Hi there, I’m Henry; a Shropshire lad by birth, a Canterbury poet by choice and now ladies and gentleman I present myself to you as intrepid explorer.
Recently I have been given a fantastic opportunity (and no before you stop reading I’m not trying to ensnare you a in dodgy pyramid scheme…then again that’s exactly what I would say if I was isn’t it?)
First some context. I ask you to cast your minds back, out from the cold of encroaching Winter to the warm and heady days of Spring and the fantastical world of poetic delights that is Wise Words Festival. It was here that myself and six other incredibly talented poets took to the stage to compete in the Emerging Talent competition. Now, you may have already guessed that as I am writing this it was I who very gratefully emerged in disbelief, victorious from said competition. So what? I hear you ask. Well, what it means is that I was given the fantastic opportunity I mentioned earlier: A years worth of mentoring from Wise Words, a chance to perform at Jaw Dance, a seat at the table on Apples and Snakes’ coveted The Writing Room workshop series and the opportunity to develop my own show for Wise Words 2018.
Today I am going to share with you my first experience of these Writing Room Workshops. They take place over the course of six weeks and are led by none other than Roger Robinson. Roger is one of the most influential writers to the black-British writing canon and his workshops have been shortlisted for various awards. Oh, and of course the workshops take place in London.
Again, I hear you ask, so what? Well, if you have grown up in a place resembling Tolkien’s ‘Shire’ and the biggest city you have lived in is Canterbury, weekly visits across London are a daunting prospect.
After many months waiting, suddenly the start date for the workshops arrived on time! The same cannot be said for my first train. However, after a brief delay I made it to London, armed with a pen, a notebook, a sandwich and a phone with perilously dwindling battery (I had not realised there had been a plug socket under my chair the whole journey but this is what learning experiences are all about). Now to navigate the intricate twists, turns and ticket gates of the cavernous, labyrinthic London Underground with the help of a borrowed shellfish travel card.
Feeling like James Bond I beeped my way down to a platform, blending seamlessly with the fast paced commuters and jumped on a tube. If only it had been going the right direction. Feeling less like 007 and more like a lost Hobbit, I sheepishly got off and corrected myself, convinced that everyone on the carriage could tell I was an imposter. After three more similar mishaps, holding my travel card in a white knuckled (and if I’m honest very sweaty) death grip the whole journey, I made it to Deptford where the workshops were to take place. Just a 4 minute walk to the venue – easy. Or so you would hope. Even using the last of my phones battery to access Google Maps, I managed to walk the wrong way 3 times. I would like to take this moment to say that unless you are either a pirate or polar explorer that ‘North’ is not an acceptable reference for directions.
Despite the harrowing journey, I arrived at the venue early, just long enough to question if I was in the right place. This worked in my favour as it turns out, as Roger has a self-proclaimed ‘old-school’ attitude where being early is being on time. The workshop commenced and I can instantly say that it was more than worth the experience leading up to it.
I had some reservations prior to the event as learning poetry at A-level had put me off the subject for years. However, unlike my A-level classes, everyone took it seriously, they were excited to be there and Roger’s passionate, humorous and encouraging attitude put us all at ease. We undertook the daunting task of writing prose poetry, something I have never attempted. We looked at different examples of the form before writing our own drafts. Whenever we looked apprehensive about the task Roger was quick to remind us ‘Hey! You are meant to be writers, so write!’ Both criticism and praise were handed out bluntly in equal measure which I appreciated. When I only normally reading my poetry to friends it can be hard to get the honest feedback I require to progress.
The three hour session came quickly to an end with me barely noticing the passing of the time. I packed up my books, the long day and intense writing suddenly bringing waves of exhaustion. Now to make my way back across Mordor, I mean London, to shelter at a friend’s house for the night before heading back to Canterbury. Same again next week.