I was in London on Saturday doing a one day poetry workshop run by the poet Ruth O’ Callaghan. I used to think I would never do anything quite so terrifying as a writing workshop because I’m happiest writing on my own in my small upper room without any ‘interference’. I would probably never have done one too if it hadn’t been for the Ruth O’ Callaghan’s persuasive skills. She runs the well-known London poetry group, Camden Lumen Poetry http://camdenlumen.wordpress.com/tag/ruth-ocallaghan/ and holds monthly poetry events, one in Camden and the other in Kings Cross where all the proceeds goes to the charity, Cold Weather Shelters – a more than worthy cause that helps provide food and a bed for the homeless during the winter months. I met Ruth when I started going to the Camden event, held on the first Friday of every month where I usually read one of my poems and enjoy meeting up with the other poets. Ruth got in touch and persuaded me that I should go to one of her workshops that are by invitation only and the proceeds for these go to cold Weather Shelters too. As I say, Ruth can be very persuasive so I went to my first one last November and lived. On Saturday I ventured back for a second one.
These workshops are everything that I feared. The very opposite of anything a self-consciously private writer would ever wish on himself. Or are they? Each session is with just a small group of five invited poets who sit round Ruth’s dining table for a full and very intense day when Ruth guides us on specific themes, encourages a close reading of several poems and makes us, on three occasions during the day, write a poem to a very strict and unforgiving schedule inspired by the topic under discussion. The writing sessions are timed by a chess competition clock. We were given 12 minutes for each poem at the first workshop and 20 minutes at the second. My first instinct was to get my coat and run but if I had dared to chicken out, I would have missed out because Ruth’s workshops are truly inspirational and, on both occasions, I not only wrote those three poems but they seemed to come from nowhere. I learnt a lot too about how to push myself when I’m back in my upper room.
Ruth is, as they say, firm but fair. She’s a poet herself and loves the art of poetry but she manages to create an energetic and highly enjoyable atmosphere while keeping a tight grip on the proceedings. When it is time to write that poem – there is no arguing. She is, however, not so harsh a disciplinarian that she doesn’t use our writing time to go out to the kitchen to make us coffee and tea or to prepare a plate of chocolate eclairs. On both my visits I have left fired up to write more and to write better.
So, far from running away, I’ve booked myself back in for another session in April. As I said to one of the other poets on Saturday, that first visit was like losing my virginity. I’d never done it with someone else before, write poetry that is, and afterwards I felt just great. I’m hoping my writing will that much better for knowing Ruth O’ Callaghan.