Writing Place While Staying Put: A Workshop

by Ellie Reeves

A week ago, my sister strolled into the garden and asked me why I was under a bush. I said, “it’s for a work thing.” She nodded, pulled her phone from her back pocket and told me to pose. The photo where a leaf is poking me straight in the eye is her favourite.

The afternoon consisted of finding various spots around our garden to take similarly nature-centric pictures, all in the name of creative inspiration. It’s fair to say, I really love my job. So when a writing workshop I attended a few days later turned out to be all about nature, I was ready.

As part of YNA Virtual Festival 2020, Daisy Henwood ran the ‘Writing Place While Staying Put’ workshop over Zoom. For those who don’t know, Zoom is lockdown’s best friend, letting us see each other’s beautiful faces whilst collectively pretending we’re not still wearing pyjamas at 3pm. Daisy kicked off the workshop by asking us to list five things we could see right now. Then five we could hear, smell, taste and feel. See and hear were easy, but the rest needed more concentration. I could smell Aloe Vera hand cream and onions frying in the kitchen. I could taste coffee. I could feel the rug under my bare feet, the wooden desk, a gentle breeze from an open window and the soft fabric of my definitely-not-pyjama bottoms.

Silence descended as everyone on the call spent time acknowledging the space around them. Whilst most of us have been staring at the same four walls for months now, it’s easy to lose touch with our space when we feel caged in.

Next, we turned out attention outside. Inspired by three eye-opening poems, Daisy encouraged us to think about our relationship with nature:

Do we notice it?

How does it make us feel?

Where can we find beauty in unexpected places?

Rita Dove’s ‘Evening Primrose’ describes the “ceaseless shimmer” of primrose flowers that go unnoticed as they typically bloom once the sun goes down. Nature has no regard for our clock. As Daisy pointed out, “flowers are going to come up whether I’m there or not.” To write about place, we were challenged to consider the world outside of ourselves, and by extension, outside of the walls we’ve grown accustomed to. Most importantly, Dove’s message can speak to the nature of writing itself – our words remain our own, and we need never feel ashamed of writing or that we are not good enough, because, much like primroses, our words can “blaze, blaze all night long for no one.”

My favourite poem from the session was ‘Dandelion Insomnia’ by Ada Limon. She asks the mundane question, “how could a dandelion seed head seemingly grow overnight?” as her neighbours relentlessly mow them down day after day. And yet, amongst the sun drunk bees and “yellow hours,” dandelions keep sprouting. “Bam, another me, bam, another me.” When we pay attention, we can find beauty in the details that get overlooked. Children adore dandelions, finding joy in the simple act of blowing their seeds through the air. Not every place is extraordinary at first glance, but if crawling under a bush taught me anything, it’s that perspective makes all the difference. If you’re a young writer looking for inspiration, start with what’s right under your nose.

Towards the end of the workshop, we read ‘Deep Lane’ by Mark Doty. The poem features a man and dog walking through a cemetery. It’s easy to forget that in cities, cemeteries are some of the most accessible green spaces. They’re brimming with nature, insects and flowers, bird song, the space to sit and think uninterrupted. Daisy asked us to think of questions relating to a natural place we visit frequently. Mine was my garden. I asked, what makes a home? Other people asked bigger questions. One that really stood out was, why do waves crash on the shore? Of course, we can all Google it and find out, but I’m not sure Google will give you the most interesting answer.

When the workshop finished, I spent a while starring at the garden from my bedroom window. Two fat pigeons waddled around the lawn. They had discovered the seeds we laid out earlier. I watched the way they plodded about, neck-first. I watched how they moved around one another in a sort of clumsy dance. They couldn’t see me watching. They wouldn’t care either way; they were incredibly busy eating lunch. When I left the window, the whole world carried on dancing. What a wonderful thing, to capture just a moment of it. For those looking to write, don’t wait. Get outside and see what simple beauty you can find.

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