This week, we are playing host to a guest blogger, Kimwei McCarthy, Grand Bard of Exeter. He’s here to tell us how he’s been creating during lockdown; and about an exciting new project starting later this month. A project that also involves at least one member of Chudleigh Writers, or maybe more.
“Tell me, have you ever been to a creative writing workshop, whilst knowing for sure that some of your writing will be broadcast on BBC Radio Devon? No, me neither, but that’s exactly what’s going to be happening at my soon-to-be launched Band of Bards workshop. They will take place fortnightly on Tuesday evenings, online and every workshop you attend will give you the chance to contribute some words towards my BBC Radio Devon spoken word piece, which will be broadcast on Sarah Gosling’s Arts and Culture show later that week.
I’ve been serving as Sarah Gosling’s poet in residence for a year now, writing spoken word pieces, stories and songs to reflect on our lives during this pandemic—which I affectionately refer to as the most stressful sitting-on-the-sofa in the history of mankind.
When the pandemic began I thought to myself “this is just such a historic time—surely a Bard would be writing about this!” So I did. I sat down and wrote my first piece, entitled Today’s Calls. It was all about the varying experiences I was hearing from different people who I was chatting to on Skype at the time. All on the same day I found myself speaking to somebody who was lonely, and someone who was having the time of their life, and finally someone whose father just died from Covid. I thought “it’s amazing how we’re all having the same experience—lockdown—but in very different ways. It’s like we’re more together and more apart than we’ve ever been.” I offered the piece to Radio Devon and Sarah Gosling picked it up. After that I wrote to record something for her Arts and Culture show every two weeks, writing and recording just the day before broadcast. Looking back I’m quite surprised that I managed it for a whole year, but it just didn’t seem to work to try and begin to write any sooner than a day before the broadcast, because things changed so quickly. Sometimes I’d wake up in the morning and find a new announcement had been made that day, about a vaccination or a change in the restrictions, or the death toll, and I’d write about that.
In my pieces so far, I’ve always tried to include as many different people’s stories as possible. A few days before I planned to do my writing I’d always start asking people about their experiences that week. What have they rushed out to do as soon as lockdown eased? Did they get a haircut, or an ice cream? What did they want most for Christmas? What new skill had they learned because of the lockdown—from baking banana bread to recognising the postman at 100 paces? I like to work their stories into my Radio Devon broadcasts, to help people feel more together and less alone; help them know that whatever they were going through someone else was going through the same thing, right here in the same county.
What’s going to be amazing about my new series of creative writing workshops, is that anyone who comes to the workshops gets the chance to submit something they write during the session for me to include in my Radio Devon piece on that week. That’s why I’m calling it Band of Bards—we’ll be a community, creating something together, reflecting on what feels real and immediate for us on that day, and pouring out onto the page and THEN getting a voice to speak back to the people of Devon through the medium of radio. To me that’s magic. To me this is what being bard is about. It’s ok if you’ve never written a word of poetry in your life—your voice counts and your story counts. All you need is a desire to express yourself in a safe and encouraging space with other creative souls. We’ll do 90 minutes of writing activities and create a collective poem to finish with.
Did you know that a bard can be storyteller, a songsmith or a poet, but that really bards used to be all three? Telling stories used to be natural to ordinary people, not just those who were considered “professional”. Everyone used to sit around the fire and sing songs, tell each other stories—that’s how folktales grew. That’s why the Band of Bards creative writing workshops are important to me—together we can rekindle the tradition of creating beautiful poems out of our experience, as a creative and vibrant community.
Who better than to co-facilitate the first workshop with me than Jackie Juno! Jackie is not only a multiple poetry slam winner (Glastonbury Festival, Plymouth Literary Festival) and National Poetry Slam finalist, she is also an experienced workshop leader and served as Grand Bard of Exeter before me. It’s an honour to have her as guest co-facilitator for the opening workshop on Tuesday May 25th.
Jackie and I looking forward to welcoming you to the Band of Bards.”
Kimwei (he/him) Grand Bard of Exeter