I’m a poet, I just didn’t know it
October 29th, 2014 by Dan Branigan. 1 comment
I was lucky enough to recently participate in a poetry workshop as part of Safe Ground’s GROUNDation Poetry Project. Sara Hirsh led a group of older adults through a truly inspiring poetry and spoken word workshop at the Katherine Low Settlement (KLS) in Battersea. One of my initial reasons for wanting to attend this specific workshop was so I could revisit the KLS, which had been one of the venues/community groups for the Common Ground project. I was delighted to recognise four members of The Common Ground older adult group (four years on), one of whom had just celebrated her 100th birthday! The other reason is even though I enjoy watching/listening to spoken word performances I have never considered myself a poet, like many I think I still have some hang ups over the rules that apply to certain forms of poetry and the feeling deep down that I’m not very good at writing it.
I was truly impressed by how Sara led the group through the workshop, particularly the process she used for creating a collective poem. Initially there was some quiet resistance by some group members, the older adults at my end of the table whispered to each other that it didn’t feel like they were writing poetry and they couldn’t see where the activity it was going. The exercise they were referring to involved them writing a poem entitled In Wandsworth Poem by writing a response to prompts, e.g. In Wandsworth I have felt…, seen…, tasted…etc. Sara encouraged us to not just write literal responses to the prompts. Despite some of their initial reservations they wholeheartedly threw themselves into the exercise and as the session progressed they were completely converted. Sara skilfully combined everyone’s individual work to a collective poem that contained a contribution from every participant.
One of the participants raised the point that, wouldn’t it be interesting if the men in HMP Wandsworth (another GROUNDation group) did the exactly the same exercise? He explained that everyone in the older adult group were thinking about Wandsworth as a borough and their home, but he suspected the prisoners would be focused on the jail and being locked up, and therefore the poem would have a very different feel to it. It was encouraging to see how they were thinking about the other participant groups and their genuine enthusiasm to go into the prison for the final end of project event to share poems with each other.
By the end of the session the atmosphere in the room was electric, participants performed their individual poems to the rest of the group alongside Sara Hirsch’s performance of the collective poem. There was a general consensus that the poetry they produced had far exceeded their expectations. It was very touching to hear several of them saying how proud they felt of their work. I have to say I also felt proud of my contributions and I too had really enjoyed the session. Any initial concerns by some participants about the ‘point’ of the activities and ‘where they were going’ had been completely squashed. In fact they were all asking for more sessions!
For me, the workshop reminded me of how accessible and enjoyable poetry and spoken word can be, but also the power it has to get to the heart of an issue. It made me think what a useful tool poetry could be to further develop our existing Family Man and Fathers Inside programmes. I couldn’t help think how wonderful it would be to have a poet attend a session in every Family Man and Fathers Inside programme to get to the heart of how the men really feel about their parenting, families, future etc. The impact of a workshop which created a collective poem entitled, As a Parent with prompts such as; As a Parent I have loved…, seen…, tasted, missed.., …etc. as a catalyst for further work on the programme is endless.