Empathy, place writing, and play #NAWE30

I’ve carved out time during this year’s NAWE conference to do some of my own writing – which feels luxurious without being covered in cats and worrying about: family stuff/whether the window cleaner will turn up as I write in my pyjamas/the growing pile of clothes washing (delete as necessary) – and, before I dive back in to writing about Rochdale, I thought it would be good to share some of the things I’ve learned this afternoon at the conference*. These are my own reflections and do not represent those of the people who I’ve worked with, of NAWE, or of Manchester Metropolitan University. Instead, I hope that some of these may be useful as a record, and help shape different ways of thinking about writing Rochdale**.

Writing to Sustain All Life
I was on a panel with Gale Burns and Jean Atkin. I know Jean from NAWEs past and it was lovely to finally work with her, and Gale, on this.

The opening activity, facilitated by Gale, encouraged listening – we often talk about climate change but maybe sometimes don’t actively listen. This was underpinned by Gale’s experience in co-counselling and it allowed time, and space, for paired work on this area. It was about how climate change impacted on our work, how we felt about writing (perhaps guilty that we’re not doing enough, perhaps about how we’ve come to this in our work/writing/lives).

Following this opening, Jean offered one of her poems about farmsteads, time and place. She spoke of enclosure and common lands, right of ways and boarded up buildings held by absentee landlords. Gale spoke of climate change, of toxic capitalism, and of how it’s difficult to listen to some of these things. He read a poem on the impact of chemicals on the land.

I spoke about Rochdale, the floods, my own creative writing where water continually seeps into the words. I contrasted this with a poem I wrote about the floods in Worcester (I’ve never been). One of the issues I spoke about towards the end of my section are the anxieties I feel when not writing ‘my place’, and when wanting to address environmental issues without being cheesy, preachy, or worse, coming at it like some sort of insensitive journalist – being a ‘flood tourist’ attracted by the spectacle when there are real lives who experience this. This led, briefly, to a discussion about empathy and about writing as a form of witness – which has left me with quite a bit to reflect on.

I then facilitated a timed free writing activity thinking about: “my place is wild because…”, trying to consider the things that we may overlook: the wildlife, the traces of places gone before. Jean’s activity encouraged the group to think about a familiar walk, to go from putting on boots to the feeling of the ground on the muscles, the smell in the air, the weather, and the astonishing everyday things that we may happen upon.

Double session = Workshop: Urdu, Panjabi And Persian Poetry ‘Taster’ & Creative Writing: The Joy of Play
The second session I went to was one that I was asked to chair. It was split into two parts as there were practical elements and discussions around international approaches to writing and practice. The first, and longer, session was given by poet and Manchester Met Uni creative writing graduate Nabila Jameel. This was an introduction to classical and contemporary poetry with a focus on (rather understudied it seems) women poets. The world of Ghazaliyat was opened to us and we all had a chance to practice writing this form of poetry. There was a consensus on how beautiful we found the language, the rhythm and rhymes of this form.

The second part of the session was a presentation given by Chiki Fabregat of the European Association of Creative Writing Programmes and Escuela de Escritores en Madrid (creative writing school in Madrid). She was keen to talk about how play and joy encouraged creative writing with children, and how this could be translated to all ages. In taking enjoyment in playing with words and phrases without fear of obtaining high marks, or meeting formal assessment. The focus, instead, is on thanking the new authors for their work, by celebrating this success BUT, and most importantly, including helpful critique to assist in strengthening writing. Something, perhaps, for us all to remember!

This session, which hand on heart I may not have gone to unless asked to chair, really did help put the joy back into writing. I am so happy, and honoured, to have agreed to volunteer for this. An absolute pleasure, and, going to restate it, a joy.*** I may dig out my collection of Rory’s Story Cubes for future creative writing sessions in Rochdale and mesh this with another (non-writing!) game. Definitely one for 2018 workshop plans. . .


* I always mean to take time out to reflect online about going to things like this, as I automatically do this in a notebook/journal which normally never sees the light of day (unless something so outlandish occurs that this is eventually fictionalised). I am normally overcome by the somewhat overwhelming experience of being at big conferences. I am, admittedly, a bit rubbish at this “networking” malarkey; I’m better at communicating with a few people, geeking out at pedagogical practice and theory and, in the case of this conference, sharing creative writing techniques and experiences!

** This blog has been scheduled to update automatically; I wrote it last night! By the time you read this I’ll probably be having breakfast 🙂

*** Although I didn’t really feel like I had to do much in terms of poking with time-keeping; both speakers were punctual with their timekeeping! (Although I think I may go back and have another crack at improving speaking Spanish as I’m VERY rusty!)


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