Miranda Peake blogs about her writing journey, from Arvon to winning the Mslexia Poetry Prize, including a poem she wrote at Totleigh Barton.
I stand among the cow pats, atop the hill
where I’m to call you from. My phone
silent twelve hours long, bleeps and beeps the news
that I’ve been wanted. I listen twice, Hadrian’s Wall,
crab lunches, a lovely guest house –
‘You know the Romans were amazing’.
Green cushioning breaks my fall,
as I realise that I miss you.
My poetry obsession began to seriously take hold two years ago when I started a creative writing course at City Lit with Stephen Knight. I wrote my first poems as part of the course and it was also there that I discovered Arvon. Knight, who has taught for Arvon gave me a catalogue for the coming year and recommended that I sign up. I almost immediately did sign up for ‘Starting to write poetry’ at Totleigh Barton with Vicki Feaver and Jacob Polley.
When August rolled around I felt quite nervous about the prospect of the course, the idea of being stranded in deepest Devon with 16 strangers and no phone or internet access was seeming an increasingly dubious proposition. For all my trepidation, it’s difficult not to feel ok at Totleigh Barton. It’s such an incredibly lovely setting and to be greeted with a cream tea and a group of equally uneasy but friendly and enthusiastic fellow poets put my mind at rest. Gradually over the week we became more comfortable with each other and settled into a routine. There were workshops in the mornings and in the afternoons we were free to write or walk or relax. This structure made the week a really wonderful combination of learning and holiday, which was exactly what I’d hoped for.
Before the course I’d never really spent any sustained period of time focused on writing and to be faced with whole afternoons to do just that was quite difficult, but forced me to engage in a more intensive way. The results were surprising and exciting and looking back at what I produced on the course I think it was a turning point in my writing and in my attitude towards my writing. We had several one to one sessions with the tutors which were hugely helpful. It was the first time anyone had looked at my poems with a critical eye and it was quite a shock. I remember coming away from my first tutorial with Jacob feeling a bit bruised, but armed with a whole new set of tools and a renewed desire to write better poetry. Nobody had ever edited my poems before and it was really then that I started to understand the importance of cutting away the inessential and the unnecessary in a poem. Jacob and Vicki also showed us various techniques to prompt and encourage writing which I use regularly and have built into my own writing system.
With any residential course there is always the social aspect to consider. Possessing as I do some hermit-like tendencies, I will admit I was a little worried about this side of things. I couldn’t have been more wrong – I was very lucky to be part of a group (of women) who genuinely gelled and got on incredibly well. Those of us who live in or near to London still meet up on a monthly basis. These women have become an important part of my writing life, I trust their opinions absolutely and when we share work I know they will offer entirely honest and constructive feedback. Having done several courses since, I realise it’s rare to find a group who work so well together without any clash of egos or jostling for position.
This year I started submitting my poems to some magazines and competitions and to my utter delight and surprise I won the Mslexia competition. For me this has been such an encouraging development and I know that what I learnt on the Arvon course and the people I met there have contributed hugely to making it possible.