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Arvon 2013

27 Dec

So here’s a video I made of the Arvon experience. It’s short and a bit silly and doesn’t include that many people from the week because I didn’t have loads of footage but it gives a little snapshot into how we felt I think. The positive vibes definitely come across. There were lots of them.

Aside 22 Dec

Arvon, December 2013 – Totleigh Barton

Two weeks ago, I finished an Arvon course in Totleigh Barton with The Mouthy Poets. For those who don’t know, Arvon is a charity organisation that runs writing groups in remote locations in the English countryside (with the exception of Arvon National in London). I am lucky enough to have been on two of these courses now and both have been incredible experiences.

This year, the course was at Totleigh Barton, nestled in the heart of lovely Devonshire no-phone-signal-or-internet-reception-ry. The general structure of a day involved this: waking up in this wonderful, old, massive thatched medieval palace, stepping out into the grey dawn light in gorgeous countryside; trekking across to the kitchen (stone floors, ceiling beams, the works) to make breakfast; lessons from 9:30 – 12:30 with two published, accomplished poets who were eager to teach us; prepared communal lunch at 1:30; free time to walk, write, read through the afternoon; communal cooked dinner at seven; more free time; some evening activity at around 8:30; staying up with fantastic people, talking, writing, reading, laughing until the early hours. Sleep. Repeat. It’s a fantastic experience.

For me, what really works at Arvon, is this sense of community. As well as informed teaching from clever, funny, successful people, there is an impetus to write, I feel, because of the knowledge that everyone around you is writing. You meet them to eat or to explore the countryside and whether or not you talk about your writing, you know they are doing it and that you are too. It’s very relaxing. In this way, free time, though entirely free, quickly becomes writing time. On each Arvon course I’ve been on, there have always been afternoons that have slipped by in a moment whilst working on a particular poem or piece of writing.

There is a formalised structure to the week which works wonders for productivity. You have the same time to write each day, the same time for lessons beginning and, crucially, the same meal times. This, I feel, is what it is so difficult to re-create in the ‘real world’. It is so easy to under-estimate how much of day of work gets taken up for by preparing and eating food. The structure at Arvon definitely helps, but having fantastic meals twice a day and only having to cook for one afternoon doesn’t go a miss either.

And then, of course, there’s the poetry library, an old whitewashed, wooden floored and charmingly wonky room stacked with lots and lots of poetry books to read from and a table to write at.

The tutorship, also, is amazing. This year, we were working with Tim Clare and Pascale Petit. Both introduced me to writing techniques and starting points which will be hugely useful in my own writing and my teaching. Particularly strange was that, having studied Pascale’s work whilst on an Arvon course in 2012, I had put her on a pedestal in my mind. To then share meals and living space with her on a daily basis was odd, but this again is worthwhile – it serves to reinforce the realisation that successful writers are just people. Which, being a person myself, is a nice thought.

In all, Arvon is an otherworldly kinda place. A week of devotion to a particular thing gave me an insight into my capability for productive creativity in a structure. This is the most important lesson I feel. Of course, it’s hard to replicate in real life, and to attempt to do so seems silly – there are other thing to be done in the real world. Emails, work, Christmas shopping, life, life, life. Still though, it’s nice to know the potential spark is always there. And to have a week to work it into a flame has been a joy. Twice. I hope to experience it again


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