My experience of The Writing Room, by Rachel Long

Rachel Long - bio picI started going to The Writing Room in February 2013, after seeing a workshop advertised on Apples and Snakes monthly e-newsletter, that I had subscribed to. After finishing my degree in Creative Writing and American Literature, I found myself in a creative slump. The only thing I wrote in the months after leaving Uni were cover letters, applications and editing the C.V for jobs I never heard back from. For someone who is miserable when they are not writing, I needed a creative outlet and a new space to write in, physically, and mentally. Usually a sit-on-bed-writer, I now associated my room and laptop with job-hunting and rejection letter’s crying into the pillow. So I began to search for writing classes that I could get involved in, to do something productive whilst job hunting, and so I could finally crawl out of the abyss of my writer’s block. Most of the classes I researched seemed either really stiff, really stuffy, in a part of London I’d never even heard of, or really expensive. I was ready to give up, when I saw the Apples and Snakes advert for The Writing Room at The Albany. I knew the Albany well from doing art and drama classes there when I was much younger. It was for young people and it was free! I couldn’t believe my luck, so I emailed the project coordinator, Daisy, who booked me a place on the next workshop, which was with the legendary Dub-poet, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze.

I was nervous before my first class as I’d only ever written for myself and the page – spoken word was a whole new thing to me, we’d never even touched on it as a form in my degree, and people that I’d gone to see on stage performing poetry were like professional actors, weren’t they? Word-gods, who’s next line came to them, as natural as slinking off in a corner with a protective arm around my page was to me. I went to my first workshop with no expectations, except that I’d never do any spoken word of my own, but hoping that this could get me writing again.

From my first class I knew I’d come back for the next one, and I went to every monthly workshop thereafter. Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze was such an inspiring and motivating poet. Her words are such a part of her that you can’t quite distinguish where she ceases normal conversation, and when she’s speaking her poetry. Inspired by Jean’s class, I wrote my own dub-poem ‘Cuts to d’ Art’ which was published a month later by ‘Smellin’ Salts’ Arts Zine Magazine.

One of my favourite things about The Writing Room is the people. From the different poet that leads the workshop each time, meaning that you can never get bored – you have the chance to meet, and get feedback and advice from spoken-word gods, who’s advice is of course, gold-dust. From Jean Binta Breeze to Inua Ellams to Joelle Taylor, each have been exceptional workshop leaders. They are always so encouraging and inspiring, but to them, you are the amazing one for having a passion for words so young, for just coming to their workshops willing to do a bit of writing, for risking being a geek, word-freak, sentencing yourself to being a poverty-stricken poet for the rest of your life (not mandatory). No matter what you came into the sessions with, you will always leave with something to spur you on. There is not one time that I left the Albany feeling uninspired. Not once.
The people I have met though The Writing Room are just amazing. At worst you’ll gain a supportive network of like-minded young creatives, at best you’ll grow and share and develop alongside friends. You soon begin to notice someone’s individual voice, their unique poetic style, their very own way with words, and experiencing and cultivating that as a group is something that binds you all. There is an amazing energy about The Writing Room and the support you get from each other will be evident in your words and in your performances together.

Writing Room ThumbnailIt is strange to refer to Daisy as the project coordinator, as I did above, because she has become a friend. There will not be a time that she is not there for you via email or text. She’ll check that you’re ok, she’ll update you on anything you missed if you couldn’t make a session, she’ll be sitting front row at your performances clapping like someone only can when they’ve seen you grow. She is and has been so instrumental in giving me opportunities and providing me with a chance to perform my own poetry, at events and on stages, like Rich Mix and The Southbank Centre, that I could never have even imagined (and I like to think I have a good imagination).The best thing about Daisy is that she believes in your writing and your talent. She keeps encouraging, keeps challenging you with opportunities until you get better and better, until (and this only happened for me on Tuesday night at The Writing Room Showcase) I found that finally, I wasn’t nervous anymore.

I didn’t want to throw up at the sight of the audience, or have the urge to run back into my little corner with my arm over my page. I enjoyed performing my words. We all did – and the theme of journey’s was just perfect for our final showcase, we had all come on a journey with and through The Writing Room. Some of us had started having never written poetry before, others, like myself, having never performed their poetry. We all learnt to explore ideas, themes, subjects and styles that we never had before.

I have learnt unquantifiable amounts from The Writing Room, it has made me a better poet, a better writer. It has got me published, and has even inspired me to start a Creative Writing Masters, specializing in Poetry at Goldsmiths in September. Going to that first Writing Room workshop was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

Read Rachel’s poem that she developed through The Writing Room…

Night Journey 

Door with no number
slams behind her
makes the night jump.

She dares to flicker streetlight eyes up to his window
hoping to glimpse the soul of the man
who just smashed her doors down
but his curtains are drawn.

She leans
over 16th floor balcony edge
lets a tear
drop
to measure how far a fall really is
wondering if they’ll bother to trace chalk
round a body as broken as hers
on the slabs below.

How long will the white show
after her blood has bloomed over her own lifelines?

But her grip of this crumbling brick
tells her she won’t jump tonight.

Not trusting another man’s iron box
she takes the estate’s
spiralling stairs,
stops
to retch him up from empty belly, spits bile
and staggers on steps lit
by moon chandelier.

The mistress of this manor
dreams
her descent could almost be
a black and white movie scene
she wraps her ravaged fishnets
like a feather boa
round her shoulders
down
to her ground floor ballroom
decorated in so far post-modern
its post-apocalyptic art
blue-siren strobe lighting
lashes over graffiti scenes of gutted squats.

Outside her old school
needles swim in iridescent petrol pools.

Cutting edge constellations of broken glass,
and burnt out cars
used as dining tables for the Pack
who gather round to feast on the flesh of postcode foes
with just knives
fork in the road
go right, not left.

She knows
she shouldn’t when they’re all together
with human flesh already on their breath
but she needs the money- last bastard short changed her
so she slows
and asks them if they need company tonight.

She collapses
into stairwell
jackhammer hands
unscrew lid of mouthwash bottle
swigs,
then slashes the rest between her legs
because she heard that spirits can cleanse open wounds.

Night cap
does its 13 percent
to turn down the screams
hold ADHD scenes still
awhile.

But does nothing to stop
the same man
of a thousand faces that
snakes
his belt out of the loops
in her mind.

She lights a cigarette
to catch her breath
and so the tiny torchlight
can lead her home.

Short-cut tracks  through shadows
of old steps.

Girl in high heels
that still feel like she’s wearing Mummy’s shoes
trips over jagged memory
in unlaid road.

No one to help her; Miss. Laid
so she drags herself up.
when red is the colour
of her dress, shoes, lips
and the shade of these streets.

No one will notice when they bleed into each other.

She tries to disguise her limp
to the dog walker she passes
at the same time every night- they never speak.

Eyes kept
down
his dog stops
to lick her swollen feet
no doubt smells the blood, cum, piss, shit
crying from her every pore
she stoops
to stroke the white heart on his head
he snarls,
lurches to rip his share from her carcass
but tonight’s leash
yanks them apart.