I’ve been lucky enough to run a series of poetry workshops with service users from Bethany. I was a bit anxious at first, worrying that they might find poetry and literature completely irrelevant, but I needn’t have.
As with poetry itself, the value of these sessions wasn’t just in the words, but in what accompanied them. We didn’t just write, we read poems too, and we talked and shared experience and history. This is the real power of writing: it connects us to what is important in our world and beyond.
Many topics arose during the sessions, not because they were decided on, but simply because writing is all about Life, and so Life in all its dimensions was discussed: home and belonging; selfhood; redemption, memory; childhood and belief.
By writing together we form social bonds, and are brought closer to ourselves and others by reading our own work and talking about it. It’s a form of shared ordeal, if you like. But it does wonders for self confidence to undertake something mildly threatening, such as reading a poem out loud for the first time, and succeeding, and feeling we’ve been heard.
We would also look at poems I’d brought along by other poets, and talk about what we liked or didn’t like about them. One poem we discussed held the metaphor of a key on a greasy string – we spent a long time debating the significance and meaning of keys – how they signify property, safety, but also can imply power and responsibility.
Afterwards we wrote a short piece on the topic and one of the most interesting was written by a young man who had only recently come out of prison and who in a few short lines beautifully described the symbolic power of keys – those we possess and those we never can.
The benefit of our creative writing workshops were highlighted in a BBC Radio programme where service users, writers and community workers were interviewed. Listen to the 3 min audio: