The London Magazine | February/March 2020
of the poet still contains an archaic force – it hasn’t been secularised like the novelist or the playwright.
Heathcote: I keep recognising faces. Keep thinking ‘do I know them? Or is there a common experience that makes your face like that?’ The battering of sleeping rough, alcoholism’s ruddy cheeks, heroin’s winkles. It could all be in my head. Prejudice?
At 10am we are led to a room for ‘activity leaders’ and given a brief: ‘Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Don’t stand over people. The people who’ve stood over our guests – particularly the rough sleepers – are the police and those with malicious intent. So crouch or sit beside them.’
Miranda: ‘What me?’ A lady asks, bursting out laughing when I ask her if she wants to come along. ‘I’ve never written in my life – I don’t know if I can.’
‘Maybe come and find out?’ ‘Yeah,’ she says with a shy smile, ‘maybe – yeah maybe I will.’ A few guests eagerly accept. Several politely decline. One gives me a snort – ‘fuckin artists’ (a response hard not to sympathise with). Another says he can’t risk having his ideas nicked. ‘Safer kept up here,’ he explained tapping his temple.
Heathcote: Guests trickle in to class. I try to drum up some enthusiasm – ramble about what poetry can be – but struggle to get anything going. I don’t feel comfortable in this teacher role yet. Caitlin – enthusiastic, blunt, volatile – declares she did ‘a very expensive creative writing course at the V&A’ where they told her to write ‘if I were a piece of furniture I would be...’ and ‘if I were a colour I would be...’ then ‘go on from there’. I attempt to get the room to try this. But Caitlin is pumped with too much energy and keeps talking. Nobody seems inspired by this confused task. Miranda arrives, takes over, and the workshop finally gets going.
‘What information are your senses gathering?’ Miranda asks. ‘Focus on the non-visual. No need to think in terms of a poem. Just observe. Piece together the world around you. What comes for free?’ Anything to get the pen moving. Exercises can untangle the fear of writing – a fear often strongest in those with the most urgent desire to write. An insoluble anxiety