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Creative Lockdown - A New Project Emerges

Having kept in contact with many other writers through the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown via Social Media, I can see that creative output has differed vastly for different people. Some writers have been inspired by the world’s troubles to create a record of these unique times, or having found themselves with extra time, are putting it to good use working on their writing and sending pieces out for publication. Many have published and promoted books in ways they never dreamed of, utilising online resources to reach audiences staying at home.

I am firmly in the camp whose creativity has been dampened by the pandemic. I don’t know whether it’s that kind of swelling background anxiety or whether my mind has simply been elsewhere, but I found myself unable to write for many of the early weeks of lockdown. Sometimes I do have a ‘drought’ of sorts, but in the run up, I’d been very productive via necessity for my MFA, and all of a sudden I hit a brick wall. Ideas petered out in my mind before they became fully developed, and I just didn’t have the will to pick up a pen and write.

I finally managed to write a poem to submit to a competition, but, being now very unsure of myself, sent it to a trusted friend to make sure I hadn’t forgotten how to write a poem in the preceding weeks! A few weeks later I wrote a poem about Wolverhampton in response to the Poets, Prattlers and Pandemonialists’ ‘Stay Up Your Own End’ project. I felt like I was tiptoeing back into writing, but I was proud of myself for finishing something.

At first, I saw others creating and inspiring others, and I felt bad – useless, and frustrated. Even the reassuring memes stating ‘it’s OK not to be creating in a global pandemic’ didn’t help, because others were able to. Others who had more responsibilities and busier lives than me. Isn’t it damaging to compare ourselves to those around us? I’ve written about this before, and how it plays on insecurities. I’ve spent some time meditating on this in the past few weeks, and I’m OK with it. I’m pleased that many writers were able to carry the torch for us in recent weeks – contributing to a rapidly-changing creative landscape, recording these life-changing events, and encouraging others to keep on. I’ve tried to submit as much work as I can to journals and websites, and I’m thrilled to have some publications upcoming over the summer.

When lockdown was announced, I was about to begin work on a project with my publisher, Offa’s Press, to run a series of workshops about life in the countryside, with a view to compiling an anthology to collate poetic responses. We were due to hold a walking and writing workshop on Cannock Chase in early June, looking at the Brindley Village area, and how people used this land before Cannock Chase became an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It’s a fascinating topic, and it’s no secret I love the landscapes and history of Cannock Chase, so I was disappointed when lockdown meant the workshop had to be cancelled.

Broken down remains of a building underneath a dark laurel bush
Foundations of the former buildings at Brindley Village

Luckily, Offa’s Press is no stranger to diversification, and we’ve decided to host the workshop another way – online, as a ‘self-managed’ activity (as opposed to a live online event). Once the lockdown restrictions on travelling to exercise were relaxed, I was so glad to be able to immerse myself in Brindley Village, mapping out a walking route and taking lots of notes about the plants and animals I saw – not to mention a slew of photos! I also did lots of background reading about the WWI hospital which stood there, and the subsequent conversion of the buildings to miners’ dwellings. Simon Fletcher (Manager of Offa’s Press) and I have spent the last few weeks compiling resources for a flashy new website to inspire attendees to get writing.

The homepage of the 'In The Sticks' project website
The 'In The Sticks' webpage

If we were going ahead with the workshop in person, we’d have taken the group on a walk around the area, then settled down to read through poems which engage with our theme, and had a go at writing something ourselves. Luckily, with this new site, you can still do all this, but in your own time and at your own pace! We’ve got information about the history of the area, suggestions of where you can park and walk to take in the sights, writing prompts to get you thinking, and poems which explore the concept of ‘Changing Landscapes’ – some set on Cannock Chase itself. Even if you’re shielding, we’ve got plenty of info and photographs to get those creative juices flowing from the comfort of your own home.

A bumble bee gathers pollen from a bramble flower
There's plenty of wildlife to see on Cannock Chase

It’s been a long, hard lockdown for creatives – even those who’ve managed to keep creating. I hope that this project can spark some inspiration – especially for anyone who’s been stuck in a rut with their poetry lately. From today, you’re able to access the ‘In The Sticks’ website. Why not take a look through the material and see if inspiration strikes?  

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