Monday, 3 July 2017

SWIFT 2017 - Day 1

Today SWIFT 2017 begins.  I arrive early.  The room is quiet and has been rearranged from how it was set up last Friday.  It’s fine.  Maybe it’s be better like this.

I am reassured to see the tea and coffee has arrived.

Before 9.30 one of the participants shows and then Deirdre.  Deirdre and I will co-facilitate the week.  It feels better now that she is here.

By degrees all of our Fellows arrive, take a tea/coffee.  Sit at the table and, I hope, relax.  By 10.00 there is a lot of chat which is great.  We spend some time breaking the ice, writing a little, thinking and talking about writing.  We have a nod to our wonderful colleagues from the Bay Area Writing Project  - Greta and Kristen and we start the day with Greta’s exercise – Foods from my Childhood.  Deirdre works with us to bring us through the various stages from listing foods, to picking ones of interest and saying a little more about them. Eventually, we pick one to write about.  We share these with our partner and with the group.  In discussing the exercise afterwards we note that though this writing is in some ways low risk, because of its link with childhood it taps into memories, reflections and feelings, both good and bad, of being younger.  A couple of Fellows agree to read for the group and I am reminded again that this year, as with previous SWIFT gatherings, we will be privileged to hear the voices of the group.

It’s a great start.  I feel a bit steadier despite not admitting this year to any concerns around the event.

After more coffee/tea and cake, James, returning Fellow from SWIFT 2016, presents on form in poetry.  James has been invited to work with the group based on his exemplary demo during SWIFT 2016 – captured below in the then blog post.

With him we explore form in poetry, consider how we recognise a poem, relish the richness of William Carlos Williams and Harper Lee.  We are given scope to rework these the words, to reinvent.

After lunch, Jenny, brave soul, provides the first ‘official’ demo.  She has clearly read the guidelines and fulfils their demands.  Her work is contextualised in the challenge of urging young writers to be more descriptive, to move beyond constant action.  There is a suggestion that this tendency to hurtle through writing is more often observed in boys’ writing; this is tossed about a bit at different times during/after the demo.

Jenny is super prepared and the demo excellently structured.  We write a short story which has it origins in an audio-visual prompt and the coloured blocks bearing writing from fellow participants, shared.  The work is scaffolded into manageable chunks which we are urged to complete but which we are encouraged to see as drafting or indeed writing fragments which may be stitched together or altered or eliminated in preferred writing environments later, or never.

Fellows note that they ‘want to finish it when they go home’.

And to home we must – Day One done.

Kate agrees she will journal and provide the daily log in the morning. Colette will do Demo 2.  Joan, Fellow of SWIFT 2016, will return.  And we will consider writing groups.  And there is time for personal writing – much needed.

Et, a demain …

Blogging about the demo James did - SWIFT 2016

From our own scribblings of Day 1 we moved into the second demo of the summer institute.  James, a post-primary teacher chose the topic of form which we explored through various pieces of texts whose form he had manipulated or deconstructed.  We began with one piece of text where we are asked to engage in a guessing game around its genre.  Was it a memoir?  Was it micro fiction?  An anecdote?  It was projected on the wall, just a string of words, its form only defined by where the page ended.  We considered the piece assisted (and equally challenged) by questions posed by James.  Low-key, quiet, questions which leave your head spinning.  James revealed the text to be a poem by Rita Ann Higgins It wasn’t the father’s fault and when presented as the writer intended it seemed that everything had changed. Nothing seemed to have impacted so much on the tone and meaning of the text as the insertion of sentence breaks; their inclusion bringing something ominous to the text - a rattling sense of the sinister.  Where some of us had considered the unbroken text trivial in tone, maybe even mildly amusing, with the insertion of sentence breaks and the dividing of the text into stanzas the effect was immediate and malicious.  The impact/influence of form is stark, masterfully revealed in a most understated manner.  James continued to help us to explore form moving from free text to poetry, from prose to poetry, allowing us to pilfer lines and to rework them, to swipe phrases or single words.  He moved from the west of Ireland writing to works from the United States with a poem by William Carlos Williams To a Poor Old Woman and an extract from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Of the former, the rhythm of the piece caught our attention; the repetition of the line ‘They taste good to her’ and the way the poet breaks it, creating a sound where you want to move to the cadence (I managed to stay seated – just).  With the latter, we shared our concocted efforts succumbing to the temptation to tamper with evocative sentences such as ‘Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum’.  We could have been in the Deep South.

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