Ann Sansom is Writing Tutor at Doncaster Women's Centre. Her book of poetry, Romance, is published by Bloodaxe. She has previously published three small press collections and has written and directed two plays for Yorkshire Women's Theatre. She has been writing tutor for the Arvon Foundation, the WEA, Lindholme Prison and Kirklees Community Writing Programme.
In 1999 Derbyshire County Council Libraries & Heritage Department conducted a programme to actively promote poetry to new audiences in Derbyshire through a series of poetry readings and creative writing workshops in libraries across the county. This placement, dedicated to audience development, took poet Ann Sansome out to new audiences in the Chesterfield Library area. She reports below on her work with children, teenagers and adults in a variety of settings.
This was a week-long residency, with a varied brief, and whose overriding aim was to bring poetry to new audiences. Well, it did that, though not perhaps as we expected.
Day one was in two local residential homes. Workshops were scheduled, though there seemed some confusion when we arrived, and writing was impracticable. After some discussion, we hit on something which gave real enjoyment - reading poems that they knew and could join in with: Thomas Hood's 'I Remember, I Remember', for instance. And they did remember, and were taken back in some cases eighty years, by the music, the rhythms and still-vivid imagery. It's easy to overlook this aspect of poetry, poems learned by heart that live with you, and retrievable when so much else is gone. In both homes, librararians were surprised by the residents' enthusiasm for the idea of poetry tapes being put on the mobile library.
Tuesday was a local youth centre on an estate which, evidently - since no-one seemed keen to actually name it - is notorious. Luckily, it's a gem of a centre, very well-run with lots of practical ideas (that the kids actually want) and almost certainly run on a shoe-string. I did do a writing workshop there, and it was a success: the kids surprised themselves, having never written poems before.
Wednesday morning was a WEA writers' group, normally run by Diana Syder and thriving; it was a pleasure to do. The afternoon was a reading and discussion at a branch library. There's a Stanley Cook poem, 'Reading Poems on Sheffield to Four Old Ladies' which opens, 'After a poem or two, I was the audience...'. As with Cook's poem, it was enjoyable and enlightening (for me, at least). And we did talk about how poems come to get written, where they come from. 'I've always wanted to know,' a man at an adjoining table threw in, where 'No, no, no November' comes from. Memory fresh from Monday, I could tell him with confidence Thomas Hood.
Thursday was the highlight of the week. A writing morning in a children's ward. They'd not had a writer in the Royal Infirmary before, but were willing to try anything. I hope they get more poets in. The children were still writing when I left. The afternoon was a workshop with the Children's Bookclub. Numbers were limited to twenty but twenty-four turned up anyway, and wrote their socks off for two hours.
Friday. Moorside writers' group meet in the library. They know what they're doing but are open to new ideas; again, a pleasure to read and write with them. In the evening I gave a reading, which was well-attended and appreciative. No-one asked about Thomas Hood, but they did unveil their Poetry Places Plaque.
Saturday was an all-day workshop. Again, well-attended and enthusiastic. When I left they were planning to set up an on-going evening writers' group. Nice to leave on a high.
It was a varied week; from the ninety-odd year old who had most of Wordsworth by heart to the small boy with the broken arm and legs who wrote in praise of his prize conker, the old hands with their neat folders and the beginners who dropped in to see what was going on and stayed. Some in awe of poetry, some suspicious. I think it worked.
- Ann Sansom