Cobbled Together

I’ve had little time to put together a full entry, but there is something I want to show you.

A few weeks ago, I attended writing workshops run by the poet Imogen Stirling, who took the theme of the lockdown as inspiration for her prompts. I’m pleased to report that the amalgamation of the work done by the class has been featured in The Scotsman Sessions.

It was a pleasure taking part in these classes because that’s exactly how I started writing a decade ago: here’s a prompt, and you’ve got five minutes to write something inspired by it.

Come to think of it, that’s much how this entry has been put together.

Arting About

I periodically remind people that I’m not a lifelong fiction writer nor poet. I started in 2010, when I was around 27 years old.

As such, I’ve now gained an decade of intensive experience that I reckon brings me up to a similar level compared to those who have been writing for far longer.

That said, I don’t ever want to be that writer who feels they’re too good to learn something new. When I took part in Imogen Stirling’s classes recently, I knew I could manage the work, yet I was still pushed in new directions that I wouldn’t have walked by myself, such as kennings and univocal poetry.

In the same spirit, I’ve been taking art lessons from my pal Ana Hine over the last couple of months, who is offering weekly classes via Patreon. This is a major deal for me because I’ve always had a mental block with art: I wouldn’t do it because my drawing wasn’t of a high standard, yet it wasn’t of a high standard because I wouldn’t draw.

I had a problem with the way I was taught at school. The focus was on making a finished work rather than going through the process or making a rough draft first. Yet that same criticism also applied to my poetry teaching. I should note that I’m talking about the 1990s, so their methods might have improved since then.

I have once before attempted drawing lessons with another pal, Jen Robson. Last year, she ran an afternoon class called Scared of the Paper, and my picture is still on her website. That was a great experience, and I learnt techniques that I’ve carried over to Ana’s lessons, such as correcting mistakes by adding lines rather than erasing them, and listening to music as I work.

However, I didn’t ride the wave of enjoyment and instead let the mental block build up again. Now, with being asked to stay indoors, I decided to give art another shot.

With six of Ana’s lessons under my belt, I’ve only once burst into tears and I’ve only once thrown away my eraser in frustration, so that’s progress. I’m still clouded by The Dread before I start, and it’s something I need to fight through.

When it comes to poetry, I no longer care whether people see my half-done work as I know I can go back and improve it. With art, by contrast, I sometimes can’t properly capture a particular scene and I don’t know how to fix it, so I’ve shown only Ana and my partner thus far.

Indeed, there’s only one drawing I’m willing to pull out in public just now. This is a drawing of a bus seat done while on the bus:

Sketch of bus seat
Sketch of bus seat

It’s a fluke that everything looks roughly the same here as it did in real life, so I need to work on achieving a decent image by skill rather than luck.

Be advised that today’s deviation from writing is a one-off event, and that this page will not turn into an art blog. Meanwhile, as I’m shining the spotlight on pals, Eilidh Morris is a visual artist who doing the opposite of me by including more spoken word in their practice.

Starting from the Bottom

I attended my first writing class in 2011. On a Saturday morning, we would meet in a craft shop.

For two hours, with a cup of tea in the middle, the leader would give us exercises to complete. She might provide a sentence, or five randomly-chosen words, or even a photograph. Our challenge was to write a passage inspired by that prompt and share it with the group. It’s understood that this is a draft, not a finished product.

Over the next few years, our class moved from the craft shop to different cafes in town. At one point, we were even able to use a private dining room in a four-star hotel.

The type of exercises, however, remained similar: here’s a prompt, go and pen something. It’s a format I enjoy because it encourages the writer to make decisions and solve problems quickly. I think this has made me a better writer, just as actors take part in improv classes to help their skills along.

I’ve recently taken the opportunity to revisit this type of practice. Under the banner Poetry in Turbulent Times, Imogen Stirling is running a weekly class via Zoom.

One particular area of focus is a concept I knew little about: the kenning, using two words where only one would normally appear. The run is currently scheduled for four weeks, but if it’s extended, I’m interested in still taking part.

Even though I’ve now had nearly a decade of experience since 2011, I find I’m still being challenged almost as much as when I was a beginner.

A Weekend of Shows

Regular readers will know that I run a monthly open-mike night called Hotchpotch; it’s for writers rather than musicians. This past weekend, we branched out and held two extra events that differ from our usual format.

On Friday, it was Hotchpotch Presents…, a 40-minute showcase of some of our regular members’ best work with no open-mike element. This was part of a festival called Stripped, organised by Dundee Rep Theatre. Our set finished off a cabaret-style evening that included the poet Imogen Stirling.

The staff there treated us well, even when we changed our technical requirements a couple of hours beforehand. I did feel the audience needed to be loosened up a little, but they had done by the halfway point. The best part was that we had a small budget, so the performers could be paid a fee.

This will certainly open the door for another members’ show in the future, possibly next March when Hotchpotch celebrates its 10th birthday.

On Sunday, we held Hotchpotch in Perth, around half an hour away by car. This was part of the Soutar Festival of Words, and we were given the use of the AK Bell library for 90 minutes. That event was modelled on the Dundee open-mike sessions, but performers were to be given five minutes rather than seven, and we allowed them to sign up in advance.

Although the audience was around half the size of what we would normally attract, it meant that everyone was allowed a second turn at the microphone if they wanted it. Among the crowd was Rana Marathon, who holds a regular spoken-word night in Perth called Blend In – Stand Out (BISO). Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to go to the BISO Slam the previous day because I was organising our event.

And there’s more to come. I’m currently in Wolverhampton on business where there’s an event tonight called PASTA, short for Poets and Storytellers Assemble. It seems to be similar to Hotchpotch, so I’m looking forward to taking part.