Only a few things could drag me out of hibernation and the warmth of my blankets on a freezing Saturday morning – the opportunity of an excellent value, quality poetry workshop in a very inspiring location and spending time with writing friends I don’t see often enough.
The day began at the still dark hour of 5am as I forced myself from my warm bed. An hour later I was on the central line, beginning my trek across London and down to Basingstoke to meet my kind chauffeur for the day and his gorgeous canine companion.
The icy wind and snow did its best to drill through all my layers of clothing, numbing fingers, feet and brain as the two workshop leaders, Jo Bell and Martin Malone, took us on a guided tour of the wonderful, ancient stone circle at Avebury. My imagination was fired, picturing how the area must have been, both when the stones were erected and later as the village developed around it, forging a close connection with the ancient henge.
Jo Bell was very interesting and well informed guide, which greatly enhanced the tour but I was quite glad to go inside, drink a hot cup of tea and begin the workshop. This was my first time at a Small Lightning’s event and I didn’t know what to expect. I had been a little apprehensive as I have no confidence in my own poetryand find it hard to relax into writing in a workshop setting.
Our first exercise was to think of six words to describe our heartland. Being an out and out Londoner (and proud of it), my words were all urban – concrete, glass, streets, underground, people and shops.
We then discussed making our poetry concrete and avoiding those abstract words such as timeless, eternal, sacred; a good rule to keep in mind in all writing.
The second exercise was to take a line from On Silbury Hill by Adam Thorpe and use it as the first and last line. Here is my attempt.
A havoc of headlights on the A4
slices a twenty first century diameter
through stone-age circles.
False ley lines of tarmac
pin down the landscape.
Ghosts lingering in perimeter ditches
are cloaked in petrol pollution
that erode monolithic stones;
a havoc of headlights on the A4.
I have never tried to write in collaboration with anyone else so working with a partner took me right out of my comfort zone. It helped that I knew the person I was working with very well and we could bring in some elements that we’d noticed and discussed as we approached Avebury that morning.
The morning at Avebury ended with a warming soup and another cup of tea in the café before a few of us drove to Stonehenge. What a contrast. Where Avebury gave the freedom to touch and be close to the stones, Stonehenge felt much more like a tourist attraction; roped off to protect the stones, a set path to walk around and far too many people. However the sun did make a rare appearance creating a much warmer experience .
I still can’t get my head around how they managed to transport such mammoth stones all the way from Wales to and set them in the ground without all the modern lifting gear and technology that we have today. It’s an awe inspiring and humbling achievement.
On the long journey home, I reflected on the day and came away very happy that at last I’d visited both places. My overall feeling was that as impressive as Stonehenge was, I preferred the informality and freedom of Avebury and liked the way the village sat in such close proximity. Stonehenge seemed very remote.