by Hannah Copley, a writer on a Poetry week at Totleigh Barton Apr 23- May 3, tutored by Mimi Khalvati and David Harsent
When the taxi turned the final corner after miles of almost deserted country lanes and the thatched roof and white walls of Totleigh Barton came into view, I nearly pinched myself to make sure that I really was about to spend almost a week reading and writing poetry in such a beautiful and secluded setting.
This was my first Arvon retreat (after years of window shopping through the brochure), and so I had very little idea about what to expect, both in terms of the specifics of the course – the enigmatically titled ‘Poetry: The Lyrical Impulse’, led by the wonderful Mimi Khalvati and David Harsent – or in the day-to-day life of Totleigh. What I got was five days jam packed full of all things poetry, in which I got to learn from two generous and talented tutors, meet and share ideas, stories, and poems with a group of lovely people, and have the time simply to write, read, and edit with no distractions or excuses.
I came away from the week with a fresh batch of poems to work on and a renewed enthusiasm for writing, but here are a few other things that I acquired along the way:
1. An expanded waistline. Oh the food. As much cheese, bread, and puddings as anyone could wish for, and a biscuit jar that just kept being refilled (although get there early to secure a chocolate digestive). Breakfast, lunch and dinner brought everyone together around the big dining table, and it was great fun to cook together in teams and enjoy seconds (and sometimes thirds) of the resulting delicious meals.
2. Lots of pictures of birds and rivers. Photos on a phone just don’t do justice to the beauty of Totleigh Barton and the surrounding countryside. I recommend making time either before or after morning workshops to venture out and explore … just make sure that you bring appropriate footwear!
3. Lots of new additions to my ‘to-read’ list.
4. New ways to write and think about poetry. This is a pretty important one! The daily workshops and tutorials with Mimi and David (gently) pushed everyone out of their poetic comfort-zone, and we were encouraged to approach the blank page in a new way. When we came to perform our poems at the end of the week it was clear to see how everyone had been inspired and improved by the experience, and the final night was a lovely, funny, and often moving showcase of everyone’s hard work. As a double act Mimi and David complimented each other perfectly (they had a bit of a ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine going on) and it was lovely to get to know them and learn about the ways that they approached reading, writing, and teaching poetry.
5. Finally, a burning desire to return to Totleigh Barton. This one is pretty self-explanatory, and judging by the mournful mood in the mini-bus back to the station, I’m pretty sure everyone there would agree with me!
Thank you to the Arvon team at Totleigh, Mimi Khalvati and David Harsent, and of course my fellow poets for a wonderful week.
Hannah lives in Leeds and is currently working towards her first full poetry collection. Find an extended version of this post (and other poetry-related writing) at https://hannahcopley.wordpress.com/.