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Facebook ImageMy second Snail Mail: Creative Letter Writing Workshop of the season took place on Saturday 31 October at Foyles, in our lovely meeting room just above Charing Cross Road. Ten enthusiastic participants wrote new letters and shared stories and thoughts about writing and communication. To give a flavour of the workshops and to celebrate the originality and creativity of the writers, I’d  to share some of those new letters here. Two generous ladies have agreed to contribute… one remains anonymous. Both of their letters came from an exercise where I ask participants to list significant people, objects, places, emotions etc. and then choose one to write a letter to. The results are eclectic and exciting…

Letter to Flirtatiousness

Dear flirtatiousness,

I have an interesting relationship with you, flirtatiousness, and I often wish that I could feel more comfortable with your presence in my life.

I love you for your humour and warmth. You bring complete strangers under your wing and giggle a while with them.

So why do I feel guilty – a little ashamed to admit the fun we feel when we play together on someone’s mind like an impish confidence that knows its power and enjoys it.

Perhaps I am afraid of my reliance on you to get me through the boredom, and of the weight of infatuation that you can bring. You are a cheeky bastard who I can’t resist, but resent the power you hold.

I love to laugh with you and with my friends, but know there’s more depth to life than you’ll ever know how to share, and I fear you lack respect for your prey. I, however, care for them deeply, and though we play together I have written to tell you that I am always going to stand up against your power, and love.

All the best,

G

Letter to My Flat

Dear Flat,

You are flat number 2, 9 Sherwood Rise as listed above. It took me ages to find you, those 7 years ago and we’ve seen so many good and bad times together. I feel like I’m writing a love letter. I know I don’t spend much time with you at the moment but I crave you when I’m away. Sometimes I only come in to take something from you but I’m sorry for being selfish. I did paint you a lovely red colour though. You can be so cold sometimes and the double glazing doesn’t help. And I don’t mean to be horrible when I say ‘I wish I had a garden’- although we’ve grown so many plants together, it would be nice to get fresh air, like I said the double glazing doesn’t help. Without being cheesy, you have been my sanctuary and the neighbours have heard that. Actually, was it you who called the police when I was smashing everything? Anyway this is really to say thanks for being there for me and accommodating me, especially when I have been out of order, really out of order. You share a lot of secrets with me that I haven’t told a soul. It’s funny when we laugh secretly and mischievously isn’t it? I promise to spend more time with you and maybe we should have a nice night in like we used to- your choice of food.

Lots of love,
Di xx

Diana Ali is a Visual Artist & Curator. She is doing some very exciting work around text, correspondence and connectivity.

www.post-authorship.blogspot.com
www.dianaalidefamiliarization.blogspot.com
www.olfactionexhibition.blogspot.com

The next Snail Mail workshop takes place on Saturday 28 November 11am – 1pm at Foyles, Charing Cross. Visit www.foyles.co.uk/events and scroll down to book your place.

There is also a Slow Down London Day on Saturday 21 November, with a whole range of slow food, activities and discussions. I’ll be running a letter writing taster workshop as part of the day. Again, you can book tickets through Foyles. Hope to see you there!

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throwing leaves in Victoria Park

throwing leaves in Victoria Park

I’ve been offline for a while with flu, but I’m now back to full health and also back on the blog. Here are some of the things I’ve been up to over the past month…

I helped project manage the Lit Up Showcase & Conference at the Albany on 24 September. You can read all about the conference in the post below.

My first Snail Mail Letter Writing Workshop of the season took place on Saturday 26 September. A friendly group of people, some new, some familiar, met upstairs at Foyles, Charing Cross for a morning devoted to the writing, reading and discussing of letters. As I explained in my last post, the idea behind the workshops is to use letter writing and a form of creative expression, and participants dived right in. One woman wrote a beautiful letter to her walking boots, remembering places they’d been together. Another wrote a letter to flirtatiousness. We discussed what letter writing meant 50 – 100 years ago, and what it might mean today. We also looked at poetry by Richard Hugo, whose collection 31 Letters and 13 Dreams explores poetry in the form of letters and Catherine Pierce, whose Love Poems to unexpected things (America, the phrase ‘Let’s get coffee’, the word ‘Lonesome’) read very like some of the letters participants wrote. The more I explore letter writing and run these workshops, the more excited I am about letter writing as a form of creative writing – one that is accessible and starts from freewriting. I’m looking forward to exploring this more in my poetry, so watch this space.

The next Snail Mail Workshop takes place on Saturday 31 October 11am – 1pm at Foyles, Charing Cross. Visit www.foyles.co.uk/events and scroll down to book tickets.

More recently, I took part in writing a communal poem for National Poetry Day over Facebook. The idea came from the wonderful poet Naomi Woddis, who like me, believes that poetry can come from anywhere and anyone, anytime. A diverse range of poets from different countries took part. If you’re my friend on Facebook, there’s a link to the poem from my page. It may appear somewhere more public soon…

And this week Naomi Woddis and I took part in the first ever StorySLAM at the Albany. We wrote a joint ghost story in the form of emails, texts and letters. Naomi began by texting me some ideas and beginning the story by email, and we then went back and forth by email and text as the story emerged. It was fun to experiment with collaborative writing, especially in a genre I’m not so used to. The story should soon be appearing on the StorySLAM site. While I was ill I spent most of my time listening to The Moth, a podcast of true stories told live in New York and other cities across the U.S. I’ll be looking out for more StorySLAMs and storytelling events in London.

Enjoy the October leaves… I’ll be back soon.

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P1000723 Some of you may remember the Slow Down London Festival in April this year. You may even have taken part in a (very) slow walk across Waterloo Bridge during rush hour. The aim of the festival and project is to encourage Londoners to challenge the cult of speed and explore things at a slower pace. As part of the festival, I ran a Snail Mail workshop, exploring creative letter writing. It was an unexpected hit! As well as receiving a mention in the Financial Times, Liz Hoggard of the Evening Standard actually called me up to ask for ideas for letters she could write as part of the Standard’s Week in Slow Motion.

So what exactly is ‘creative letter writing’? Well, I’ve sort of made up that term myself to try and describe what the workshops are about. They are essentially creative writing workshops, but instead of using poetry, short story or scriptwriting, they take the letter as a starting point. Letter writing is beautiful because it offers total freedom. Rather than worrying about whether your writing is ‘good’ or if you’ve chosen the ‘right’ subject, you can just focus on writing freely and communicating whatever it is you want to. Letter writing is a form of freewriting – letting ideas and thoughts flow freely without censoring every word as soon as it meets the page. Of course, these aren’t letters you necessarily have to send (although Foyles provided envelopes and stamps for the last workshop), but they are creative explorations into territories you might not have visited before. To me, writing a ‘creative’ letter is a bit like writing a poem addressed directly to someone, or something, but without worrying yourself about the term ‘poem’.

To demonstrate: in my first letter writing workshop, one participant wrote a letter to the science cabinet at his primary school. He described the mystery of the cabinet, with its skulls, skins and odd-smelling plants. For him, the cabinet represented everything that science promised to be: delicious, strange and tempting. On his first day at secondary school, he was deeply disappointed to discover that there, ‘science’ was all about categorisation. All the excitement of the cabinet was forgotten. This letter was written in response to an exercise where I asked participants to make a list of objects that were important or significant for them and write a letter addressed ‘to’ one of them. This participant’s letter had many ingredients of a poem – detail, epiphany, striking imagery – but had I asked him to write a ‘poem’ he probably wouldn’t have arrived at the same place, in fact, he probably wouldn’t have come to a ‘poetry’ workshop at all. That doesn’t mean that what he had written was some kind of ‘poem in disguise’ – it was a letter. The point is, the letter opened a door into something this man, who was now a teacher, had wanted to explore for some time but hadn’t known how. This is the long version of what I mean by a ‘creative letter’.

These workshops are not about how to write letters, they don’t push letter writing as something we should be doing more of, but they do give people the chance to explore creative writing in a form they feel safe with, and in doing so, they draw out some beautiful, original and unexpected material.

Snail Mail Workshops take place from 11am – 1pm at Foyles, Charing Cross on:

Saturday 26 September
Saturday 31 October
Saturday 28 November

You can come to one workshop for a taste, or all three for deeper exploration…

To book, visit: www.foyles.co.uk/events and scroll down.

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Just before September hits, I thought it’d be nice to round up the ‘year’ (I still seem to think in academic years) by looking back on what I’ve been doing over the past twelve months. It’s certainly been a year of new things – my first out of full time education for a start. I’ve worked with some hugely inspirational people, in particular Jacob Sam-La Rose, who’s been my mentor since September 2008. It would take many more words to convey just how much I’ve gained from this relationship, but the number of times his name pops up below gives an idea of just how many doors he’s opened for me…

The London Teenage Poetry SLAM 2009
From January to June, I worked as Project Administrator for the London Teenage Poetry SLAM. Run by education charity Lynk Reach and Artistic Director Jacob Sam-La Rose, this year’s SLAM gave 12-15 year olds from 11 London schools the chance to work with an experienced poet for five months and compete in a SLAM Final at the Albany. Working closely with Jacob, I was involved in pretty much every aspect of the project and was able to gain a real sense of how an educational poetry programme of this scale works. Every year, the Highest Scoring Team gets to visit Chicago for a week in November….and this year, guess who gets to go too?!!

Fresh Text @ Spread the Word
Fresh Text is a cross-genre group for writers aged 17-25 that I started running last year with support from London literature agency Spread the Word. This year we’ve been meeting every other Thursday for workshops, sharing, play and general experiments in writing. In July, writer and actor Dean Atta commissioned us to write pieces in response to a track by DJ Halo, which we performed at PenPals, a networking event for emerging writers at Battersea Arts Centre.

Barbican Young Poets
I’ve learnt a lot about poetry and teaching this year. From March – July, I assisted Jacob Sam-La Rose on a new youth poetry programme at the Barbican. The 14-19 year old poets we worked with are seriously talented people. One of the best parts of the programme was getting to visit Barbican shows and exhibitions to write poems in response to art and performance. I’ve loved all the education work I’ve done this year, but Barbican Poets was something special. Everybody really wanted to be there and to push themselves and their writing.

Slow Down London
Moving from poetry into creative letter writing, I ran a Snail Mail Workshop at Foyles, Charing Cross as part of the first Slow Down London Festival in May. The idea was to see what happens when people pick up a pen to communicate instead of texting, emailing or instant messaging. Participants wrote letters to friends, important objects, fictional characters and themselves and discussed how they feel about writing and communication. Slow Down London and Foyles have invited me to run a series of these workshops in autumn 2009. Watch this space…

I also co-ran the London Canal Write, a creative workshop and walk along Regent’s Canal with WRITELondon’s Jasmine Ann Cooray.

Poetry in Schools:

Erith School Residency
My first official ‘residency’ in a school, shared with Jacob Sam-La Rose and Kayo Chingonyi. I taught five whole days of lessons for years 7 – 11. When I performed my poem ‘We Can Still Dance’ to my first class of 12 year-olds, I knew I’d never be scared of performing in front of adults again!!

Pod Club @ Nower Hill High School
I led a series of poetry sessions on the themes of bullying, gangs and sexism for an after school group for 11-16 year-olds from different schools in Harrow. This was part of a wider project which culminated in a whole day of poetry with Jacob and myself and a CD of students’ poetry.

Little Ilford SLAM
An intense all-day SLAM with Year 10s at Little Ilford School in Newham, working alongside Sifundo, ShortMAN, Rosie Knight and Chicagoan poets David Gilmer and Adam Levin. The day started with a room full of reluctant teenagers and ended with some really striking performances.

Graveney School, Tooting
Another whole day of poetry for Year 10s, focusing on identity and working alongside poets Charlie Dark, Polar Bear and Inua Ellams and hip hop artists Curtis James and Maxwell Golden.

Shadowing
To prepare myself for the challenge of teaching, I shadowed Jacob Sam-La Rose on a number of projects including a term of poetry at Morpeth School in Bethnal Green and the Young Cultural Curators project for PRU students at the Horniman Museum and Abbey Manor College.

Workshops @ the Albany
As well as working part time in the Albany Box Office, I’ve been involved with the creative side of things there too. I ran a poetry and performance workshop for young people with Yemisi Blake for the Albany Open Day in March and Spoken Beats, a workshop on writing in response to music for the Summer Arts Season 09.

UrbanWords
Since June I’ve been Project Assistant for UrbanWords, a literature consultancy specialising in writing and regeneration run by writer Sarah Butler. You can read more about this on the forum I helped set up: www.shapingplace.ning.com

So, those are the things that have been occupying me over the past months… Recently, I’ve been taking some time out and focusing more on my writing. I’ll keep you posted.

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From 24th April – 4th May 2009 I’ll be taking part in Slow Down London, a brand new festival that urges Londoners to experiment with taking things slowly. 

 

On 2nd May, I’ll be teaming up with WRITELondon‘s Jasmine Cooray for the London Canal Write – a creative writing workshop that meanders along London’s canals, with time to ponder, write, share and think about our city in new and different ways….I’m feeling summery just thinking about it. I’ve ordered some good weather. The workshop starts at Warwick Avenue Tube Station at 11am. See the Slow Down London website for details.

The other workshop I’m running is something entirely new for me. It’s a Snail Mail Workshop on 25th April, dedicated to the slow art of writing letters. For someone who’s grown up in the age of email, I’ve written a lot of letters – I’ve just never thought of this as something other people would be interested in. But since I decided to run the workshop all sorts of people have started talking to me about it, from friends and family to a journalist from the Evening Standard. It actually seems that people are bothered about letters. Many of the people I’ve spoken to are convinced that we say things in letters that we would never say in an email and are excited about the possibilities of just sitting down to write. This has also made me excited – people are often a bit reluctant to think about writing a poem, but everyone knows they can write a letter. This makes the creative potential of letter writing something well worth experimenting with. The way I see it, because letters have been outdated by email, texting and instant messaging, we can make them into something else. If letters are no longer an essential means of communication (and no one can argue that they are) then what can they be used for?

In the Snail Mail workshop I’ll be exploring these questions and giving everyone a chance to play with new ways of looking at letter writing as something creative. It’s free, and will take place at Foyles, Charing Cross on Saturday 25th April 2pm – 4pm. To book, contact: events@foyles.co.uk.

As well as the workshop, over the next few weeks I’ll be posting some of my thoughts and findings about letters on the blog. Hopefully I can get hold of a scanner and show you some of the letters I’ve received in the past. One of the things I love most about letters is how random and rambling they are. You can’t cut and paste in a handwritten letter. I’ll see if I can pick out some examples of this from my letter stash. I remember my then 13 year-old sister writing me a letter while she was living in Germany that ranged from her thoughts about German school to her teacher’s facial hair and some cookie cutters she wanted to buy.

To see Slow Down London (and some mentions of my letter writing escapades) in the news, take a peek at the Financial Times, The Times and look out for an upcoming letter writing feature in the Evening Standard over the next week or so….

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