Workshop 3

Posted by Carolyn Jess-Cooke on April 26, 2018

The third and final workshop of the series took place on Wednesday 21st March 2018 at the University of Glasgow. It featured a hands-on writing and mindfulness lead by Larry Butler, founder of Survivors’ Poetry Scotland, and award-winning poet Linda France, followed by a talk at the University Chapel by renowned illustrator and storyteller Debi Gliori. Both events were facilitated by Dr Carolyn Jess-Cooke with assistance from Gillean MacDougal.

At the afternoon workshop, Larry had us all on our feet, shaking out our arms and legs and walking around the room for a few minutes at a time before stopping to connect with one another.

Linda shared this quote which captured so much of what the project was about:

‘That’s the way writing often starts, a disaster or a catastrophe of some sort, as happened to me… And I think that’s the basis for my continued interest in writing, because by writing I rescue myself under all sorts of conditions, whatever it may be that has upset me, then I can write and it relieves the feeling of distress.’ William Carlos Williams MD

Linda talked about ‘the poetics of presence’ and engaged us all in a exercise that involved writing responses to questions such as:

  • when you are alone/confused, what is it you feel you must do (or would like to do) to be entered in yourself? Start off with odd words & phrases – a list or spider diagram – then look for a common denominator or a predominant metaphor/filter/touchstone, like Adrienne Rich’s Diving?
  • what might you take with you to help you succeed in this activity/quest? What would be in your emergency kit?
  • What does it feel like being there, doing this? What does it ask of you?
  • What do you tend to forget? Resist? Avoid?
  • What do you find in this place? What do you do?
  • How are you changed by the experience? What do you know about yourself now? What are you able to take with you as you continue your journey?

We did a close reading of Adrienne Rich’s poem Diving into the Wreck, taking it section by section and responding to it via a series of person-centered questions. The result was a rich and gentle writing session, helping us connect to the others in the room and making us more mindful about drawing upon our experiences as a source of energy and positive affirmation. It was a great example of how to lead a session that is intended for well-being, whereby participants felt connected and boundaries were gently drawn.

The workshop was followed by an event featuring renowned illustrator and storyteller Debi Gliori, who gave an astounding talk and presentation of her new book Night Shift.

I was absolutely riveted by the honesty and candour with which she spoke about her experiences of mental illness and her life leading her up to the moment of writing this book. I first encountered Debi whilst reading one of her children’s books to my kids (she’s written and illustrated over 80 children’s books) and have always found her work incredibly powerful, but Night Shift really speaks to the experience of mental illness and is, I think, a very important book.

I’m not surprised at all that it has been shortlisted for the Carnegie medal – the depictions of anxiety and depression are exceptionally accurate and insightful, and Debi’s responses to audience questions – particularly one about advising anyone wishing to tackle their own mental illness via creativity – were generous and moving. She mentioned about using drawings as a method to communicate those feelings that language can’t reach, which I feel is very true for many people who feel they can’t express their own illness accurately enough. Language is a tool of communication, and drawing may well be the best language for many people, especially when coupled with writing, as Debi’s book is.




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