An Uphill Struggle

Open Book Cape Town

Session Two of the #Writing My City workshop at Suiderstrand Library.

I was excited and quite optimistic about how it would go, particularly since after the initial struggle of the first session, we had finished up with heads down, writing.

I’d done lots of preparation, including finding what I thought was accessible material for my little group of (principally) Afrikaans-speaking ladies. I had a photo-prompt, some poems to read and a ‘kick-off’ worksheet.

Oh, and I’d brought cake.

Everything was prepared; my laptop was poised ready to play the You Tube clips. Slowly-slowly the group members dragged themselves in. We greeted each other, then they crawled around on the floor finding sockets where they could charge their phones. We assembled around the table with our coffee and biscuits.

We had a little recap. Had anyone continued writing? Just the one willing woman. The one who’s really keen. Okay, that was expected.

So, I explained, I’ve found some Afrikaans poetry, written by a guy from the Cape back in the Days of the Struggle. He’s called Adam Small. It’s good stuff!

O oppas, oppas performed by Veronique Jephtas.
[Now I’d thought it was engaging, even though I understood about one word in ten].

Blank looks all round. I handed out the copies of the poem and tried to get them to translate. A few words were squeezed out. Maybe it was a bit before their time… maybe it wasn’t my place… I don’t know.

So I picked up another of his poems: ‘The Poet, Who is he?‘ Here’s the rough translation:

The poet
Who’s he?
You all have so much to say about the poet
But who’s he?
Is he really what you think?

The guy with the pen and the ink
who sits in his study and thinks out poems?

No
You’re all mistaken
Not him

But you’re the poets
You, guys who walk in the street
And gossip
And see things
And point them out and let God know

The point being… you are the poets!
Refer back to the success of the rapper. You can do it!

For my final flourish, I played one of Veronique Jephtas’ own pieces of performance poetry. Warning: strong language.

Break through! They enjoyed this. We talked about the role of women, their place in society etc. It was really interesting, but their supervisor from Social Development urged against pursuing their vulnerable feelings. Fair enough. I’d thought of that for Part Two. 

Cake Break

For the second half I used a photo prompt. A recent one from the lovely Hélène Vaillant’s Willow Poetry: ‘What do you see?

000000 helen valliant photo prompt for 13 Many

The little boy hiding behind a tree. I explained that the poems we were about to read were inspired by the photo. You can use anything to get yourself writing.

I gave them copies of the following and we read them together.
Thanks for your poetry!

Hide and Seek by Von Smith

Childhood Problems by Susan Zutautas 

Lost by Christine Bolton

The one ‘willing woman’ and Bongi, the Head Librarian, took up the discussion about the poems with me. Some of the others also participated. We had engagement. 

For this last part of the morning I wanted to take them back to an earlier, happy memory. I shared one of mine. Of being in my grandma’s kitchen…

Think about an early memory, something happy.

Now perhaps you’d like to write something? You don’t have to read it out. Think about that memory: Where are you? Who’s with you? What can you see? What does it look like? What can you hear? What does it sound like? Smells are very important to memories. What can you smell? Describe it. What can you feel when you put out your hand? What do you feel inside? What can you taste? What happened? What were you thinking? What did you do? (I gave them each a worksheet with the headings).

And then they all put away their phones and started writing. And continued writing. 

Continue for homework if you would like to.

We’ll see.

 

 

 

 

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11 thoughts on “An Uphill Struggle

  1. Wonderful that one continued to write in her spare time! I’m sure more will follow suit in time.
    Interesting that the supervisor didn’t encourage them to pursue their vulnerable feelings – wouldn’t writing be an ideal way to process their negative emotions?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think she’s being a bit overprotective of them. She wasn’t at the first session when we did have quite a useful chat about writing as therapy. There are a lot of mixed messages flying about and it’s quite hard to unpick what’s going on at the moment. We do have a social worker coming next time, so I might try to explore the idea further while we have the right sort of professional in attendance.

      Like

  2. I can truly say I feel for you! I have “been there and done that” so many times, those “blank looks” from students are the worst! But that’s from 12-14 year olds…I can only imagine it’s worse with adults. But it sounds like you are doing everything you can to create meaningful lessons. Maybe they are just too shy to share and interact as expected? Anyway keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

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