Fred D’Aguiar – Arvon at 50

19 Mar 2019 / #Arvon50

Fred D’Aguiar

We called them the two Johns, John Moat and John Fairfax, after the two Ronnies, but out of awe at their twinned expertise on poetics and drawing out the best from everyone, and a handy mnemonic rather than any satirical intent. Was it ‘80 or ’81? My first Arvon. Lumb Bank’s legendary rugged terrain, brick and slate and ochre tones, did not disappoint. But that week the rains moved in, daily, prolonged downpours, followed by mizzling drizzles. John Moat and John Fairfax held short 15 mins consults and free afternoons to write and wander. You signed up with each in turn and brought along a few pieces and they offered suggested rewrites and new roads of exploration. The pace was Sunday-morning easy and full of grace and worked like a charm.

I got to Lumb on a recommendation by Blake Morrison whose poetry workshop at Goldsmiths I attended in 80 and 81. A number of fine poets attended, Wendy Cope, Alan —and an Irish poet who smoked miniscule rollups an hated Guinness but always asked me to name my favorite rum (El Dorado, XM) not to be found at my local South London dives. The pub after the workshop routine was the best just as the walks after the mini-conferences with the two Johns crystallized much of my thought and revisions.

I became a loyal Arvon fan. Attended Arvon’s first Black Writers Workshop held at Lumb and led by James Berry, where I met Lemn Sissay for the first time. Teamed up with a host of writers to work at both sights so rhythmically different, never mind the obvious topographical ones, think of the Lumb’s brooding light and Totleigh’s more expansive sky for starters, think of the specific walk to each location as if entering hallowed ground, a call space for the muses of creativity and contemplation. Whatever your age or experience Arvon has tapped into something primal in that the organization has answered the need for an apprenticeship and mentorship programme geared to slow time. In addition, more seasoned writers may rediscover a body memory of plugging back into the midst of nature and mustered quiet for a magical week.


Arvon turned 50 in 2018 and to celebrate we have collected the stories of writers far and wide who have a tale to tell about Arvon. The collection is published in our anniversary book and featured on our blog. This contribution is by Fred D’Aguiar.


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