Friday, 8 May 2015

At Lumb Bank 2/3

The drive at Lumb Bank

End of Thursday.  The days are too full to keep track of at night, nor is this exactly early at 11:30 and it is Election Night. One student is listening to the radio in the main sitting room. This is the office where I have access, a separate building at the end of the drive.

Today we had sun and no rain. Yesterday morning, while Monique was doing her workshop, I was writing the last blog, reading student work and writing a little myself. The afternoon was one-to-one tutorials talking over a poem or two or an idea in the usual way. It is a good tempered group, all starting from zero, at least officially, though some have been writing foryears and they have all read substantially.

Wednesday evening is when the visiting writer comes and this time it was Matthew Welton on his way down to a conference at Goldsmiths. We had only met briefly before so when he arrived at the cottage where the tutors and visiting writers stay we sat down, Monique poured some wine and we talked an hour or so. before going overfor dinner and the reading.

Monique being a little hard of hearing we are doing readings in the sitting room not the barn and it gets pretty cosy and packed there. Matthew reads a range of work along the lines of Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue which is apparently our headline tag for the course. So he begins with some older poems, then some new ones, some in which he borrows lines from Jon McGregor and ends with a poem composed entirely of four letter words in which the consonants have been exchanged, in effect a sound poem that we know contains the dreaded four-letter words. The reading is funny and inventive and technically brilliant at times, but always edging towards language rather than subject. The poems, I feel, especially those clipped from Jon McG have a kind of abrupt gentleness which may be an attribute retained from the original book or something more to do with the selections from it. The humorous, the arbitary and the obsessive, as well as the collaborative run through everything. Although this is experimental work in certain senses it is not the least rebarbative. It is, rather, playful, in the way a child may be playful given the components of some inexhaustible machine. I like it very much. I, of course, was born into a world of subjects where language was the prime mediator and guide but not in itself the subject so my later more 'experimental' work is never entirely free of themes or thematic areas.

Afterwards a few of us, including Matthew and Jack, the co-Course Director, sit around for a while with glasses of wine and keep talking. This is Arvon as I know it. The late conversations, the eventual retiring to bed.


This morning it is my turn again, this time to talk about form. Despite a very late night I wake early and am very much awake by 6, write a little then get up, shower, wash my hair and, having decided to have bacon for breakfast head over to the main kitchen to get some bacon from the communal fridge. The idea is to bring it back but once I'm there there is company and conversation so I find the bacon and fry it there. Eventually I return to the cottage to get my thing together and we make a start.

I have written on form before. This session starts by them reading their haiku chains which seem to have turned out very well. Those who hadn't really 'got' poetry before are getting it. It's encouraging. From haiku I move to epitaph and epigram, and get them to write some similar quatrains, complete with pointed rhymes and though they only have a few minutes to do this they come out with some crackers. Thence to Emily Dickinson and the use of counterpoint and finally to sonnets, to the three-stage-poem and to beginnings and endings. To get them started I send them back to the library to take out a book - any book - to find page 57 and look in the direction of the 12th line for a line that might serve to begin their own poem. The sheer arbitrariness of this takes attention away from the heavy responsibility of choosing a heavyweight subject. Once again, they produce some fine things, in some cases the least promising of them. Understanding poetry is really a matter of not misunderstanding it. Once the misunderstandings thin out actual poetry can make its entrance.

After lunch I have the four tutorials but by the fourth I am dead on my feet so return to my room to snooze and very quickly fall asleep (hence the wakefulness now, close to midnight). Tonight was the anthology reading. I always enjoy these - and some have a real gift for recitation too. Tomorrow we end. The end always comes abruptly. Now post this (I will add a picture as soon as I can) and to return the office key.

It's thick dark out there. Maybe the white cows will emit a faint radioactive glow - if they are still there.

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