I’ve delivered poetry and creative writing workshops to young people in the UK and in Europe, to Palestinian refugees living in the West Bank, Palestine, and with the US poet Mark Nowak, to domestic workers living in London.
I believe creative writing workshops are at their best when they are taken out of the classroom and brought into communal settings, and when an atmosphere of mutual support, experiment and collaboration is fostered. The workshops I deliver aim to leave participants with a better sense of how creative writing is relevant to their lives and the things they care about. It is from this sense of commitment and social engagement that good writing springs. On this page you’ll find testimonials, photographs and sample lesson plans of the kinds of workshops I facilitate.
The Vanguard Poetry Workshops
The Vanguard Poetry Workshops are all about making work collaboratively and quickly for an innovative and fun public performance that has been co-organised with the workshop participants.
Typically, a Vanguard Poetry Workshop has three stages: An introductory workshop which uses writing exercises to focus the participants on the kind of event they would like to organise; a secondary workshop where participants collaboratively make new work for the performance; and the performance itself, which is delivered from the side of a transit van. The first workshop is often held two months before the second workshop, which takes place on the same day as the public performance.
This is what one of Vanguard’s local organisers and workshop participant, Maisie Gibson had to say:
“The Vanguard poetry workshop was a brilliantly creative experience in a comfortable, friendly atmosphere. Steve’s writing exercises quickly helped us to create poetry which was thought-provoking and unique. The team exercises helped the group work closely together, allowing us to feel more comfortable in expressing and sharing our ideas and thoughts. This lead to uninhibited work that was well received by our audience. Having a workshop linked to a spoken word performance was a really exciting opportunity; luckily we had little time to be nervous, even though some of us had never publicly read work that we had produced! I would definitely look to take part in similar workshops in the future.”
Using a transit van as a stage for poetry might seem unusual but according to Dr Prue Chamberlain, a seminar leader at Royal Holloway, University of London, it had some unique effects:
“Vanguard demonstrates the way in which poetry can be immediate, engaging the audience through performances that are lived and intimate, rather than safely sanitized in cultural bastions with £10 tickets. The poetry van’s presence on campus showed that even legislated spaces can be productively and poetically occupied, with the set-up’s temporary nature establishing an energised, but fleeting, non-hierarchical community.”
If you want to find out more about Vanguard Poetry Workshops, or how Vanguard could work with your organisation, you can contact me via Twitter. You can also read the full story of the first event here.
Workshops in Areas of Conflict and Post-Conflict
Language is integral to the reality of conflicts and the way in which people live with and understand them. The writing workshops I’ve delivered in Palestine are based on the conviction that poetry, and creative writing more generally, can act as sites of resistance and freedom, and where possible, also become sites of reconciliation.
This workshop with children from Aida Camp, Palestine, was made possible by the Artists’ International Development Award, a British Council and Arts Council England fund, and was also part of an ongoing poetry project called Living In. Palestine continues to be a country of focus for my work during 2015, and plans for a new slate of workshops are in progress.
In constrast to The Vanguard Poetry Workshops, which move quickly from workshop to performance, delivering creative writing workshops in conflict and post-conflict situations often proceeds at a slower pace. This is because I find it preferable to adjust the design of the workshops in situ, making sure that activities remain responsive to the needs of the participants and the complexities of the local environment. I find it particularly import to get to know the participants ahead of the workshops to ensure they are comfortable in my presence and with the writing we are doing together.
Workshops for Workers
During the Poetry and Revolution Conference I helped organise at the Contemporary Poetics Research Centre at Birkbeck College, US poet Mark Nowak invited me to assist him with the running of a poetry workshop. The workshop was delivered to members of the Justice for Domestic Workers group, and was held in the London offices of Unite the Union. The workshop culminated in an evening performance at Birkbeck.
For Mark, the poetry workshop in London was part of his much larger commitment to facilitating collaborative creative writing workshops with trade unions and progressive labor organizations internationally, and his work in this area is ongoing.
I also believe that creative writing can usefully be turned to activist ends. Wage labour and the culture of workplaces often narrow the ways people are able to express themselves, they create specialist vocabularies and place limits on speech. Poetry workshops can be used to identify these limits and create alternative avenues of expression, which can then change how people interact at work and understand it as an activity. Inspired by Mark’s projects, this year I’ll be looking to bring more poetry workshops into workplaces and union buildings.
Poetry In Schools
The poet Jack Spicer once remarked “Poetry comes to us through the young… and that is why we need them.” Like Spicer, I also think young people are an important source of poetry, and so over the years I have gained extensive experience of delivering poetry workshops in primary and secondary schools.
These schools have included the Hythe Community Primary School in Staines, the Meath School in Woking (a school for children with speech and language difficulties), United World College of the Adriatic College in Trieste, Italy, and King William’s College on the Isle of Man. Some of these workshops have been delivered as part of international festivals like the Runnymede International Literary Festival.
If you are a teacher and want to find out more about the workshops I run, you can contact me via Twitter or by email at swilley17[at]gmail.com.