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Soutar’s Watchful Octet of Eyes

28/03/2011

A huge thank you to Ajay Close for inviting me to do the workshop at the Writers Day in Perth on Saturday, and to the participants, who included my fellow HappenStance poet Patricia Ace: I had a great time (although it might have been a good day for a stroll in Hyde Park as well).

The workshop took place in the Soutar theatre in the AK Bell library, under the watchful eyes of the eponymous Willie Soutar. We all sat at a table on the stage, and Soutar stared down at us from four blown-up photographs. Still, his gaze seemed much more benign than the glowering photo of Ted Hughes in the main room at the Lumb Bank Arvon centre. He certainly put nobody off, as the group produced some really good work.

Unusually for the workshops I’ve done, there were almost as many men there as women (well, if you count me, there were equal numbers). I’m intrigued by what that might say about Perthshire or, for that matter, the rest of the country. Any thoughts/experiences/observations, folks?

Also unusually for my workshops, I took part in some of the exercises. It’s a useful way to keep the creative channels open and generate some new ideas. It also means that, as a tutor, you’re making yourself vulnerable in a way that I hope is helpful to the students. Gillian Allnutt reflects on doing this in one of the best interviews in Bill Herbert‘s excellent Writing Poetry, which is what nudged me into doing it. I’ll be making it a regular part of my workshops from now on, I think.

[Sorry, I popped off to make some tea and then got distracted by this rather good post by Bill on creative procrastination.]

In fact, speaking of generating, I came away from the workshop with a fresh idea — well, fresh for me at least — for getting myself writing regularly again. For two of the exercises, I used a list of 10 random words provided by this random word generator. I first asked participants to free write using some of the words as a stimulus and then, after reading some of the sequence published in Gutter recently, I asked them to write a poem in the same form using the 10 words.

I’m used that approach for my own writing time this morning and scribbled 10 exceedingly rough pieces based on 10 words plucked from the dictionary (I didn’t want to switch the computer on first thing). There were several, er, somewhat obscure lexical items in the list, which made it all the trickier. A bit too tricky, if I was looking for anything I can work on further, I think. So I’m going to grab myself some online random words the night before the write and, now and again, mix in a number from the dictionary. I’ll try to do this regularly over the next month or so and might report on my progress here.

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