7 Jul 2009

Isle of Arran adventure, poetry workshops

Isle Of Arran Poetry Adventure, June 2009

I have recently returned from a poetry writing residential week on the beautiful Isle of Arran, Scotland. Needing to clear my head of chasing paid work as a poet, writer and educator; and the rigidity of academic studies, and craving space for my own 'voice', I just had to get away.

The week was organised by Manchester poet and poetry magazine editor (Citizen 32, Cadre) John G. Hall. Although I had not previously met John, I have been reading his poetry via Myspace for a few years, and his poetry and online workshops via Facebook, this last year.
I enjoy his unique style, and am in awe of how prolific his work is; so the opportunity to meet him and to learn, and learn from other poets around the infamous and vibrant Manchester scene, was very appealing.

My friend Mim Darlington, also from my Devon locality, attended too. She is also a poet, but is currently researching otters for her forthcoming book, and doctorate, in nature writing.

photo: Matt in poets window, St. Columbas. By Daniel Brocklehurst

photo: Poets in St Columba's Chapel by Daniel Brocklehurst

...and so we arrived on Saturday after many tiring hours travel to arrive at the comfortable, spacious, tasteful living accommodation in the converted St. Columba’s Chapel in Whiting Bay. This sanctuary was to be our home and workshop space for the week. Both Mim and I felt an immediate need to explore nearby places of interest so we went to the pub. We also met up with the rest of our clan, some of whom were staying in another house in nearby Lamlash village.

Sunday was a grounding and group-bonding day; a long walk in the mizzle from the tiny harbour and exquisite beaches of Blackwaterfoot, beside a calm quicksilver sea. Along the coast path past past basalt cliffs, rock pools, oystercatchers, curlews, fulmars, eider-ducks, plovers, and watched by an inquisitive seal; and on through fields of flowering reeds, foxgloves, varieties of stonecrop, lichen, and orchids amongst countless other flora, and a glimpse of wild hares; and on to the King's Caves, so called because Robert the Bruce once watched a highly influential spider make its web in that same place.

Photo by Vanessa Fay: Gerry Potter, Mim Darlington and Steph Pike on the beach near Blackwaterfoot, Arran

Photo by Vanessa Fay: Gerry Potter in King's Cave, Isle of Arran.

Then, high up a cliff path and through enchanting woodland, back the waiting minibus; and then on to the Machrie Moor Stone Circles.

We got there a bit late for the moment of Solstice but midsummer magic did not elude us. As we approached the tallest of the stones, we noticed a curlew sat atop it, shrieking at us.

Photo: curlew on standing stone, midsummer 2009, Isle of Arran
She must have had a nest nearby, so we stepped carefully. She eventually flew away with effective distracting-tactics before we continued to explore the stones and their mysteries, some of us enchanted by our encounter with this usually shy species.

The week of workshops and activities unwound tensions and nourished the senses. Spontaneous activities included abundant feasting, drinking, and all kinds of merriment, including two of our number swimming the mile-or-more across to Holy Isle, and back, surviving sunburn and jelly-fish stings. We all thrived on a week of what turned out to be scorching summer. We endured Scottish midges, and possibly one or two hangovers. And collectively, wrote some stunning poetry.
The Unsung crew (Unsung is a Manchester based poetry magazine) organised and compered a gig in a pub in the nearby village of Lamlash. An unforgettable night, (especially for the locals, I would imagine).
Photo: Poets performance & night out. Lamlash

It was great to have an opportunity to meet John, at last, extending our on-line exchanges to an inexhaustible rapport – sharing insights and extracts of life-stories, philosophies and book-lists, plotting future performances and poetry proliferation. A renga-party is still to be done...

Photo: (below) John facilitating haiku workshop

There is much to be written about the Isle of Arran, about John G. Hall, and the other poets – especially those whose workshops I really got my teeth into. I’m still energised by everyone’s work, by the residential living experience, and the teeming flora and fauna of that island. It was an unforgettable week, and another sharp string to my poet’s bow.
Instead, I am letting the experience catalyse, cogitate, settle. I am sending some Arran-born poems to both the Unsung and to John’s upcoming Arran Poetry compilation. I hope that these few pictures each speak their thousand words, for now.Except these:

Midsummer: curlew,
sentinel on ancient stones,
shrieks like a fish-wife.

Arran on myspace: www.myspace.com/c32isleofarranworkshops
Unsung: unsung.manchester@gmail.com
Citizen32: http://citizen32live.moonfruit.com/

Photo by Michelle Green: Arran's haiku students