Let me tell you about gates…
Last year, I was lucky enough to attend a poetry writing workshop hosted by Derbyshire County Council. They do quite a lot of these types of workshops – always enjoyable and a great opportunity to meet fellow writers and have a good chin-wag about writerly kind of things. This particular one was hosted by three wonderful poets: Jeremy Duffield, Cathy Grindrod and Wayne Burrows.
The workshop left a lasting impression on me for two reasons. One, Wayne Burrows is the editor of a wonderful Nottingham based poetry magazine, ‘Staple’, and he gave me some really constructive feedback on my poems. Secondly, I learnt something about the importance of perception and interpretation in writing, something I thought I knew, but I didn’t truly understand it. It was one of those lightbulb moments, which is like the sun setting in your soul and coming to rest in a place it knows it belongs.
Anyway… let me explain. Jeremy asked us all to write a poem, in 5 minutes, which should begin: ‘Let me tell you about gates’ … yes, that’s what I thought too! I’m not used to writing from another person’s idea, and within a certain time, so I was thrown into momentary panic, before realising that momentary panic would eat into my writing time… it was like school exams all over again. But I dug deep (being given no other choice and not wanting to look like a fool) and wrote this:
Let me tell you about gates
because they won’t tell you about themselves.
They won’t tell you but they will show you
in oh, so many ways.
Open me up, this one says,
Come in, Come in.
Close me up, says another
as it nestles low beneath the long grass.
Chip, Chip, Chip, says another.
Caw, Caw, says another
or was that a crow flying overhead?
But the one near pebble beach
says none of these things.
She stands ajar, rope dangling
from her rusty shoulder, wrenched
into an inch of mud
and waits for someone to come and try
to slide her open a little more.
Then she will say, Hi, Hi and let you in,
across the dry sand, wind blown,
beyond the pebbles cranked together,
snuffled up against the wind,
past the tin can rattle
and out towards the waves,
towards the white frayed edge that says,
Come in, Come in, Come in.
So how did these words come about? Why these? They were inspired by the lasting impression of a deserted pebble beach, and the journey to it, that I made two or three times a day on a holiday in Wales the year before. They came from a personal experience, one that was so strong, that under pressure, it was this that sprang to mind. This brought home to me just how important it is to absorb what is around you, and how, as if by magic, these moments reappear when you most need them. Our writing is not only what we create from our imaginations, but what we have experienced and stored away in the treasure chests of our minds, and in our hearts. Because, most of all, I think it’s the feelings and sense of place or experience, that stick. Also, on reflection , I realised that this poem could be read on many levels. I have a real affinity with the sea, possibly as a water sign, and feel quite haunted by its rhythms, all of which I think are subconsciously reflected in this poem, even in its form – something I wasn’t conscious of at the time.
What I also found interesting, is that not one person in the room – I guess there were around 12 of us – dealt with this subject matter in the same way. Some took it literally, to be about gates. Some took a wider view of the historical nature of gates and architecture, others took gates to be ‘Gates’, a person. Our differences in perception and interpretation hit home to me in a way they never had before – how we all carried our own voice, how we all spoke from somewhere deep within us, both consciously and subconsciously, and how that somewhere was so different for each ot us. And yet, we were all able to step back and admire one another’s efforts. It truly was a lightbulb moment for me.
But there was another thing too – I also learnt something about myself. When I read my poem out to the group, Jeremy made a comment which stuck with me. He said it was interesting that I had written about gates as a way of letting people in, when most people thought of gates as shutting something off, or keeping people out. It made me realise that it said a lot more about me than I had thought, and that maybe I had let people in even more than I intended… in a silly old poem about gates!
Have you ever had a similar experience through a writing workshop? Or have you ever had a lightbulb moment about writing, or yourself, through your writing, that has stuck with you?