In my last post, I started unfolding my five projects in five places – one on the water, one on land, one in a box, one in envelopes and one under the eye and wing of my mentor Clare Pollard. I started with Aft, my poem for Matilda the Bristol Ferry. This week, I’m looking back at my year with the Jerwood / Arvon Mentoring Scheme which came to an end one month ago today with the launch of Wassailing!
First things first: Arvon is an incredible generous joy of an organisation. It was on an Arvon course that I’d be called a poet. For the first time and like it was bloody obvious. I’ll always be grateful for that.
If you can, apply for a residential course at one of their centres. There are grants available and you’ll be eating breakfast with your heroes (who are at first the tutors and then, day by day, are all the other writers who arrive from their lives to write for a week, who share their new poem after the workshop, who keep in touch with news of their next poem, their next book).
The Jerwood / Arvon Mentoring Scheme is open to those who have attended a course. So, if that’s you: apply. Even just writing out the application letter, thinking about who you are as a writer and where you want your writing to take you will be a valuable thing you can do for yourself and your work at an early stage. Should you be invited to join the scheme, it will be invaluable.
Looking back on my year, I can’t believe how much I have done and how differently I am doing it. There has been the grotto, the teaching, the pamphlet, and, behind the scenes, the poems. Clare has been there throughout, coaxing, cursing and gracefully nutting some sense into me. It’s been brilliant and it’s been brutal. An ideal balance and exactly what I needed.
And to think I’ve been able to star jump through all these training montages alongside the real life blazing superstar that is Deborah Stevenson and the brightest lodestar Ian Dudley, two of the most committed, most kind, most hilarious poets I’ve ever been lucky enough to know. I am so grateful for their poetry and their friendship. Keep an eye out for both of them.
And also for the novelists Sarah Franklin, Susie Hales, Grahame Williams and the playwrights Caroline Gray, Cathy Thomas and Andrew Thompson. Zoom out! This constellation is huge! Much dazzle.
In all seriousness, working alongside writers from other disciplines has been one of the most rewarding parts of the mentoring year. In our first week together, we had a poet and a novelist performing an improvised scene for David Eldridge, whose exercise restricted our vocabulary to months of the year, allowing us to think more carefully about the languages of intonation and silence. All I can say is that by March my heart was broken and the word July has been forever exploded into so many new parts. July, july, july. Oh july.
We ended our mentoring year at Totleigh Barton, leading workshops for each other, eating together and, after some persuasion and strong local cider, wassailing in the Totleigh Barton orchard. We banged sticks and dustbin lids and chanted the wassailers’ song:
Here stands a fine old apple tree.
Stand fast root!
Every little twig bear an apple big.
Hats full, caps full, three score sacks full.
And as it now reads on the back cover of our anthology which we named after this strange, grey day of loud and magic language:
“Back in the house and listening to each other read, we realised we were all performing a kind of wassailing in our writing. We were deep in the woods of our work, banging and crashing about as we composed a kind of charm, a spell of strong verbs to make something live – and bear fruit. So, we raise a cup to the next year. Wassail!”
And while I can’t wait to see what sort of wild and glittering fruit the next year has in store for the 2014/15 mentees, in my heart I hope it will be always be July. July Forever.
Thank you again to the Arvon Foundation and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation for making this sort of time travel a possibility for poets. And to Clare for getting me ready for August.