Saturday, 27 June 2015

Poetry & Diaries

Booking a poetry workshop so close after the Winchester Writers' Festival was probably a mistake, yet things come when they come. The 'Dear Diary' workshop (poetry & diaries) was originally due to be held at The Billingsgate Institute with a chance to look at the collection there. I was quite excited by this - the idea of looking at the diaries of ordinary people not normally available (well, you can actually go and look at them). However, due to the Institute being told they had to make money, the hire fee became too steep for The Poetry School to afford, so we met at the School's usual venue in Lambeth Walk.

We were asked to take along a published diary, and me being short of time ended up with the 'Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole' (which I didn't end up using but am having a good laugh reading it!). One the table was a collection of diaries in book form belonging to Julia Bird from The Poetry School (I never knew there were so many of them). Laura, who is working on the Diary Project at the Billingsgate Institute, brought along books from there carefully wrapped in tissue paper and boxes or in cellophane sleeves. We were allowed to handle these wonderful works of art. Wafting through the room was that wonderful smell of old books.

The earliest diary was from the 1700's written by a preacher visiting churches around the country, and one of the most weird was by a man who drew his face every day and made notes around it on the weather or about what he was doing. There was also a group of photos of items collected and kept in an attic room - everything from flattened Kodak film boxes to toothbrushes and brown medicine bottles. Everything was recorded in tiny writing.

These diaries gave an idea of the life these people led - from school children who kept dairies from aged eight to single women in wartime. Some were very funny, others stark. I have to say that I was far more fascinated by the books than the act of writing poetry from them. The first exercise was writing from the point of view of a teenager and I just couldn't get into that. We also tried an exercise using some part of a diary entry and putting ourselves into it. I couldn't get into that one either because I wasn't sure what I was supposed to be doing. I began looking at Virginia Woolf's diary for ideas but I really can't relate to her as a person and I remember giving up on her book 'To The Lighthouse' very early on - too much waffle for me. So by the end of the morning session I'd written nothing and spent the time reading extracts from some of the diaries.

Doodling instead of writing!
I do think that I really wasn't in the right frame of mind for this workshop (the writing aspect) but thankfully after lunch I finally managed to write one piece which I shared before I again drifted off and ended up doodling on my notebook! The subject matter was fascinating and that's what drew me and if I'm honest I'd really rather have spent the day looking at the diaries in more detail and discussing them. I can see they might be very useful as a resource for poetry but I would need more time to read and get a feel for them for that to work for me.

There is one diary I think I will have to read by Joan Wyndham ('Love Letters') described on Wikipedia as 'a latterday Pepys in camiknickers.' Her writing is funny. One entry (from 1939) describes how when her mother and Sid (not quite sure who he is) go to church, she gets drunk for the very first time on rum. She says that..... 'it was a very nice experience indeed. I no longer cared a damn what happened to anybody.

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