By Dan J Broadley
With the new Place Writing course set to start in May 2015 at the Manchester Writing School, the International Anthony Burgess Foundation was proud to present one of the most significant place writers today, Kathleen Jamie for a reading of some of her work and a discussion with English Literature lecturer Dr David Cooper.
Kathleen Jamie started writing at the age of fifteen and is the author of many acclaimed poetry collections as well as Findings: Essays on the Natural and Unnatural World and Sightlines: A Conversation with the Natural World, which received a rave review from the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian respectively.
Kathleen started off by reading some of her work, including a poem on spiritual birth places (which for her was a lane where she grew up with a tree at the end of it) a reading on Greenland and the Northern Lights, a poem on an ancient cave and one on the island of Rona.
She questioned what do we mean by ‘place’ in place writing? Is it light, changing without moving like the Northern Lights? Or time, like the ancient cave?
Kathleen then ended this section of the event with a short poem about a giant boulder.
Dr David Cooper then joined Kathleen on the stage for a discussion of her work and writing in general. One of the first things talked about was how Kathleen saw prose as a sort of “extended poetry writing from the same consciousness” in that the same thing can be written in prose as in poetry by the same writer. However, Kathleen emphasised her preference of poetry.
Then David and Kathleen discussed how she took notes when visiting places she would write about. She said she wishes she took more notes, but Dr David Cooper suggested that perhaps language can get in the way of what it is you want to exactly say when writing spur of the moment, rough notes.
Perhaps one of the most interesting discussions of the evening was what place writing meant to Kathleen. She had this to say:
“You can’t remove action from the place in which it happens! You can never avoid being in a place.”
Which, in a way, highlight the importance of ‘place’, and therefore of place writing.
Kathleen then went on to talk about the way in which she writes. She said she preferred to write ‘toward’ something as being more fluid than writing ‘about’ something, which she saw as a little hostile.
From this, she said we need to realise that as humans we are ignorant creatures that do not know everything and that it is important to accept this. This could be an important aspect for young writers to consider thinking about when writing.
The discussion then took a political turn in that just having access to a place or going to a place is political in itself, which then sparked a discussion on the Scottish referendum and the significance of place in that. This also made me think a little about the significance of Northern Ireland in this sense.
Kathleen was then asked if she would consider herself as an ‘eco-poet’, but brushed this off as simply another label that can be weaved around.
Questions were taken from the audience, before I managed to get a quick few words from Kathleen at the end of the discussion, who had this to say about the popularity of place writing:
“There has been quite an arrival of place writing over the last ten years”
And in relation to young writers:
“Simple, just get out there and do it! Get in touch with your senses and do it!”
Members of the audience got their books signed for themselves and friends, before the event closed with some refreshments.
Before this, if you had asked me about place writing I’d not have much to say. But now after hearing some of Kathleen’s work and the discussion held, I definitely consider it an admirable style of writing.
And so, the Place Writing Course being set up at the Manchester Writing School next May is sure to be an interesting one, being taught by the likes of award-winning writer Jean Sprackland and Dr David Cooper himself.
Dan is an English and Creative Writing student at Manchester Metropolitan University. His interests include music, festivals, bass guitar, writing poetry, having ideas for novels and meditation. Follow him on Twitter @DanJBroadley. Dan’s personal blog is odd dan.wordpress.com