside down before/I need to spend more time upside down/tassel-ated [tessellated?] serrated [petal tips] I knew it had blunt, not pointy petals but it’s got these almost forks like it’s been snipped as if the snip goes in like with the tips of the scissors or nail scissors [Who or what snipped it?] young teeth/ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES UNRESTRICTED/fur/[the smell] it’s like cut grass a week later/[reminds me of] guinea pigs/self-perpetuating survival instinct/wet the bed – diuretic/like a star

SEDGE’S NOTES

dandelion murderer/the bee’s friend/the gardener’s nemesis/a slave to the wind/belonging to no-one//Everywhere/yet so unseen//Landing sites/Aldwick gardener, pavement cracks//Seeds are spinning/the weeds are winning

CAITLIN’S NOTES

Dandelion Visions [drawing of eye next to ‘Visions’]//Bendy stem so seeds don’t spread too soon//New -> old//’Disperses its seeds’/’To create new life’/’Their population doubles in size’/’Usually round the perimeter if the garden where the fence blocks their path./’Small umbrellas flying in the wind,’/We’re here to take over! [In speech bubble coming out of tiny drawing of a dandelion clock beside two larger drawing of dandelion clocks, as per photograph]//The wind blows, seeds fly,/The start of a new journey./On their way to disrupted land,/to start their new family?//Umbrellas in the wind/As the young boy leans down to pluck the clock from the ground,/New life is formed./He blows gently on the fragile seeds because that’s all it takes./The seeds fluttered through the wind like slaves./They go wherever it blows./They settled themselves round the perimeter of the garden,/Where the fence blocks their path.

JOHNNY’S NOTES

[Illustrated with dandelion flower on stem with leaf, clock, flower head, honeycomb, a hat, abstract shapes] Dandelion Visions//the rat or feral pigeon of plants [written in a drawn 2D box]//gardener’s floral nemesis terrorist//how can something so intricately interesting be so annoying//unpretentious/prolific/over-bearing/persistent/resilient/enduring…/migrating nimbly/migrants/deep-rooted feelings/deep-feeling roots//[in a drawn circle] Circular Poem//we were all blown in on the wind/we are all dandelions//It came on the winds of change//how can you communicate with a dandelion//long roots

SUE’S NOTES

Vanilla scent/Nibbled ends of petals/skin like wands bending in the breeze//Warming earth, gentle breeze,/sleeping roots start to wake/first bumbling bee looking for food/sees the blazing bright sunshine signal/emerging from the soil./The dandelion standing erect/sunshine face reflecting the sun./Eventually it is ready for its/final triumph/seeds like tiny parachutes produce a misty milky globe./A gust and they fly, dangling hovering on the breeze//I need to spend more time upside down

RACHEL’S NOTES

The dandelion threat/replacement clocks/spring in the air//New life?/’Umbrella in the wind’

OLIVIA’S NOTES [not available for transcription; read out by Olivia at the time]

TOBY’S NOTES [minimal, doodles, labelled drawings of a lightsaber, hourglass, hologram, sword, dandelion leaves and a dandelion clock]

The next step was to find a way to start, or end, a poem on the theme. We discussed our options and agreed on choices as we went along. Discussed phrases we liked. Looking at the world upside down was popular, partly for its indicating a fresh way of observing. We debated beginning with a version of this phrase, and how that might go, or ending with it, and how that might go; and decided, by vote, to end with it. I put that on the flipchart, at the bottom. We also liked the idea of the seeds being blown for a starting-point, and debated whether to incorporate blowing lips, or have the wind creating the lift-off. We liked the local reference to Bognor, and Johnny having complained about dandelions growing in his garden. How we were going to link these ideas, obviously or not, was also debated. There was some reading out of notes before we decided how we would join our first lines to the last – we were running out of time, but eventually, we agreed, as below:

COMMUNITY POEM, MORNING SESSION

Ruderal

The wind blows, seeds fly
they don’t care where they’re going.
The Bognor clocks have stopped. Are wrong.
Or gone, the seeds are spinning.
The seeds are winning:
Johnny’s Aldwick lawn,
their manicured lion teeth,
their dew, their fluffy spikes,
their tiger stripes.
I need to spend more time
upside down.

By Rachel Searle, Sue, Johnny, Caitlin, Toby, Sedge Seymour, Olivia Stevens, curated by Stella Bahin.

There wasn’t time to revise, or to discuss line-endings, or whether we ought to break it up into stanzas, but it was a satisfying-enough step for us to have reached together all within ninety minutes. Afterwards, Johnny said he would like to add the line ‘Fate dictates, rotates, reinstates’:

COMMUNITY POEM, MORNING SESSION, REVISED

Ruderal

The wind blows, seeds fly
they don’t care where they’re going.
The Bognor clocks have stopped. Are wrong.
Or gone, the seeds are spinning.
Fate dictates, rotates, reinstates.
The seeds are winning:
Johnny’s Aldwick lawn,
their manicured lion teeth,
their dew, their fluffy spikes,
their tiger stripes.
I need to spend more time
upside down.

SECOND SESSION

For the following session, after a short break for refreshments, I decided it would be fruitful to describe a journey that either led us to the brink of another world, through the familiar world we are in; or described another world as if we were there; the familiar left behind us. The former was the most popular choice. I didn’t wish to repeat the use of the word ‘dandelion’, but, to still incorporate some of the ideas from earlier if we could, by suggestion, and association. I began with an exercise of three minutes of non-stop writing about the attenders’ journey on this day, that ended in the room we were in. The text produced was then to form the basis of the next poem, to be cut and pasted into a poem. As each workshop member read out what they had written, I picked out phrases I thought were interesting and possibly would work well and added them to a new sheet on the flipchart, then asked if I’d left anything out anyone else particularly liked, and wrote that down too.

TOBY’S NOTES (age nine)

Time, me, mine, cupboard, Gengar Pokemon, fire, milk, Toby, command, spelt, wrong, me, story, wand, Caitlin, closet, door, dog, rabbit, music, Dad [plus a few names of Pokemon characters and a drawing of ‘My Family’: dogs Murphy and Marley, Me, Caitlin, Dad, Mum]

JOHNNY’S NOTES

They came in boats and set up camp. They looked around and saw the farmers with whom they spoke, and stayed. They stayed the same for 1,000 years before the change. And here we are in the library, about to change again.

SUE’S NOTES

get in the car – hydrangeas are looking good wish they could do something with the ship. The roadworks have gone. The sea always makes me smile – blue sea tide’s in. No the lights have changed just as we went through. Why has John gone this way. Haven’t been to the library in years. Electric barriers to go through. Would love to look at the books. Haven’t had a Scotch egg in years. Wish I had some mustard mayo. Coffee is nice. White cup. Cheese sandwich.

CAITLIN’S NOTES

You know, I was very reluctant to go down to the garden because I didn’t want to. I am sorry, I find it hard to write in pen. I went down the stairs and Dad was very loud so I asked him to be quiet and then we asked the woman to open the door so she went to the STAFF ONLY room and then opened the door so I went outside to the corner and found a conker in the thing that is round it then I found a feather and a dandelion clock.//Instead of ‘help yourself’ (to things) it’s ‘help yourself’ as in change for the better.

SEDGE’S NOTES

Check the clock as I leave check for keys before closing the door pondering reading an apology I have just received. Considering possible outcomes as I walk in the sunshine in time to pick up my children, aware of traffic as I negotiate the well-trodden route to them spying a whole room of furniture books and belongings out in the street free to take, still walking seeing the people who are taking them and planning more

RACHEL’S NOTES

I opened the door to outside, stepped out, sun shining, good it’s stopped raining. Bag over shoulder walked down the road. Keys turn in the car door open it slip inside, brown bag thrown on passenger seat, sit down, shut door, turn key. I’m off, off to meet Stella. Foot down round the bend. What’s the quickest route? Take a left then straight on. And many many shops. Different colours different signs. A person here and there looking my way. Am I driving too fast? Nearly there, park. Double yellow.

NOTES ON THE FLIPCHART (From read out texts and verbal contributions)

The conker with the thing that is around it/The STAFF ONLY room/Dad was very loud/The closet, lamps, fire, room of furniture in the street/check the clock check the keys read the apology/”Help yourself”, a man smoking/It’s stopped raining/Turn key/Take a left, straight on/Blue sea tide’s in, makes me smile/White cup. Hadn’t been to the library in years. Would love to look at the books./They came in boats.

Again, we discussed a potential starting point and a form or shape for the poem, as well as a title: which lines to begin with and where to place them and in what order and why, by vote. There were some ambitious ideas for form, which we didn’t have time to develop. Sue read the poem to camera when we had finished it, at least to our satisfaction for the session, as a celebration of our day spent together.

COMMUNITY POEM, AFTERNOON SESSION

Bognor Regis: All Change, All Change

It’s stopped raining. “Help yourself.”
There’s a room of furniture in the street.
Broken clock, lamp, porcelain dog.
Check the time, check for keys,
consider the apology.
Take a left, straight on
past the smoking man.
Hadn’t been to the library in years.
Dad was very loud. Shh!
Electric barriers? The STAFF ONLY door?
Would love to look at the books.
Tide’s in. Blue sea.
They came in boats.

‘PS’ versions of ‘Ruderal’ and 'Bognor Regis: All Change, All Change' below.

Johnny has produced a further version of ‘Bognor Regis, All Change All Change’ himself:

How to get to Blakefest…

Check the time, check for keys
Consider the apology
Take a left, straight on
Past the smoking man

John(ny) Parsons

Here is the poem Caitlin created in the workshop, revised by her:

Umbrellas in the wind

As the young boy leans down to pluck the clock from the ground,
New life is formed.
He blows gently on the fragile seeds because that’s all it takes.
The seeds flutter through the wind like slaves.
They go wherever it blows.
They settle themselves round the perimeter of the garden,
where the fence blocks their path.
One escapes.

Caitlin

COMMUNITY POEM, PS

Ruderal

The wind is blowing the seeds are flying,
they’re not caring where they’re going.

Bognor’s town clocks have stopped.
Are wrong. Or gone.

The seeds are spinning.
The seeds are winning.

Winning the lawns and the greens,
winning their manicured teeth,

winning their fluffy spikes,
winning their tigery stripes.

The seeds are winning their dew,
spending time upside downy.

Post scriptum of community poem created in a workshop facilitated by Stella Bahin with Rachel Searle, Olivia Stevens, Sue, Johnny, Caitlin, Toby, Sedge Seymour, revised by Stella Bahin

COMMUNITY POEM, PS

Bognor Regis: All Change, All Change

We came All Change! All Change!

by train, we came by car and foot.

It's stopped raining. Help yourself.

Perhaps we came too fast.

We came by a room of furniture,

a broken clock a lamp a porcelain dog

in the street.

We checked the time

we checked for keys

considered the apology.

We took a left, we took a straight on

past the smoking man

past the electric barriers

past the STAFF ONLY doors

it's been too long.

Shh! We're in the library

but not to look at the books.

We're here because the tide's in.

We're here because the sea's blue

is a smile. We're here because they came

in boats.

Post scriptum of community poem created in a workshop facilitated by Stella Bahin with Rachel Searle, Sue, Johnny, Caitlin, Toby, Sedge Seymour, revised by Stella Bahin