The view from outside 5 Cwmdonkin Drive
March 3rd 2012 and I toddle off for my first ever Poetry workshop. Now then, this may surprise you because over the years I have been blessed to be included in so many Creative Writing Projects as a facilitator. But in actual fact, my romance with poetry is street lived, and not a class room based affair.
I first started writing 'poetry' in free style when I was @ 5 or 6 years old. I did it instead of writing my Weekend News. Every Monday morning in Primary School I would write how our family had been ‘legless up at the Working Men's Club’ and how I had ‘danced ‘til my legs dropped off’
So my Mum said to me,
'Stop writing that we go to the Club.'
'But we do?'
'Yes I know we DO, but it sounds awful! Write something else!'
So I did!
Next time we had to write our News on a Monday Morning, I wrote about a dark seedling that I had found. I tugged at it gently and it came loose in my hand. I took it home and planted it in my back garden and it grew into a black rose that entwined with all other things.
It seemed this wandering of my imagination wasn't quite what my Mum had meant!
The teacher worried that the chubby 5 year old from the council estate was ‘a little too deep’ for her own good ...
Mum went up to class, sorted it out!
I rather liked the notion that being poetic could cause such a stir! It has stayed my solemn friend since ... oh sometimes it dresses in a suit and presents itself to support others in accessing their own catharsis through workshops, but usually, it stays with me in secret, coming out late at night like a shy bush baby blinking her eyes in the dim light of my beside lamp. Together, 'free style writing and me' can float above this planet!
Award Winning Spoken Word Poet: Mab Jones
Back to the workshop, I had no idea what to expect. I knew it would be fabulous though because it was being led by Mab Jones, who is a very interesting kettle of fish, let me tell you! Her performance poetry is so clever, funny, quirky, quick and cheeky ... her poems poke their tongue at you and run, winking before they trip to the next line, re-assuring you that it is ok to laugh with them.
Her performances are individually tailored for the people she finds herself in front of, almost immediately, she can carve and cross stitch, she can paint and compose with her crafted words. It is seemingly effortless to her, it is who she is! But privately Mab seems more complex, deep and layered. When I read her history on line, it's not a 100 miles away from my own, although her coping mechanisms were different: It seems we have both experienced 'Working Class Gal in Posh Skool!' Syndrome. I think she has embraced the structure and system of language, knowing the rules intimately in order to break them and make them her own. I have admittedly, totally ignored the rules and done my own thang!
5 Cwmdonkin Drive: Dylan Thomas Birth House, Swansea
The Poetry Workshop was at Dylan Thomas Birth House in Swansea; the co-owner, Annie is working hard and putting so much of herself into creating a place where literary souls, artists, musicians will gather and share the history that beats proudly in her heart and in the blood stream of the house itself. Recording oral history with a maid that worked at the house for 5 years whilst Dylan and his parents lived there, the place where he wrote 2/3 of his life's work, has enabled the home to be lovingly restored, with modern convenience. It is a private enterprise, Annie has put her life savings into the house, but it is undoubtedly a labour of love that she will share with the community.
Oh and the 3rd reason I knew why it would be fabulous is because we were to have afternoon tea and cake!
Now then, the wonderful Mab Jones leading a poetry workshop at the Birth House of Dylan Thomas and Cake! What's not to like! And all that £15.00. Bargain!
The Kitchen at Dylan Thomas Birth House
We sat in the front parlour at Dylan's place. This was known as the the 'best room' and he probably wouldn't have been allowed in here very often, instead his friends came on a Wednesday night to the study next to the parlour.
The Study at Dylan Thomas Birth House.
Wednseday nights, Dylan was allowed to have his friends round to The Study
Annie is going to start up a Wednesday Night Gathering soon ...
I sat cross legged on the wooden, rug skimmed floor. There were 11 of us. Nearly all the others were Creative Writing Masters Degree Students/ Graduates/Lecturers! No pressure then! The woman I paired up with had just got a 1st in her Creative Writing Masters Degree!
The Parlour at Dylan Thomas Birth House & our Poetry Drafts
I needn’t have worried though, everyone was really lovely, supportive and pretty soon we felt as though we had all known each other for years.
It was really good for me to experience life so far outside of my comfort zone. Gave me a good insight into how people might feel at the start of my workshops.
Mab explained that she didn’t feel that ‘freestyle’ was poetry (Gulp, that’s me done in and sunk) and asked us to write Noun, Adjective or Verb at the top of our piece of paper. We then had to pass the papers around the room and write the first thing that came into our head under each title.
As soon as the words Noun, Adjective and Verb had left Mab’s mouth, my whole body started to tremble! I can’t recall ever having thought to myself, ‘I could do with a different noun there!’
Not one single word would pop into my head! I think I was in literary shock! Off course, trying to be supportive, the group were re-assuring me, ‘Just write anything,’ but quite literally, I couldn’t write anything, nothing would come out!
I can remember being a teenager in class. I loved to sit by the big open 1970’s windows, especially when on the 2nd or 3rd floor. I would gaze out longingly at the shape shifting clouds and blue skies instead of starting a piece of work. It was always starting that troubled me. I would hold my pen patiently over the paper waiting for the words to flow from my head through the ink ... but they wouldn’t come. Not like when I was sat at home on my bed with my little notebook, I could write until the cows came home in there because no one was going to check it, criticise it, ridicule it. No-one could censor it, shape it ... no one except me.
And now that same hemmed in, classroom feeling had tracked me down, found me in this sun kissed Cwmdonkin parlour, where the rays teased and beckoned through the netted bay window ...
‘Come on Chez!’ said a little voice somewhere inside me, ‘For pities sake, write something!’ and I did, but it it didn’t feel right, just dragging out random words because they fit in a list. Great to do though! Great excercise, made me confront why I love to write in the way I love to write, what it means to me ...
We spent the afternoon ...
Bathed in greek epistrophe, epistrophe, epistrophe
Kapowed by onamaterpier
Scribbling sets of stanza
Poetry is a metaphor
Like a simile
But not the same
Couplets of rhyming love
In the Front Room at Dylan Thomas Birth House
So what did I write ... well, the afternoon theme was Love Poetry. There were some beautiful poems crafted by the creative writers in the room, summer breeze, ocean seas and romance, but this is not what love is to me ... not anymore!
This is the draft from one of my attempts written on the day:
Love is the Officer General
Jumped up jack ass
Writhing written rules
Love is the tortured tin solider
Tick, tick, ticking time bomb
Winning no battle; bringing war
Love is the soul laid beaten and breathless
Bathing, bereft of belief
Waving his bloodied white flag
I quite like this poem, particularly the last stanza and I think I may use it, for Fusion Inspire. I have a character growing in my mind who would link together some of the pieces I have written/found out about, based on the West Wales coast, one from today and one from folk stories ... but I’ll tell you all about that in another blog, because we need to go back to Dylan’s Parlour!
What a lovely afternoon, we giggled, we had tea and cake, we met Annie, we had a little tour of the house and we had an amazing opportunity; to share the creative mindset of Mab Jones.
Dylan Thomas Birth House
After the workshop, Mab had to dash back to Cardiff because she had organised a Dickensian Twist, a 19th Century Poetry Slam at Chapter. She had advertised the event on facebook and I had quite fancied going to read a poem I have written about Fanny Imlay, recorded on my Easy Street EP/CD with ukulele and backing vocals. I thought standing up at an Open Mic would be a challenge, push me out of my comfort zone ... but I was so tired, I decided I wouldn’t go and left Mab a message the day before.
The view down Cwmdonkin Drive
When I saw Mab at the end of the poetry workshop day, bless her, she reminded me of me, dashing off to the next thing that some idiot had written in my diary because it looked like fun but without actually thinking through the physical logistics! Seriously, sometimes I wonder if a gorilla slips into my house during the night, seeks out my diary and sneakily writes extra things in when I’m not looking. I couldn't bear to think of her on a coach back to Cardiff ...
‘I will come tonight Mab, so you can jump in the car with me, love.’
Our trip down to Cardiff was very interesting indeed ...
But rather than digress just now, let me tell you how we dashed to Mab’s home, picked up the PA, had a quick once over with the flannel and scooted off round to Chapter. I dropped Mab at the back door where she met her lovely assistant Steve and they scurried off to organise things, while I looked for a safe place to park the car.
Chapter was so alive and vibrant. The cafe was brimming with people all dressed so differently and from different walks of life. You could spot the students, the Gran and Grand Child, the family, the couple in love, the couple who can’t stand each other, and the singles! Not many of us, just a few peppered like over rich spice sparsely applied to the recipe. Most importantly, and quite unusually, I didn’t feel out of place. I queued, someone spoke to me, I got my cappuccino, someone else spoke to me, I sat, someone spoke to me ... there were so many things happening; the cinema, the gallery, a theatre performance and Mab’s Dickensian Twist poetry Slam.
I sat on my own at the back of the side room she had hired. The chairs were lined up like at the Doctor’s Surgery, the lights were on and at the front, a rather lonely microphone waited patiently in its stand for the humans to do their thing! As a musician, I'm more used to chill out zones, where decades of hummers and strummers have carved our niche, so this new environment did feel a bit odd at first. The room was soon brimming full of interesting and colourful people who re-defined the blank canvass of the room.
I think we should work together and have a network, room for all of us, let’s not battle against ourselves, unity within –type attitude, so that's probably why I hadn't found myself at a Slam before! The Open Mic section was before the Slam and I had agreed to read my Fanny’s Tale poem in this section. As I sat and waited, I had a severe episode of cotton mouth! Every drip drop of fluid had drained from my mouth, and I could feel that my hands were trembling, which is not good when you have to hold a piece of paper steady to be able to read it! Thankfully, I had remembered my reading glasses!
I know that I am a performer, presenter, singer/songwriter, I know that I am known for my apparent confidence on stage, but this is in actual fact, my mask! The more confident I appear, the more frightened and nervous I am. This creature from planet confidence consumes my entire body and says all manner of stupid things without my permission, waves my arms around beyond my control, contorts my face, speaks in silly voices ... deep down inside little shaking scared me is whispering encouragement ... ‘Go on, you’re doing OK, just keep going ... SMILE!’
Dickensian Poetry Slam, Chapter, Cardiff
I can honestly say that being a Poetry Slam Virgin and taking the plunge, is like bungee jumping (not that I have ever bungee jumped but how I imagine) Stood on the arc of the bridge, with nothing but a light harness and a rope, waters deep and far below, stood, legs together, arms outstretched like an angel at the mercy of the audience: 1,2,3 ... jump, float, glide ...
Everyone was very polite, bless them, they clapped and made the right noises, said kind things, but I had stumbled a fair bit as the bungee rope tightened around my throat. I really enjoyed it but not like when I perform as a singer/song writer. When me and my guitar or my uke, or hand drum do our thing together on stage, at home, anywhere ... we escape, nothing exists except the air.
On the drive home from my Mab day, as my beetle went into M4 auto pilot, skipping merry to be returning to the rugged West, my mind traced over the events, feelings and thoughts of the day and I came to a poignant and what could be, life changing conclusion ...
You can find out more about Mab at: www.mabjones.com
Or more about Dylan Thomas Birth House at: http://www.5cwmdonkindrive.com/And Chapter Arts centre: http://www.chapter.org/