Tuesday, 14 May 2013

NEWS - My First Workshop



Last Saturday I was asked to host my very first poetry workshop at one of the best visitor attractions in the Fens, the wonderful Wisbech and Fenland Museum!

To launch the call for submissions for the Young Curators' Museum Booklet Project, myself and Lead Young Curator Brandon Mattless ran two free creative workshops. Our aim was to give the participants the chance to write or draw something inspired by the strange and interesting stuff on display at the museum. 

Brandon did a fantastic job working with the children in the art workshop, helping them to draw some really superb pictures of shark jaw bones, ancient coins, Victorian corsets and Roman swords. The kids who took part in the workshop were completely absorbed in the tasks, and everyone wanted to enter their drawings into the competition at the end of the morning!
The folks at the Museum were kind enough to give us all free reign to explore the public galleries, so we spent a lot of time peering into every case and cabinet, making sure we'd picked the best things to immortalise in our writings and drawings. We also had a box full of Fenland farming equipment, which we were able to handle - up close and personal - and this came in very useful for some of the poetry exercises.  

I had a select but enthusiastic group for the poetry workshop (there were three of us) and we made the most of our time. Both the ladies in my group were responsive and eager to participant, which was lovely. They also worked really hard and produced some wonderful creative ideas throughout the session.

Really, I couldn't have asked for better workshoppers!

Both women had very different poetic styles, but all of their work was considered, well-written, and the standard was incredibly high. For this particular workshop, I focused on writing exercises that would spark creative ideas, rather than spending time looking at form and structure. We managed to try five activities during the two hour session, and the games 'Object into Animal' and 'Museum Treasure Hunt' seemed to worked particularly well:

'Object into Animal' involves taking an object (in this case, a conical flask from the Fenland Farming collection box) and imagining what it would be like as an animal. I asked the group questions like: 'What noise does it make?' 'How does it move?' 'Where does it live?' and the participants wrote down a character sketch based on their answers. We ended up with some very witty and creative creatures, and some very different perspectives on the same object.

It might seem like a bit of a strange exercise, but the idea is to enable participants to see inanimate objects in a new light. This can be really helpful when looking for unusual and interesting metaphors with which to describe everyday items. It also demonstrates how different people view objects from different angles, and I think it's important to use this personal perspective to your advantage in your creative writing.

It also works really well if you're writing a surrealist poem about a dishcloth that's actually a jellyfish!

For the 'Museum Treasure Hunt', I gave each workshopper two adjectives and asked them to find an object in the museum with these properties. Then I asked them to write down a few lines describing the object, remembering to look at it from a unique angle, as they had done in during the previous exercises.

The idea behind this game was to give the participants a focus for their writing, while also allowing them the space to pick the objects to which they were most drawn. The end result was some lovely poetry about the atmosphere of the museum and some really nice lines about the stuffed musk rat too!

Of course, there were lots of things about the workshop that I will change. In my next workshop, I think I'll structure the time in a more linear way and include more exercises relating to specific forms and styles of poetry, as well as activities that focused on ideas. There needed to be more of a balance, and I think at times it felt more like a genetic 'creative writing' class, rather than a workshop geared towards poetry.

Still, not bad for my first go!

And if you missed out on the workshop, don't fret! You can still enter the competition! The Young Curator’s Forum are putting together a booklet of creative work celebrating the Wisbech and Fenland Museum, and they’d like to hear from you.

You can submit a poem, short story, or a drawing, based on or inspired by the collections at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum. There's no age limit on submissions. Adults and children of all ages are welcome to apply.

Please send your creative work to info@karen-harvey.co.uk with your name, contact telephone number, and the name of the museum artefact that inspired you. Alternatively, you can pop into the museum and pick up an entry form.

The closing date for the competition is Friday 31st May 2013.

We're looking forward to receiving your submissions! Good luck!

Acknowledgements: Photograph 1 courtesy of Fisheye Images. Photographs 2 & 4 courtesy of the Wisbech and Fenland Museum. Photographs 3 & 5 courtesy of Brandon Mattless.

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