Monday, 18 April 2016

Imagining an Imaginarium


Back in March I ran a workshop in the Storey Gallery, Lancaster, writing in response to Catriona Stamp’s explorations into migration. It was a whirlwind, stimulating two hours, during which someone asked me (in response to my showing them a piece from Vahni Capildeo’s Measures of Expatriation) what I thought the difference was between poetry and prose. My heart sank, probably my shoulders too, and I said, That’d have to wait for the twelve week masterclass. A number of people asked, What twelve week masterclass? A joke, I said. Just a joke.

It was at the time, and yet it also got me thinking. What kind of “masterclass” would I like to run if I were to run one? The next day, a fortuitous meeting with one of the participants, meant my thoughts, with questions of how, where, when, what, were focused in a more practical direction.

I’ve been thinking about my own imagination for months, on and off, about how being short-sighted affected my development, how not being able to see clearly-defined edges meant things grew beyond themselves, were not contained. I’ve always felt I could not be contained by skin, or my physical self, which is one of my reasons for writing: I cannot hold myself in. Imagination does not know physical boundaries.

The following week I had some days away in the dark park of Northumberland. What better place to be to consider the imagination and how I might apply that thinking to a longer term series of workshops for writers? Jupiter rising, a full moon, and the possibility of a glimpse of Andromeda, our nearest galaxy…

There’s a great poem by Wallace Stevens I think probably forms the basis of my current thinking about imagination, ‘Somnabulisma’, which I can’t reprint here, nor find it online, but wanted to acknowledge it, as what follows arises from the poem’s central image of imagination being the gull that flies free from a wave. Imagination needs experience to grow from – either primary or secondary experience, the experience of a place, or event; that it involves a stepping out of time as we live it – a stretching of time, a creative futuring or unravelling; it entails incongruity, or at the least a layering of two or more things at once; and, perhaps most importantly for a rich and detailed imaginative experience, the need for emotional care. To care for something, to be invested in it feeds our intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual response to it, enables all the previous states.

I knew I didn’t want the workshops series to be a “masterclass”. I don’t like the inherent exclusivity of the term. Some of the best writing I’ve encountered in workshop settings was written by inmates of Lancashire HMPs who had written little and most likely wouldn’t have called themselves “masters” – their commitment to expression and need to be heard drove some fantastically powerful work.

I wanted to encourage a loosening of thought, a space in which people trust each other, are open to discussion, to where their own imaginations might take them; where they might explore the relationship between imagination and inspiration, imagination and memory, imagination and language. What does language do for the imagination? And what happens in a space where imaginations meet? My imagination thrives when I pick up a book, turn on the telly, look at paintings, film, art. This engagement with other people’s imaginations opens a new sense of possibility, a fission, a galaxy upon galaxy of unexpected life.

So to be part of a physical space where actual people actually meet with the purpose to explore their imaginations for their own work and to see how this develops from its interaction with others feels like a real treat.

I decided, too, as well as inviting people who have a commitment to writing (if only to a single project), if these projects crossed genres there would be a chance for more unexpected fertilisation, how would the narrative of prose be affected by rubbing up along side an imagist poem? How would fiction influence memoir? What are the processes that bring us to these genres, what is the thinking? How do they differ? Where do they overlap? I’m hoping that this aligning of difference will enable us all to see our own work more clearly, and so work out how best to express what it is that we must share with others.

It seemed the best way to pull a cohesive yet diverse group of writers together was to ask people to submit work so I can attempt to bring as much of this thinking to bear on a compatible bunch of writers. I hope, too, filling in a few questions will get people thinking about what they want to work on for six months, what they want to bring to the project, how they want to develop. Most of all I just hope there are eight writers out there who are as excited by this as I am…

If you are curious to find out more about the practical details, have a look here