Last Saturday I headed off to London for an all-day workshop all day workshop with Katy Evans-Bush. She has been immensely helpful is providing advice as I’ve been finishing Convoy but this was the first time I’d had the chance to go to one of her workshops. This was a reprise of a very successful workshop she’d previously offered on-line.
We were looking at and playing around with John Keats’ idea of Negative Capability.
The workshop, actually I’m going to cease calling it a workshop as a more accurate description would be poetry master class, gave us the chance to consider what Keats meant. The part of his description that stuck in my mind was his ‘without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’. How do you do this as a poet? How do you get out of the way to allow the reader to make her own emotional investment in the poem you’re offering to the world?
We started by reading Keats’ Ode on Melancholy, which I have to confess I’d never read properly before. Part of the beauty of the day was the chance to spend time with this poem and other poems by Philip Gross, Alice Fulton and Elizabeth Bishop. Like would-be jewellers we held their poems up to the light to examine how they did it and how we might follow.
In between looking at the poems there were chances to write, to try things out, to grope our way forwards whilst trying to get out of the way of our own feet. There were eight of us in the group which was a good number, and we were allowed not to share what we’d written until the end of the afternoon when the writing was still at first draft stage but slightly less rough (I’m mean mine of course) than it had been at the first cut.
Why don’t I do this more often I wondered? Spend time with people who care about and want to share poems – this perfect line and see what he’s doing here. Difficult to decide on my favourite of the published poems but I think if forced to choose it would have to be Philip Gross’ Elderly Iceberg off the Esplanade from The Water Table. Rather like the iceberg there is great deal hidden under the surface of this poem.
So a near perfect day and there were surprises and mysteries in the poems which people read out at the end. I’ll just single out the one written about dark earth in London. Who knew that after the Romans had left Britain the capital returned to being a forest. This is evident from archaeological excavations but until Saturday was rather a gap in my historical knowledge.
And I came away myself with the beginnings of a poem, having taken note of the advice to ‘be aware of yourself as a receiver and shaper of signals, impressions, emotional waves. It also felt as if I’d had my critical faculties sharpened like someone who has been to a wine tasting of the rather better stuff and been educated in the process.