The weekend was full of smut and it was fantastic.
Saturday started with the Adults-Only Poetry Reading at the People’s Poetry Festival (the image on the top of this post was taken during the reading). It was my first experience reading my own erotica to a group of strangers. It was terrifying and exhilarating, absolutely on the list of Repeatable Events. It was a small group, made up mostly of people from the festival – two audience members, the four reading poets, and one of the organizers.
Following the reading, I had one of the most successful workshop experiences I’ve had so far (although Writing in the Margins is just a few days old, I have been running workshops on a variety of topics for many years).
The workshop was held at the Resolution Art Gallery, a great space above Eleven Eleven, one of the independent clothing shops in Kensington. There were 8 participants, most of whom had never attended a workshop with me before. Because the workshop was part of the People’s Poetry Festival, I used a slightly different approach to generating prompts and engaging the group.
All Writing in the Margins workshops are run with an explicit goal of creating safe space for exploring difficult, taboo or emotional issues. Sexuality is one of the primary areas where I see a need for creating safe spaces and allowing for expression and exploration. Watching a group of strangers build trust and collaboratively generate a safe, welcoming, shame-free space for discussing issues of fantasy, history, orientation and desire is one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences I can imagine. And that’s exactly what happened on Saturday afternoon.
The tweak to my usual prompt technique was inspired by the collaborative poetry that the People’s Poetry Festival creates at each of their DIY poetry stations. We started by each writing a prompt (a word, phrase or picture) and dropping the prompts into a bag. Then we drew a prompt and wrote on it.
In my prose-based workshops, we write for 150minutes per prompt. We found that it was too long in a poetry workshop, and ended up writing for ten minutes per prompt. The poetry written during those ten minutes blew me away. Creative, personal, capturing a wide variety of approaches to the idea of ‘erotic poetry’… it was amazing. I was particularly awed by how willing the participants were to share their just-written work, and to engage in the structure of the workshop (all writing is assumed to be fictional, no criticism, suggestion or question is directed at just-written work).
Our second prompt was a response to one of the poem’s that had been shared. Each of us wrote a response, continuation or reimagining of any of the poems that had been shared. Again, I was blown away by the creativity, talent, and amazing openness of the group. There were works that made us sigh, or laugh, or think.
After two prompts, our workshop was done. But the group was not! The gallery gave us permission to stay late and we wrote on a third prompt – this time writing down a line or phrase that had jumped out at us, dropping it into the bag, and randomly selecting from the bag to inspire our third poem. Fantastic!
The collaborative prompts brought the group together faster than other prompt techniques I’ve used. I will definitely use it again in workshops.
I also found that there is a great need for gender-inclusive sexuality workshops that do not vilify male sexuality or make assumptions about gender performance and sexual preference/orientation/history. This is something that has come up in SSC events, but multiple participants commented on it at the workshop and it highlighted for me that the gender-inclusive aspect of Writing in the Margins must remain a priority.
The weekend of smut wrapped up with The Smutty Story Circle on Sunday. The SSC has been my baby for over two years. It was designed in collaboration with Jen Cross of Writing Ourselves Whole and Carol Queen of The Center for Sex and Culture. It’s grown slowly, primarily through word of mouth. It was another great workshop, though more low-key than the poetry workshop. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the SSC grow as Writing in the Margins grows!