Jum Faruq: Magic in Arvon

Jum Faruq blogs about 15 inner city poets, sent out into the depths of the British countryside for 5 days of hardcore poetry writing, bound by the laws of digital detox, outnumbered by sheep and facing new levels of unpolluted air – will they make it out alive?

Sharpen your pencils, this is Lumb Bank 2016 *cue hans zimmer soundtrack*. Okay, so it might not have been as dramatic as the trailer begets: the air was airsquisite (ahem), the fluffy sheep kept at a safe distance and *spoiler alert* we all made it out alive…in fact, more alive than ever. (The digital detox did, however, almost kill a few poets). Rewind opening the Ted Hughes centre door, the ascension of the hills, the jovial meeting of fellow pumped poets, exiting the Hebden Bridge train station, boarding the train and pause. Platform 9, there stands me, Jum, over packed and so overly excited I write on my hand ‘remember to take suitcase’. I still can’t believe I’m leaving this London humdrum and spending 5 days living poetry in Lumb Bank! It feels so long ago that, breath suspended, I pressed ‘send’ and ‘woosh’ went my application flying into the palms of the Life-changing Decisions gods. Now, typing with your fingers crossed is a slow-to-master-art but apparently it works!

Between hummus consumption and noticing the positive correlation between Distance from London and Duration of Strangers’ Smiles, I daydream in the carriage. A split screen of our simultaneous journeys, each poet sitting contemplating, scribbling, perhaps picking their noses and beside them is their suitcase with socks and biros: a book or two. The most precious stories though, they are carrying with them are in compartments within themselves. There was something we all wanted to write even if we didn’t know it on our fateful paths to Lumb. A sonnet to a sister, a haiku to the wonder of small things, a song of lament, an ‘I don’t need you no mo’ rhyming rant, a coping with the death of my father poem. Yep, that’ll be my ticket. I knew I wanted to write something for my Baba and the place this train was taking me was somewhere special. A place where I’d find the right words without straining over an enunciated ‘MIND the gap please’ to hear them. ‘The next station is Hebden Bridge’…. now I don’t mind hearing that.

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So fast forward to newly acquainted poets having conquered the hill all-smiles and the door to Ted Hughes home opening. We are greeted by warmth in all forms: the beaming team at Lumb, the radiating fireplace and that heat that is unmistakably sourced from something delicious changing state in the oven. ‘Hi guys come in, we’re just making brownies at the moment… should be done now!’… this is going to be the best week ever, said our guts. Having finished the tour of our quaint new abode and taking the first bite into my (second) brownie, I had to agree.

Now, I’m not an early riser but with the yeasty notion of eating breakfast at one of those long dining tables you only ever see in mafia movies and Escape to the Countryside followed by the first poetry workshop of the day, you better believe this doughy poet rose. So after digesting morning oats and the heavenly view of birds in The Valley it would be workshop time! The workshops. THE WORKSHOPS. This is me trying to stress how insurmountably incredible they were through letter size and repetition. There were two everyday, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, taking place in the Barn (yes it is an old barn converted into a poetry hang out) or the mafia dining room. The space didn’t really matter, our inspirational tutors, Ross Sutherland and Hannah Silva quickly transformed them into Poetry Apothecaries, ‘so today we’ll use some phonetic translations mixed with the fast forward technique’. Every single concoction was a complete surprise and often stepping stones to something bigger. It felt like a fence had been toppled down within me and my poetry-writing ponies had space to learn new tricks. (this is what happens to your metaphors when you’ve been in the countryside). The most miraculous alchemy occurred when we got out of our seats. A simple walking exercise forced us to literally think on our feet whilst another technique had us dropping our poems into dramatic scenarios. It took the words into a whole new realm which for me especially was exciting. The workshops strengthened my belief that Poetry is inside everything you just need to play to uncover it!

We spent so much time writing and yet there was enough to wander in the woods, to visit Sylvia Plath‘s grave, and cook for each other, and soon become so comfortable in each other’s presence to emerge a little family. Each and every member utterly unique and inspiring (no one was the middle child!). You’d watch someone smiling to themselves as they wrote in the corner of the barn, see how that one word they suggested you change transform your whole poem, you’d listen to someone repeat a line they loved again and over: unravelling its secret, spit bars about New Age and Nasa on the piano, you’d discuss life and the goodness of Bombay Mix in fireplace semi-circles. Then the night came we had all anticipated.

Sylvia_plathIt was bittersweet. We knew it meant we’d soon be on our separate ways again but it also meant we’d finally hear each other’s poetry in full for the first time. Fingers ready to click in our sacred poetry temple (The Barn) each one of us stood under the spotlight. Out they came, those words kindled alongside listening embers, thoughts marinated before dinner, lines trodden not written, notes between keys. The poems hidden inside us since those distant train journeys decided to be known. Often it’s the other way around, you know someone’s poetry and then you get to know them, but this way lead to humbling surprise and deepened respect. There was no need for the spotlight, everyone was incandescent! When ‘Jum‘ was finally pulled from the hat (there really was a hat) I felt all the love circumnavigating the room. I began. From being unable to find the right words, to sharing them with the poets without whom I wouldn’t have found them and to, somewhere out there, my Baba: That is where I found myself. ‘I kept on trying to think of the word and then I realised, you’re MAGIC!’ one very sweet poet told me afterwards, and inside I remembered thinking exactly the same about Baba when he’d share his stories with me. If there was nothing else that I took from Lumb Bank I took this perfect moment of being reconnected with that Magic.

…Of course though, there were ‘many things else’. For example, an inexhaustible list of in-jokes *snaps fingers*, the priceless knowledge that elderflower cordial is not to be drunk undiluted, a refreshed poetry toolkit, new Twitter followers…I mean…new real-life tangible friends (yay!) and a little black and white photo of us all (which arrived in the post today). We look awesome, if I do say so myself, and it’s heartening to have confirmation it wasn’t all just a dream. When I look at it now, I remember all of this; when I look at it now, I imagine doing so in many years time and thinking ‘that was the start of something special’.

Thank you from the bottom of my inkwell to everyone at Arvon, to Ross and Hannah, to Daisy, Apples and Snakes, to my beautiful fellow poets, and to the Magic.

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