A Week in Arvon: Erin Bolens

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Sunset over Lumb Bank

At the start of the year, we teamed up with Arvon to give a group of our budding writers from Apples and Snakes’ The Writing Room the opportunity to take part in a week’s writing residency. The Writing Room offers a safe environment for young poets to write and share work with peers under the guidance of some of the UK’s top professional spoken word artists. Erin Bolens guest-blogs about her time at Arvon, Lumb Bank. 

I am writing this after three days of reacclimatising myself into the ways of city life, where there are no roaring fires, no wall-to-floor shelves of top notch books and the views are more alley than valley. I will endeavour to describe a week of pure sensory indulgence without making anyone physically sick or envy green – it’s going to be hard.

We arrived at Lumb Bank (think every cosy period drama you’ve seen but with very efficient smoke alarms, lots of Bombay mix and a converted barn worthy of Grand Designs) with varying amounts of anticipation, excitement and relief.

“I’m really sorry there’s no eggs for breakfast tomorrow, I used the last to make brownies for when you arrived,” has to be the most beautifully ridiculous apology I have ever heard and sums up the welcoming loveliness that the centre staff radiated. When Jack and Jill introduced themselves I was close to genuinely believing I was in a fairytale dream and would soon wake up.

Taking part in the course was a gorgeously eclectic mix of poet-types from all over the country with very different poetry styles, experiences and goals. It was like walking into a living poet library (that really should be a thing…could we?) and picking a poet from each different shelf and have them read to you for a week. Everyone was incredibly giving, open and generally great humans and invaluable to have in workshops, the kitchen, garden, hallways, my life etc.

Morning workshops were led by super creatives Hannah Silva and Ross Sutherland. The sessions were excellent, deceptively simple, and very well planned. Ross and Hannah were sincere, caring and worked very well together which made the link between sessions feel seamless and all part of a much bigger master plan.

The workshops generated a valley’s worth of writing as well as providing excellent tools for editing, drafting, sharing and reevaluating work. All of which are useful to have in you toolbox for when you’re a one man band in your bedroom with only the encouragement of novelty pens to help.

The exercises were very detailed and specific yet managed to draw out incredibly varied topics, thoughts and feelings: family relationships, loss, mental health, love, space, the environment, religious dilemmas, many more categories and sometimes a combination of them all. After the workshops we were free to write, walk in the picture-postcard surroundings, collaborate, read and so on. The space and time given to reflect on or consolidate what we we had just learnt or written was absolutely invaluable.

We were also very lucky to have such lovely A&S representatives in Kirsten Luckins and Russell Thompson with us. Both were very generous and gracious with their time and advice – and great poets to boot.

As if this wasn’t enough – Wednesday turned into the gift that kept on giving when we were treated to poems and chat from Rachel Long whose verses, metaphors and honesty was a real treat.

The Arvon week has given us all experiences, both creative and personal, that would not have been possible in any other environment. It was visible on the last day that we were all more than a little concerned that the world was never going to quite live up to this. The term ‘belly laughs’ doesn’t quite cut it – the peals of last week were from somewhere way beyond.

We left with our notebooks inkier, our minds ticking and our hearts polished. Go on, vomit if you want to (but could you let me know if you do, it would make a great anecdote for a poem).

P.S. If you ever find yourself in Heptonstall on a Thursday evening, do try the pub quiz at the White Lion pub. Its host (the white lion himself) Lin and his 42 gins will not disappoint.

Inspired? Find out more about what resources we have for developing and emerging artists, including our projects, participatory programmes and artist development events. Watch this space for more Writing Room dates, coming soon…