13 Nov 2018 / #Arvon50
On May 21st this year I will catch a train to The Hurst in the company of the wonderful Mimi Khalvati, thereby completing my ten-year journey into the vagaries, frustrations and occasional elations of poetry.
My journey began at The Hurst with Mimi. It began in fact with sharing the train journey to The Hurst, except that first time I was travelling to my first ever residential poetry writing course, actually my first residential anything outside Buddhist retreats. I spotted Mimi on the concourse of Marylebone Station while getting a sandwich from M&S. The question was how to avoid her. I was shy. I wasn’t sure I had a journey’s-worth of conversation in me. I’d met Mimi a few months earlier on my first six-week writing course. She’d given me feedback that made me think: Respect! I didn’t succeed in avoiding her that day; we travelled to The Hurst for what proved the start of the most exciting and worthwhile period of learning in my life, outside my study of Buddhism.
I remember arriving at The Hurst and standing around with the others in the spring sunshine, making introductions. There was Fiona Sampson, looking radiant. There were the daffodils – I’d have to think of something to say about them. I kept repeating ‘I’ve got a very long name’. Soon enough I was sitting upstairs with Mimi and Fiona being asked about ‘my writing’ – ‘my’ and ‘writing’ seeming rather grand terms for the jottings and unjustified typings I’d done to date.
Back Story < I’d been in Spain taking a seven-month sabbatical away from the London Buddhist Centre (LBC). I’d been living and working at the LBC for twenty years or so. My sabbatical was mainly spent alone, trying to write a book on Buddhism and Western Art. A friend of mine visited me half way through the sabbatical and, after reading the manuscript I’d been labouring over for the past three and a half months, declared he was impressed neither with me nor with the manuscript. I should stop writing it. It wasn’t doing me any good. I trusted my friend, and deep down knew he was right, so I did stop. I meditated more. I painted watercolours. I exercised. And for the first time in my life I started typing up the poems I’d squirreled away in my notebook. Of course I’d always written what might euphemistically be called ‘poems’ (‘doggerel’ is more appropriate). After I came back to England, I showed my new ‘poems’ to a friend. She was enthusiastic. Before I knew it I was sitting opposite Mimi Khalvati with a Wensleydale sandwich. >
And so began my week at The Hurst. I remember writing workshops led by Mimi and Fiona. I remember meals together discussing poetry, readings in the evenings in the book-lined lounge. I remember tall, dapper C.K. Williams arriving as guest poet. I remember Fiona leading us in an exploration of the sonnet, then asking us to go off and write one. I never did find anything to say about those daffodils. After I left, I applied for the Arvon/Jerwood Mentoring Scheme, which meant winning Mimi as my mentor, winning two more trips to The Hurst, and winning a life immeasurably enriched by the reading and writing of poetry.
Arvon is 50 this year 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 booklet and featured on our blog throughout the year. This contribution is by poet Maitreyabandhu.
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