"Philip concentrated on the poem sheet and hunched forward like a man on a Harley Davidson coming down the road at ninety."
That's Seamus Heaney's description of Philip Hobsbaum's chairing of The Group, the famous poets' workshop which met in Belfast in the 1960s.
Poets meeting together, sharing each other's work, offering advice and opinions on new poems - to me that's an important part of my writing life.
Some years ago I was invited to join the Cumbrian Poets' workshop, which I still attend. It was my first experience of reading my poems to fellow writers - and it felt like taking my clothes off in public. But after a short time I came to value the "crit" and (I hope) improve my poems as a result. Sometimes I would come away feeling I had been to a free masterclass.
I have been going to two monthly workshops on a regular basis for some time and I have recently started going to a third. Each workshop is different. On Monday I went to a meeting of the newest group, the North Cumbria Stanza group, set up by Nicola Jackson. I went to the inaugural meeting a few weeks ago when it was decided that the core business of the group would be to share and comment on each other's poems, but perhaps do other activities from time to time.
The group meets in a beautiful old cottage in a village high up in the Eden Valley, where the land and the lanes rise to meet the brown slopes of the Pennines. Perhaps the setting contributes to the relaxed atmosphere. Nicola is a relative newcomer to poetry workshops herself and is well aware how daunting it can be to attend one for the first time. So she is very keen that people should start their comments "with what they like about the poem" and that "all comments must be constructive, thoughtful and kind."
There are phrases that I remember from Monday night, phrases with that imaginative spark which gives life to a poem - "milky darkness", "forbidden play its flame", "the entrance chant to a world". I enjoyed meeting other writers at the group and sharing their poems.
Nicola had a photo and a write-up in the local paper (the News and Star) - the journalist wrote that the new North Cumbria stanza group was "a response to the current upsurge of interest in poetry across the country." Now all we need is the Harley Davidson.
For more information on the North Cumbria stanza group:
go to Poetry Society Stanza, scroll down to Stanza Groups and click on Cumbria.