Until recently I lived in Alton and was a frequent participant in the brilliant and inspiring writing workshops held there and run by writer in residence Rebecca Smith. I now live in West London; so to attend a workshop necessitated much planning, liaising with friends for a bed for the night and travelling. Was it really worth it?
The workshop this October was hosted by Maura Dooley, the current poet in residence.
I read poetry, I occasionally write poetry, but it tends to be a private thing, something for personal consumption only, so a workshop was rather out of my comfort zone. However, as soon as I ducked my head to enter the familiar space of the shop and entrance of the Jane Austen House Museum I felt as if I was coming home. Making my way to the room at the rear I was reassured by the mint bed, the beautiful gardens, the granny cups and saucers laid out on a table awaiting tea or coffee.
The twelve participants were, as ever, a mixed and interesting group of people. Indeed I had not travelled the furthest; people had come from Ireland, Poland, even America, though possibly not just that day…
Maura proved a capable, calm and knowledgeable facilitator. By not pushing us all to share our work, most of us found that we did indeed open up and read those fragile first drafts; the atmosphere was encouraging and safe. Maura read the work of two poets, which instead of possibly overwhelming us with their brilliance, served to encourage and inspire.
Sometimes by Sheenagh Pugh
The Way We Live by Kathleen Jamie
A combination of exercises, time to reflect and time to write meant that at the end of the day I came away with the beginnings of four promising poems. I include one here as illustration, it is in its early stages, but would not exist at all if not for the workshop, the other people and especially Maura.
Coming back to a Jane Austen House Museum was like visiting an old friend.
You are wearing your Sunday best, a schooner of dark sherry to hand, only ever allowed after the sun’s over the yardarm.
You are sitting at your dressing table rubbing Nivea into your hands and elbows
but using the mirror to smile at me sitting cross-legged on your bed.
You dab Chanel No 5 on wrists, behind ears and, rather daringly, in your cleavage.
You have pushed countless photos of the many spreading animals of your beloved family between the table and its glass top.
You have only one of you; waltzing with a small grandson, allowing him to lead.
You glace outside, spotting the moon, full and low,
you hurry to open the window, call me to your side, slip a sixpence into my hand,
tell me, “Look, turn the silver and wish.”
You laugh, delighted, and draw me into a hug, where mixed with the Nivea and perfume I find the familiar scent of scarlet geraniums.
[Alison Glinn was previously a member of Jane Austen's House Museum Writing Group]
The next poetry workshop is on Saturday 6th December but has now sold out. If you would like to be added to a waiting list please email the museum. Further poetry workshops are planned for the new year and will be added to the website shortly.