A few months ago, I attended a poetry workshop which was part of the Suffolk Poetry Festival, and which I only knew about because the leader of my wonderful ACW local group sent around the flyer to see if we could manage to go together. All sorts of events were available over the space of a Saturday, right next door to me in Stowmarket: how did I miss that?!
As I scanned down the list, I noticed that one of the workshops was led by Gregory Warren Wilson. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the name: I had to run to my bookshelf to make sure that I’d recognised it correctly. I found the slim, yellow book I was looking for and read the signature in the front. Sure enough, this was the poet who, nearly twenty years ago, read my poems when they were mostly teenage drivel, and didn't seem put off - in fact he made notes on each of them, and met up with me and my cello teacher in a little cafe in Sevenoaks to go through them one by one. My reason for booking the workshop was therefore partly because the subject matter sounded great, and partly because I wanted to thank him for what he'd done all those years ago.
His workshop, on poetry and music, was wonderful. In time-limited tasks, we played with rhythm and its effect of language. My favourite exercise was to ‘translate’ a poem from a language nobody in the group knew, going only by the rhythm, line breaks and sound of the words to discern meaning.
I introduced myself to Gregory afterwards, and explained to him that in 1999, my cello teacher had passed him a folder of my poetry as they sat together in orchestra.
"Did I respond?" he asked.
When I gratefully told him that he'd done much, much more than merely respond, but had actually annotated the dreadful poetry with sincere and helpful advice and then met up with me and gone through every poem, he said something that stuck in my mind afterwards and has been playing around in my head ever since.
"Oh, I'm so glad I did; because someone did the same for me, before my voice was really formed. A poet I respected read my poetry before it deserved to be seen, and I've always been grateful for her generosity."
It's that phrase 'before it deserved to be seen' that has been humming in my mind like a persistent tune. It resonates with another familiar phrase, from the Communion service:
‘When we were still far off, you met us in your son…’
A sort of poet-to-poet, paying-it-forward version of grace.
In the Association of Christian Writers, especially in the local groups, we share rough work with each other, and learn to be gently critical. These days, although I'm more confident that I have developed a 'voice', I know I still need extravagant kindness when sharing work for the first time - especially as I tend to be sharing it with the excellent poets in my local group! But I have also taken this lesson to heart: the next time somebody tentatively shows me something 'before it deserves to be seen' I hope I can remember to be as gracious and generous in acknowledging their gift and their identity as a writer, as somebody once was for me.
Amy Robinson, the publicity officer for ACW, is a writer, performance storyteller and ventriloquist, and the children’s worker in her benefice.
She has written three books about puppetry and storytelling, published by Kevin Mayhew, and provides scripts and materials for GenR8, a Cambridgeshire charity running Christian assemblies and events in schools.
Amy co-founded the storytelling company Snail Tales, with which she still writes and performs. In her spare time, she writes poetry and makes attempts at novels. She lives in a rectory in Suffolk with the rector, two children, two guinea pigs and too many puppets to count.