Wendy Cope – Arvon 50

02 Apr 2019 / #Arvon50

Totleigh Barton entrance

When I began writing poetry in the early 1970s I didn’t know anyone else who wrote poetry or had a serious interest in it. It was as a result of an article in The Guardian that I found out about the Arvon Foundation and plucked up the courage to book myself on a course at Lumb Bank. The centre had only just opened. I travelled by car so that it would be easy to escape, if necessary. When I arrived I was at first afraid to speak to the tutors – Alan Brownjohn and Douglas Dunn – because they were famous poets.

My main achievement during that first course was managing not to run away. After a day or two I began to enjoy it. I especially remember the kindness of the centre manager, Bill Morrison. During the course a television team turned up and I was asked to talk to them. I refused and said I didn’t want to be on camera at all. That wish was respected. The fact that I was trying to write poems was a secret. The last thing I wanted was for anyone to find out from a television programme.

I didn’t write anything good during that course but I came away with the feeling that I belonged with these people. That feeling owed a lot to the happiness I’d experienced when we all played word games together in the evenings.

Over the next few years I went on several more courses, all of them at Totleigh Barton, a place I came to love. It was always good to be to be with other people who were interested in poetry. Some participants welcomed the peace and quiet and spent a lot of time writing. I was living alone in London at that time and enjoyed the company. The stuff I wrote on courses wasn’t up to much. But I benefitted from the contact with the tutors and always came away feeling enthusiastic about writing and determined to work hard. The poems I wrote after I got home again were better.

Eventually I began to get published and then taught on several courses. Things have changed over the years. In the early days there was no expectation that there would be some kind of workshop or class every morning. And there was an understanding that the tutors took the second day off and went on an outing. I’m not sure but I don’t think that happens now.
It is quite a few years since I’ve been on a course as a student or as a tutor. But I still recommend Arvon to aspiring poets. Those courses helped me a lot.

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#Arvon50Arvon 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 Wendy Cope.

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