Alice Oswald: Our 2017-18 Writer in Residence
This year, we have welcomed acclaimed poet Alice Oswald as our new writer in residence. Here we interview Daniella Ferguson-Djaba about her experiences in the workshops.
The series of workshops began with a memorable task: students were asked to write a poem as the character of their voice. This exercise was an interesting dive into the form for those students who have a keen interest in poetry, but also for those who are more used to writing prose. Daniella describes the experience as a challenging one, because it pushed everyone to focus on different aspects of writing, like pace, rhythm and length – all of which are not necessarily what prose writers focus on first.
One thing that stood out was the emphasis on sound. Alice has previously said that “sound is much more connected to the imagination than sight”, so it isn’t surprising that she would bring that notion into her workshops. One of the exercises she gave the students was to memorise John Donne’s poem ‘Air and Angels’ in pairs in five minutes, before reciting it back to everyone. Perhaps even more challenging, students had to do a similar exercise, except this time, they had to write and recite their own poems. Daniella thought this was an exciting exercise because it helped her decide what really needed to go into a poem. “It posed the question of, if we forget some of the lines – does that mean they are not important to the story you are telling through your poetry?”
Students have learned a lot about what goes into writing poetry, and importantly they've built confidence. The fun part of being writing students is that we get the opportunity to try writing in different styles as well as in different genres, and it’s important to seize it, no matter how scary it can seem. Under Alice’s guidance, students shared their work with each other to get feedback, and we all know how daunting – but incredibly rewarding – that can be. Dani confesses: “At first, I was nervous about sharing my work with everyone, but once I realised that it was beneficial for getting feedback and hearing praise, I learned to let my fear go.”
Students were also invited to share their personal writing with Alice, who in turn gave them advice. “It’s great to talk to her directly about work we’ve been working on independently from the workshops, and get her take on it.”
So far, students have benefitted from the workshops in their poetry skills, discussion skills but also in confidence building – and there is no doubt that they will benefit from them even more. Experimenting under the guidance of an acclaimed modern poet will surely help Daniella and other students develop a better understanding of the form, and maybe even become skilful poets themselves, if they aren’t already.
By Melissa Saryazdi