Writers Forum Workshop is currently taking place online via Zoom, for the duration of the UK’s present COVID-19 (Coronavirus) emergency. The meetings take place on the third Saturday of each month, beginning at 3.30pm and finishing for 5.30pm. Please see the Forthcoming workshops page for updates on this, and for further details of online meetings.
Focusing on experimental poetry, the workshop offers a supportive, non-judgmental atmosphere for poets to share new work that pushes the boundaries of their art. Attendance is free and open to anyone interested in writing or hearing such work. When workshops run in person, there is no need for advance booking – just show up at the meeting with your work.
What happens at the workshop?
Poets take turns to perform or present recent work to the group. The meetings are lightly chaired, with participants reading as and when they feel ready. The atmosphere is that of a co-operative poetry reading where everyone has a chance to contribute. Unlike many creative writing workshops, there is no exchange of critical feedback after each piece, as this could discourage creative risk-taking. The workshop is nevertheless a good learning experience, letting authors discover how their work sounds and feels when performed to a group. A brief silence often follows the applause after each reading; this quiet should be taken as a space to reflect on the poetry, not as lack of appreciation for the last reader. When everyone who wants to present has had a turn, time permitting, those with extra material may be invited to read again. Guest readers are sometimes invited in advance to give extended presentations as part of a workshop. Once the workshop has finished, there is usually a chance to chat.
What sort of work should I bring?
The emphasis is on the experimental end of the poetry spectrum, but this encompasses a wide range of practices, including but not limited to visual poetry, sound poetry, conceptual writing and linguistically innovative work. There is also interest in crossovers between poetry and other forms such as performance art, theatre, visual art, music, fiction and the essay. Translations of innovative poetry, innovative translations of traditional poetry, and writing in non-English languages are all welcome. See the excellent introduction at poet Peter Philpott’s website www.modernpoetry.org.uk for more background on experimental poetry. If you are unsure whether your writing will fit in, a sensible assumption is that the answer will be yes – the wider the variety of styles encompassed by the workshop, the better! In terms of length, 5 minutes’ performance time is a good guideline for an upper limit, but there is often room for exceptions, and (as mentioned above) there is often chance for participants to enjoy a second slot.
What are the origins of this workshop series?
Writers Forum Workshop works in the tradition of the Writers Forum workshops that were founded in the 1950s by the concrete poet Bob Cobbing and were run by him for several decades. Many regulars at the present workshops had the privilege of taking part in Cobbing’s events. Writers Forum Workshop runs along co-operative lines, based on the philosophy that the participants are the workshop. Organisational decisions (when needed) are made during the discussions that follow each workshop, with everyone present being welcome to have a say; any tasks are allocated on a voluntary basis. Writers Forum Workshop claims no ownership of Writers Forum press, which was founded by Bob Cobbing and was later run by the poet Lawrence Upton.
Do I need to provide copies of my work for others to see?
The emphasis on performance usually makes this unnecessary, though you may wish to make an exception if your work has a strongly visual character. At online meetings, it is possible to use screen-sharing to show visuals to the group; if you would like to do this, please ask the chair of the meeting. For in-person meetings, if the venue does not have AV facilities, you are welcome to bring printouts.
Do I have to perform?
No, you are welcome simply to attend and listen to the other participants. However, please do consider reading. If you don’t have new work that you’d like to share, you could bring an older piece, or something by another writer whom you feel deserves attention. Also, contributors sometimes bring work that requires more than one voice to perform – feel free to join in and assist them.