Nature Revealed: Tracks, Traces and Trails is pleased to announce that the outcomes of our summer Creative Nature Writing Workshop with over-55’s community group Caring Together will be shared on the Land Lines website over the coming week! In this initial post, Dr Lucy Rowland from the University of Leeds talks through the creation and delivery of the workshop, and the fantastic writing submitted by the members of Caring Together.
Inevitably, COVID-19 slightly altered our plans to run a nature writing workshop with the community care group Caring Together this June. We had originally planned to run two live in-person workshops, in order to facilitate discussion and cross-pollination of ideas among the group members as they approached their writing. However, after some re-thinking, we were delighted that we were able to find a way forward and run the workshops after all – this time, via old-fashioned pen and paper!
Zoom, Skype, video calls and instant messaging have undoubtedly been lifelines for many during the pandemic, allowing us to reconnect with friends and family for some much-needed human contact. However, at a time when so many were heading back into nature for some respite from the confines of their homes during the national lockdown, we thought it could be fruitful to encourage some more screen down-time, and return to something a bit more material, messy, imperfect – and above all, creative.
Our nature writing workshops were conducted via paper packs sent out to each participant. As the creator of the workshops, I included a range of materials for the Caring Together members to engage with. In selecting and presenting the material, my main goal was to offer a series of prompts and jumping off points, to spark memories, feelings and ideas on which the participants could ruminate through their writing. The packs included examples of nature writing – both creative nonfiction and poetry – by a range of authors, from Emily Brontë to Kathleen Jamie, Richard Mabey to Jini Reddy. I also collated a series of photos and images, grouped around the four main project themes: migration, climate, the subterranean, and the nocturnal. With each of these sets of images, I invited participants to reflect on their own experiences with nature in these contexts, via a series of writing exercises, prompts and ideas. Here, I took inspiration from the core aims of the Nature Revealed project, which seeks to render the unseen aspects of nature visible, and to encourage others to consider their relationships to wildlife, the climate, and the environment. I also offered some hand-annotated commentary on the literary techniques that feature in the poems included in the pack, in order to allow participants to explore different ways of communicating their ideas through expressions of rhythm, rhyme and form.
The response to the workshop materials was inspiring. Members of the Caring Together group responded with some incredibly creative and engaging handwritten work: some used poetic forms to describe migration journeys of their own alongside those of migratory birds, others wrote in prose about their childhood experiences of weather, seasons, and climate, and others still wrote about how their relationship with nature has altered over the course of their lives. The modes of writing ranged from the autobiographical, to the abstract, to the dark, to the comic – a varied and dynamic set of writings that reflected the diversity of the experiences and lives of the group members. Seeing the handwritten pages (particularly the ones that showed revisions and edits, giving me a glimpse into the writer’s creative decision-making) was a privilege. After so long staring at screens, PDFs, and typed books, reading and working through the handwritten pieces felt like such an insight into the writers’ thoughts and ideas. After offering the workshop members individual feedback on their pieces, and the chance to produce a second draft if they wished, we were able to finally meet as a group online. During a video meeting, the group members, Lisa Argyle at Caring Together, and the Land Lines team gathered to hear participants reading their own work, which was an equally wonderful experience. Hearing the writers articulate, emphasise, and comment on their writing was fascinating: the discussion ranged from climate change, to wildlife, to the pandemic as writers shared their thoughts with the group.
To round off such a productive and creative workshop, this week on the Land Lines website we will be sharing three reflections on the nature writing workshop, inspired and informed by the written pieces submitted by the Caring Together workshop participants. Focusing on three core concepts at the heart of the workshop – memories of nature, migration, and climate change – the reflections will explore the depth and complexity of the work produced as a result of the workshop, and consider how nature is revealed in these pieces. Look out for these new posts on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week! On Friday, we are excited to share the participants’ work as a pamphlet, which is free to download and circulate. Via the downloadable PDF, you can read both the unique handwritten versions, alongside a typed copy for ease of reference. Keep an eye out on the Land Lines website this week for more news and posts!
by Lucy Rowland
Images used with kind permission from Rebecca Lowe and Ben Anson (Caring Together)