On Time Travelling

A reflection on the Intersection Write About Time workshop

by Ros Arksey, guest blogger

Write About Time workshop group photo large

So, I signed up for the ‘Write about Time’ workshop on 31 July facilitated by poet Helen Mort on the basis that it sounded interesting; not knowing at this point anything about the wider Intersection project or really much about what a cross-generational workshop would involve.

Little did I know that I was about to go on an inspiring and interesting journey through time, travelling to places in the future and the past, with pit stops in the present.

The event was hosted at the Moor Theatre Delicatessen (the old Woolworths) in Sheffield. We sat in groups, about 27 of us of varied backgrounds, ages and each with different experiences of writing. This was my first ever poetry workshop and so it was a little nerve-wracking in terms of what to expect.

Anyway, we kicked off the day by introducing ourselves to each other and sharing our date of birth. From what I could gauge, I was maybe in the middle of the overall age group being in my late 30s.

We were all here to write about time, to consider how it feels, how we we would describe it and how others talk about time. We started with each group looking at a poem, these included ‘Upon a claude glass’ by Michael Donaghy, ‘The edges of time’ by Kay Ryan and ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley, none of which I was familiar with.

The informal nature of the workshop meant we all had a voice, there was no right or wrong, you would not pass or fail. I enjoyed hearing others' perspectives and ideas about the poems, some views were maybe influenced by where you were in your own life. For me this added richness to the discussion, as there were things that I didn’t see initially or would not have thought about, so I felt I gained knowledge and insight from others.

Then we worked together in pairs and each came up with a line about our chosen time capsule object or place, as if we were describing it to a Martian. Interestingly, my writing partner and I both had chosen something relating to our Nan, mine was a handwritten letter and hers was a teapot.

This group poem exercise was really fascinating as no-one had the same item or place, which surprised me. We had plectrums, spoons, trees, tattoos... it was exciting to hear the words that each of us had chosen to describe the item / place so that our ‘aliens’ could understand what these other-worldly things were!

You could feel the creative energy and to hear all of our words together and how it worked as a poem was fantastic. This wasn’t about how clever anyone was, it was about working together and sharing, which was so satisfying.

For the final part of the day we were tasked to write a piece to someone in the future or the past. Again, where people chose to travel to, who they spoke to and how they had those conversations were so varied - from Yorkshire to China, from unborn children to ex-boyfriends, from letters to poems.

We each had the opportunity to ‘perform’ in front of a mic to the group, this was daunting but to hear each of the stories told in the voice of the person who had written it, gave a real reflection of each of our own worlds and time.

There were universal themes told from the past or set in the future, which will continue across generations to come, I am sure. From family relationships, school memories to lost love and descriptions of happiness, humour, heartbreak and hope.

What a day! In fact writing this now, it feels like it was longer than a day, that is the strange thing about time. For me, I learnt a lot from hearing from the different generations, cultures and genders represented by our group. We humans are pretty similar overall in terms of what makes us worry, what we remember, what we care about and what we hope for.

Being part of a creative community felt nourishing and as someone who regularly writes it energised and excited me - age didn’t really matter. This was not about achieving deadlines, chasing time and multi-tasking as my life often is, it was about sharing time and our words.

Thanks to Helen Mort and researcher Dr Kristina Diprose, as well as to my fellow time travellers for an enlightening Sunday.

Some of the poems including the ‘group time capsule’ will be displayed on the 8 November as part of the Festival of Social Science. Trust me, we have everything in there!

Ros Arksey is a Sheffield-based writer, blogger and food editor for Now Then magazine.