Writers' Rooms(Seamus Heaney Summer School)
"I began to appreciate the qualities of a wide range of poetry styles, and also to see that I should stop trying to write like other people but to write like myself."
We're dancing in the kitchen with Steph, as she tells us about her writing plans and memories of the Summer School.
Where are we?
In a corner of our kitchen in Edinburgh. This is where I type up on the computer or have Zoom/Teams calls. The danger is my husband coming in and asking if I’d like a cuppa - the man from Porlock, so I use our son’s former bedroom for concentrated writing where I am undisturbed and there is no wifi link to tempt me. This bedroom has become a junk room since our son left home. I’m far too ashamed to show you a photo of the piles of old chairs, towers of books and files on the floor and the tiny walk-way I squeeze through to get to my desk-space, an old table. I thought I would get to grips with it during lockdown but one day of it was so depressing I gave up. I kept thinking I could be writing a poem instead.
What are you working on?
I am editing/rewriting poems that were discussed in the Summer School workshops or in 1-1s. I am polishing poems that will go in my first collection ‘The Further North’ (working title), poems inspired by landscape, history, folklore and myth of Shetland, Orkney, St Kilda and Iceland. I also have a completely different second collection about half way there: ekphrastic poems, colour (as in paintings), and women reclaiming herstory or the male gaze. I usually work on several collections at once (like Monet, though mine are worked on over several months not in the same day.)
What’s that over there?
That is a Balanese shadow puppet, Tuban, a comedy character which I bought in Bali whilst researching wayang kulit (shadow puppetry) and sacred dance. Tuban’s jaw can be manipulated to open and shut.
What’s that sound?
It could be the fridge, my husband munching toast, or the cacophony of seagulls, and magpies from the garden. I don’t mind the pigeons and pretend their cooing is doves.
Time for a break…?
Sitting on the bench in the sun (if any) in my tiny garden with a cuppa or weeding (a meditative activity) - aware I’m so lucky to have this Hortus Conclusis. After lunch, I go for a walk in the nearby grounds of a former lunatic asylum, (appropriate as we all feel a little mad now). I used to wade through a lake of buttercups during lockdown but now sadly mown as council workers return. If gales (which we seem to have more of this summer) I might do Tai Chi or just dance around the kitchen open space to something inspiring. At the moment, it’s Jamie Callum or ‘María de Buenos Aires’, Piazzolla’s tango operetta. I used to go to Contemporary Dance classes at Dancebase in the Grassmarket, Edinburgh but since lockdown, the kitchen has had to do. I don’t write in the eves as that way lies insomnia. Instead we watch telly/Netflix/Google Play together - the brilliant ‘My Brilliant Friend’ at the moment.
Was there a particularly striking moment during the Summer School?
Fellow students in the group workshop critiques were both incisive and uplifting and I was grateful for the time they must have spent preparing. I began to appreciate the qualities of a wide range of poetry styles and also to see that I should stop trying to write like other people but to write like myself - I don’t mean stop reading and learning from others - and also how to push my own writing to be more arresting.
What's next for your writing?
I hope to get my first collection published.
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