Winter at Arvon 2014

 This December, Apples and Snakes joined forces with The Arvon Foundation to organise a poetry week for young writers. Young poet Carmina Masoliver-Marlow writes about her experience. 

Last week I went away on an Arvon course with Apples and Snakes and a big group of poets, mainly from The Writing Room project. I was excited to have a week awayTPPS-7 to focus on writing, but I was also nervous at the prospect of being with so many people. At the time I was rehearsing for a cabaret show at The Roundhouse called Office Christmas Party to be performed on Monday 8th December. My piece was a monologue on being an introvert who performs on stage. There were over twenty of us in total, and I knew people to varying degrees. Some I knew quite well, some I’d met once or twice, and some I’d simply seen on stage but we’d never spoken.

On the train down from Leeds, I bumped into three members of the group. It was surreal finally connecting with other humans after traveling alone all day. Once we had arrived, we gathered on sofas, drank tea and ate a delicious apple cake. After settling in, we had a home-cooked meal prepared for us. I immediately felt I had picked the wrong seat: slap bang in the middle of this wide, long table. I felt very quiet, very shy, like I definitely didn’t belong in such a big group of people. I eventually got chatting to Lucy Jackson, a poet I’d only met on the day of our Writing Room show, where we had shared a common love for Thai food. At one point, I felt embarrassed when everyone was looking at me, trying to get my attention to pass the water down (through telepathy, mind you). This happened more than once throughout the week. Eventually I learned people were laughing with me, rather than at me, I think!

We spent the next few days in workshops with Inua Ellams and Warsan Shire. They were the perfect workshop leaders and we were all thrilled to have them. I think they opened up lots of new writing ideas for everyone over the course of these mornings. In individual tutorials, I had a revelation on titling poems, some great book recommendations from Warsan, and some deep unpicking of a poem I’d written as Arvon homework with Inua, allowing me to have two edited, complete poems by the end of the week. We even had a lengthly performance workshop, which sounds really daunting, but was actually lovely and supportive. We cooked and washed up in teams, where I got to make and serve veggie and beef chilli, cornbread and chocolate orange cheesecake. I spent most of my afternoons writing, with a bit of reading, and then used my evenings for socialising with everyone over dinner and drinks. We were treated to an intimate performance from the workshop leaders, as well as a special guest in the form of Kayo Chingoyni.

On our free night we opted to stay in and a lot of us played Cards Against Humanity, a game that Warsan brought, though she was left very disturbed by what came out of it. We saw Inua jump out of his seat with laughter, and Minkles came up with the question, “Is that some next yoghurt?” which inspired the name of our collection of work from the week Some Next Anthology. The card game is complied of very offensive material. I think it’s the way you play it that matters though, and that it really lends itself to creative minds. I was proud to have collected four cards, but was unable to reach the success of Lewis Buxton, who totalled six or more cards. By the end of the week, it was like we were one big poetic family. We shared some poems one by one, bringing each other to the stage area. I was really touched by Will Tyas introducing me as a ‘superhero’ and whilst I could have said something for each and every member of the group, I brought Lewis up for the poem he performed earlier in the day when workshopping, where he stripped back to the raw honesty of his words, creating tears in many an eye.

Needless to say, I definitely felt like I belonged by the end. It’s hard to put into words just how amazing it was to be a part of this Arvon course. I’m thankful to the school I work at for giving me unpaid leave to attend the course, to Daisy Dockrill for organising it, Maria Ferguson for being another great Apples and Snakes representative, and for sharing a really brave piece on the last day. I extend my thanks the staff at Lumb Bank, to Inua, Warsan and Kayo, and to my fellow poets. I couldn’t have had a better time. I really didn’t want to leave, but I will take away so much with me and it was just really perfect.