The setting was a large sixth form college, newly built, light and airy; its atmosphere one of studious calm, properly and pleasurably tempered with the edginess of its students. I had only an hour with each group and worked with everyday objects. We started, as ever, with words. Someone had written a word of the day on the board: rampike –a dead tree or tree stump, especially one killed by fire. As ever, excellent and surprising words; the pleasure of the single syllable; the name for a kind of medieval sword that I didn’t write down; the juxtapositions – pedantic clock, eloquent rain. We talked about a favourite – or hated - item of clothing and then used Raymond Carver’s ‘The Car’ as the basis for a list of our own. When we read one line each around the group, each line hinted at a bigger story. Together, the lines created a strong sense of the collective, a metaphor, perhaps, for the writing group itself. We read one of Neruda’s Odes to Common Things and Gwen Harwood’s ‘Cups’ https://anthonywilsonpoetry.com/tag/cups-by-gwen-harwood/. Students wrote about shoes and coats and a bra, phones and playlists, bicycles and spectacles, bass guitars and a loved Staffordshire bull terrier. Students were ready to take ideas and form and make them their own. Their writing was funny and tender, familiar and unexpected.
These are the last students to take the hard won A level in Creative Writing. What struck me about these young writers was their capacity to think on their feet, their versatility and humour, their intelligent criticality, the willingness simply to put words on paper in ways that were thoughtful, coherent, articulate and well-crafted. Each group is empathetic and mutually supportive. Both teachers with whom I worked commented on how the groups have not only grown as writers but how assured and capable they have become. Sadly, it is no longer surprising to find such a course excised from the curriculum. Those students, and their teachers (there are many more of you like them), remind us of the great rewards of writing together. This is not some superficial indulgence. The skills learned are complex and robust. The pleasures life-enhancing.