DYCP – Blog 3: Writers Place Poets & Tenebrae

For the first six weeks of my activity time, I was continuing with Writers Place Poets (run by New Writing South and facilitated by Sea Sharp) which I started in October 2020. A group of ten of us “gentle poets” (as Sea addressed us in group emails) met once a month for 6 months. Each month, we’d discuss the chosen topic (eg. ‘finding our authentic voice’ or ‘writing for the stage’) led by Sea, and we’d also do some short writing exercises. 

Each session began with us sharing work that had been set the previous month. In January, we’d had a ‘Career Day’ session where we’d discussed ‘how to be a poet’. We spoke about networking, scheduling writing time, admin, finding an ‘online home’, writing a Bio and about submitting our work to publications. Before February’s session, our task was to submit a poem somewhere, and bring it along to share with the group. I shared a poem called ‘28 Days’. It was a poem I’d been thinking about for a while as I’d been inspired by the book Wild Power after being recommended it on a Roots to Rise Women’s Yoga course I did last year. I wanted to write something around the menstrual cycle and the concept of ‘inner seasons’ – a way of thinking that I’d found really beneficial to my general wellbeing and wanted to tell everybody about! I’d been working on 28 Days throughout January. It ended up being a poem in four verses – one for each season, and a line for each day. Presented on the page as a circle.

A snippet of my ’28 Days’ poem

Our final session in March was a live (zoom) performance – and one of my ‘key milestones’ on my DYCP Activity Plan. We kept it to an intimate group, each inviting one person to come along and see us perform. We’d been encouraged to create something new and different for this final session, to present our poetry in a way we hadn’t done  before. Although I have worked with audio before, I’d never performed poetry to a backing track. I was going to do it with Sick and Tired at one of the BLM protests last summer, but I wasn’t up to it on the day (I find protests very tiring). So I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Luckily, I have a few musician friends and one of them (MoeMar) had some music he was happy for me to use.

I performed some poetry at an Open Mic (as part of the local Women Of Colour group’s Wellbeing Festival) in February and experimented with sharing the screen, and presenting my poems in different visually pleasing ways. This went down well and encouraged me to include visuals in my performance to the backing track for the final WPP performance.  

I find a good view helpful when working on poetry

I returned to a poem called Dr Pain I’d written a year previously in my last month staying in South Goa. It’s about a powerful experience I had with a massage therapist who I saw five times in two weeks. With the reworking and performance, I wanted to embrace my authentic voice (the focus of an earlier Writers Place Poets session)- including the different characters, the dramatics, the weirdness, the humour, the sadness. I wanted to indulge all these parts of myself that I sometimes try to smooth out or hide – which was a scary but revealing process!

To speed up the process, I just used videos I’d found on YouTube – thinking that if I develop it further in the future, I can use my own videos – or at least work with collaborators I’ve communicated with! (so if you’re reading this and you happen to have some real cool drone shots over mountains, please leave a comment!) I layered epic drone shots of mountains over a close-up of somebody’s back being massaged. The parts of the poem that are a different voice also come up on the screen, and I even did a little bit of singing!

A screenshot from the Dr Pain backing video

People enjoyed it! I got some good feedback and especially the element of performing live over the backing track went down well. Later in our last session, Sea presented us each with a certificate and I got ‘Up & Coming Poet Award’ ! A great end to a really enjoyable course.

(Keep an eye out for when I’m performing live and maybe you’ll see me do a version of Dr Pain!)

My certificate from Sea

In January, I also got invited to apply to be a part of a Brighton Festival project called Tenebrae: Lessons Learnt in Darknessworking with author and theatre-maker Neil Bartlett and local poetic hero Akila Richards, amongst a team of eight artists. Inspired by the haunting music of Francois Couperin’s Trois Lecons de Tenebres – a lamentation for a world plunged into darkness – fifteen local writers and poets would create re-imaginings of the idea of lamenting. Creating work around meditating on and moving beyond loss resonated with me – especially in light of my DYCP application where I spoke about exploring themes of wellness and healing. I applied and was thrilled to be accepted as one of the 15 writers!

Each week in March, I attended a two hour workshop led by Neil and Akila, along with half of the cohort of 15 writers. We worked through writing exercises, chatted, listened to the music, and wrote and spoke some more. Neil gave us a series of ‘provocations’ – exercises to do at home between workshops – that encouraged us to explore and respond to the original lyrics and the music itself, in different ways. I learnt a lot from Neil and Akila about techniques to use when sitting down to write, and also when editing work. I was also really inspired by the other writers, a brilliant group with different voices and styles.

One of my favourite tips from the course was the beginning ritual of each time we sat down to work on the project, first writing three sentences:
1. Today, thinking of this project and looking at my world, I see…
2. Today, thinking of this project and looking at my world, I feel…
3. Today, thinking of this project and looking at my world, I ask…

I have since applied this to some other projects and always find it helpful for focussing my mind and tuning in. Especially useful when I’m working on lots of things at once! 

At the end of March, we each submitted our own lamentations. With mine, A City Stretches, I explored themes of shame, breath, healing and ancestral trauma. These are themes that have been present for me personally in the last year or so of lockdowns, loss and BLM resurgence. They are also themes that will be present for the protagonist in my novel, and part of the story I hope to tell through her. My lamentation also has a feeling of movement and journeying and allowed me to play with creating space and distance in my writing.

The whole project culminated in a breathtaking installation in the Theatre Royal, with a light and shadows show, enhancing the audio collage made up of our lamentations and excerpts of music.

You can read/listen to my poem and see a video excerpt via my blog, here

And read more about the project on the Brighton Festival website, here.

Upcoming DYCP Blogs…:

– More thoughts & progress on Novel Planning
– ‘Jaguar Kin’ collaboration – a song & film project
Creating a sonic journey with artist Cherelle Sappleton

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