Since lockdown began back in March, we have been re-configuring Bristol Wellbeing College’s classroom materials for live sessions online. When it comes to the Writing for Wellbeing series, this has been a thoroughly enjoyable work-from-home process for me, thanks in large part to the Yorkshire-born poet and children’s writer Ted Hughes (1930-1998). His book Poetry in the Making. An Anthology of Poems and Programmes from “Listening and Writing” has inspired many of the ideas and activities for the online sessions while introducing me to his and others’ poems and the art of poetry writing.
Hughes compiled this anthology from a series of educational programmes he wrote for the BBC Schools Broadcasting Department in the 1960s; it was intended for students aged between ten and fourteen. In 2020, those ten to fourteen year-olds will be pushing towards their seventies and Hughes himself has long departed us, but the lessons he wrote remain relevant today for adults and children alike, perhaps more so now than in the sixties.
Hughes’s approach to the process of writing poetry offers an understanding into how we approach the world and our place in it. It is a meditation on the balance of mental wellbeing as much as on the art of writing. His chapter, ‘Writing a Novel: Beginning’ became the basis for the session Writing with Memory, in which we look at writing as a tool through which to construct memories we want to keep, and which will offer our future selves details from the present time that we can savour:
“One thing that writing teaches… us,” he explains, “is that we are not looking at things closely as we ought to and we are not understanding them as deeply as we ought… Most of us just retain a vague impression of an event, with one or two details that affected us directly.”
The process for constructing any kind of story, Hughes suggests, can also become a process for constructing fruitful memories by opening up our cognitive pathways to new perceptions, different perspectives and attention to detail.
Following the first live session we ran last week in which we explored some of these concepts, one participant went away inspired to write a poem (the session does not imply poetry as an outcome but I like to think Hughes’s encouragement towards it is manifested). Below is her piece, a creation of a memory she would like to keep from lockdown, as seen through the eyes of the overgrown trail through which she walks home.
View of an Overgrown Trail
A grain of sand in an oyster
A pearl emerges.
Years of neglect
My haven emerges.
My byway –
Bramble-walled, people-free corridor –
Appeals to the assiduous lone walker.
The burly of the tarmacked path –
Walkers, runners, cyclists;
Offers insect-free, infection-fraught possibilities
She walks through me.
Haste and concern retreat.
The wonder of me
Covers her skin
Infiltrates her airway.
Cleansed, stabilised, immunised.
Discharged back to the community.
8 May 2020