Last year I was introduced to the idea of a creative cluster by Julia Cameron in Vein of Gold. Sadly, I didn't make much progress with Vein of Gold (sorry Julia – I’ll get there one day), but I really liked the idea of a small group of creative people coming together, not to critique each other’s work, but to act as a sounding board and offer support.
I spent a few weeks thinking about who I’d like to cluster with and how many clusterers should be involved. I wanted an ‘in-person’ cluster, which eliminated many wonderful and experienced writer friends in Australia, as well as several of my friends in Berlin who have heavy work or study commitments. I also considered whether or not I’d like to invite people who were working in different art forms. Most importantly, I wanted to cluster with non-judgemental people I could be vulnerable and honest with.
In the end, I approached two friends I’d met through Write Together Berlin, a group I started in 2015. Although we’re all writers, we have very different aspirations and projects. Gerlind Becker is a screenwriter of both German and English scripts, who also writes for education. Carly Dee is the editor and co-founder of BLYNKT Magazine, but her true love is writing for broadcast and spoken word. We meet once a month, notebooks in hand, and talk about our current projects and challenges. We brainstorm solutions and help each other set achievable goals. And we always have a good laugh and an enormous meal – crucial elements for clustering.
About a month ago, we floated the idea of a ‘Cluster Camp’. We booked a house with three big rooms and a table we could work at. Despite the temptation of the enormous tv, the impossibly comfy couch and a sprawling garden, we were hugely productive. An extra night would have been ideal to give us two uninterrupted writing days, but we still managed to get our work done, lollop around a bit, have some great conversations, cook, go out for dinner and fit in some local sight-seeing. And we managed all this without getting out of bed before 9.30am.
What kept us focused was having a specific goal for the weekend. To keep ourselves accountable, on Friday evening we told each other what we’d be writing, and what we hoped to achieve. The others were working on existing projects, but I decided I’d have a little holiday from my novel. Instead, I wrote a collection of short stories – one for each track on the Susanne Vega album Solitude Standing. I’d prepped before the camp by listening to the album, printing off the lyrics and grouping the songs into three sections: the Odysseus stories, the Luka stories and the Midnight Picnic stories. By Sunday morning, I had an album of microfiction.
I have no aspirations for the collection – it was written purely for joy and the challenge. Completing a project over one weekend has refuelled me, and given me the energy I need to finish the second draft of my novel. I’m looking forward to our Summer Cluster Camp, to get the next mini-project out of my head and onto the page. Thank you, Gerlind and Carly, for clustering with me!
A year ago today, I arrived at Arteles in the Finnish forest for a month of focussed writing.
Designed primarily for visual artists, the surfaces of Arteles are galleries. Gifts from previous residents mark walls and furniture, hang in unexpected places. During winter, treasures wait beneath the layers of snow for summer residents to discover them. And on the day of their departure, each resident signs their name on the foyer wall: a record to prove it wasn’t a dream.
For me, arriving at Arteles was like exhaling after holding my breath for five months. It provided exactly what I needed at the time: solitude, stillness and a huge desk. Before I left, I wanted to give it a token of thanks, something more than just a name in permanent marker. So I wrote a tiny love letter to Arteles, so small it could only hold one sentence. I hid it in a high crack in the wooden wall of my room, the wall which marked the boundary between my desk and the leafless birch forest.
Eleven months later, I received an email from the artist then occupying my room. Part of it said:
Thank you for your secret message, which reminded me that there is perhaps a deeper connection between those of us drawn to the Finnish winter.
I love that someone found my note and took the time to write to me. But what’s even more important is this idea of connection, not to the Finnish winter – although that is a curious phenomenon – but to another person I’ll never meet.
What resonated with this artist was that one hidden sentence about my experience in that room reflected her own. It’s easy to forget how similar our experiences are, especially when they’re difficult to articulate. But this is the power of the work we create.
For me, this artist’s email was a perfectly timed reminder of the importance of sending work – regardless of its scale – out into the world. We can never anticipate the significance it will have for someone else, or how it might influence them. And when, on rare occasions, someone contacts us to let us know, we can never anticipate how that gratitude will fan our own inspiration.
Today marks the 34th Day of the Imprisoned Writer, an event organised by PEN International to recognise writers who have been persecuted for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Writers, journalists and poets across the world are regularly harassed, incarcerated, tortured and murdered for doing what many of us take for granted.
Through campaigns, PEN centres and members advocate for the release and safety of these writers. The Day of the Imprisoned Writer commemorates writers who have been killed, and gives a voice to those who are unjustly imprisoned or under threat.
This week, I've been using my Poetry Planting project to show my support for PEN’s amazing work and the courageous writers who choose to speak out, despite the great personal risk. To find out more, see: http://poetryplanting.weebly.com/plantings/day-of-the-imprisoned-writer-2015
Learn more about the Day of the Imprisoned Writer at: http://www.pen-international.org/
#ImprisionedWriter2015, #ImprisonedWriter #DOIW
Over the weekend, I attended a Found Poetry workshop at the Berlin Soup Festival. I had no idea what Found Poetry was, but I'm always delighted when I find a poem, so I figured it'd be fun to attend.
A small group of us gathered on the terrace of a gallery space, above the chaotic intersection at Kottbusser Tor. Poet Kim Morrissey explained that Found Poetry is written by lifting words from an existing narrative and rearranging them into a poem, which reflects the intention of the original author's work.
While I was disappointed that this process didn't involve a Dadaistic process using scissors and glue, it was lovely to play with someone else's work. Our source text was Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories. It felt a little sacrilegious repurposing Isherwood's work, but the results of the group were beautiful and surprisingly diverse, given that we were all drawing from the same material.
The Isherwood passage selected by Morrissey describes the Berlin tenements in the early 1930s. My current work-in-progress swayed my thoughts away from the misery of Berlin's poor, and to the doom awaiting them. Isherwood's 'chalk-marked for the hopping game "Heaven and Earth"' was particularly foreboding. It wouldn't be long before the people of Berlin were marked for life and death.
Despite the grim subject matter and the group's tendency towards the macabre, we spent the afternoon laughing. Writing poetry demands such an extreme level of focus and precision, that I never thought interesting work would arise in a group context, especially with the distractions of a noisy street and an over-excited French bulldog. With the exception of a few Edward Gorey inspired dabbles, I'd never viewed writing poetry as fun. But as I left for the day and wandered into Berlin, not far from Isherwood's attic room at Hallesches Tor, I was filled with the kind of energy that comes from play. Next time writing about Berlin in the 1930s becomes too depressing, I'll pick up my copy of Isherwood's work and write a poem, sans scissors.