Saturday, 22 February 2020

Teaching Kids and Creative Writing

My poems 'Hare Moon' and 'The Postscript' have been published in issue 89 of Obsessed with Pipework. Thanks so much to the Charles and Katerina for making such a lovely issue and for taking the time to ship it to my far corner of Europe. My kids were excited to see my name in the issue and hear me read one of the poems out, they don't usually get to see my writing. Though my son said it didn't rhyme, so I'll need to spend some time working on his poetry knowledge.

I've had a couple of chances to teach creative writing to kids here in Finland as part of my substituting. I recently had to whip up a quick lesson when a teacher accidentally made a mistake in her lesson plans and asked me to teach the same lesson I had taught her class the week before. I gave them three vague prompts about aliens, sports, holidays and asked them to focus on 'to be verbs' which our lesson was covering. Some students wrote their one page dutifully, but showed very little excitement because it was just another assignment, but the wee group of boys who had been keeping me on my toes all week took a while getting into it. I forgot how much I enjoy watching kids enjoy writing.

I could see it, the fire behind their eyes as ideas began to grow, as words filled page after page. They didn't want to go out to break, they wanted to continue writing after they finished their required work in the next lesson. One asked if I could publish their work. If only. That's why I used to teach creative writing, to see that excitement. Even my teaching assistant was surprised that these particular kids, who struggled with school, who didn't read according to her, were able to find the imagination to come up with stories that they wanted to write and share. It can be a challenge to find a way to kick start their interest, but there's usually a way if you can take the time to work with them. I hope it get to use my skills more during the rest of this year. 

I found out I can't do the course that would allow me to get a teaching certificate here. I don't have enough credits in Linguistics. So that has whittled my course choices down to the SEN course and the Vocational Teachers certificate which is only good for high school and above. I've applied for both, though the SEN course is being held up as we wait for an approval letter from my main school. I don't know if I can do both time-wise and continue subbing, but I can try. I'll look into a linguistic course too, maybe.

This sort of teaching wasn't my goal years ago, I loved being a Creative Writing teacher and editor, but that's just not possible here. I'm having to adapt to the country and language I live in and to my current abilities and training. Maybe if I can get this Vocational Teacher degree, I can teach some adult classes in Creative Writing. But in the end, with four kids and the need to get myself independent, I need to look at more stable careers. With more and more graduates in Creative Writing, getting permanent teaching positions without a degree in Creative Writing is becoming harder and harder. (Something to consider if you're looking at taking a course.) So becoming a primary school teacher or something similar has to be seriously considered. 

I'm sitting here on another wild, rainy weekend, contemplating what to do next. I've been editing all week, first for paid work and also my own poems. I'm waiting on decisions on the two courses I've applied to and booking classes as a sub. I'm looking at jobs here in Finland and in the UK, though recent immigration laws will make it pretty impossible for me to move back there. I want to write new poems, but my brain has seized up. I'm trying not to worry about the uncertainty of my life because next week will be all new. I want to embrace that potential. 

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Stepping Up

I've said several times on these pages that I needed to be brave and do more poetry readings here in Finland. I've also mentioned the yearly poetry event here in Helsinki, Runokuu, Poetry Moon. I've been unable to motivate myself to actually take any steps forward to organise a reading for myself, so Runokuu has been nice enough to make an online application form for this year's event. 

I'm still trying to convince some of the poets and spoken word writers in my writing group to do a larger event with me, but I've applied individually to promote my chapbook which will hopefully be published this summer. It's not a guaranteed event, but I'm happy that Runokuu has opened this process to make it easier to apply. The form is in English and Finnish which is a relief as I think the one year I managed to write an email in English to the organisation, offering my help in whatever way they saw fit, I never received a response, possibly because of the language. 

Besides my group this week, sketching out the beginning of a poem in one of my breaks and submitting to one journal, I haven't managed much poetry-related. Besides Twitter. I have filled my Twitter feed with a mix of magazines, established and emergent writers. Some just comment on the world, many promote their books and readings, some post snippets of their writing, some post poems written by others that they love. I enjoy the latter most. I don't buy as many poetry collections as I should and getting them in the local libraries here is almost impossible if they were written after Shakespeare. So reading online journals and poems selected by other writers is my way of keeping in touch with the poetry world and the writers I enjoy. I can fit it into small pockets of time or scroll by if I don't want to head down a specific rabbit hole. 

It's the skiing holiday break here in Finland. There's been no real snow in Southern Finland this year and we're getting pummeled by the tail end of Storm Dennis, so it's still a very wet, black winter/ spring here. 

But I'm relieved to not be teaching for a spell. I have two editing jobs to finish this week which is exciting and exhausting. I've spent this weekend reading a virology doctoral thesis out loud to make sure I understand as much as I can and don't miss any grammar issues because I don't understand what is being explained. I'm learning a lot, but my eyes, throat and brain are tired. I've broken the back of both projects, so hopefully I'll be able to turn to poetry a little more as the week goes on. 

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Slow Unwinding in February

It's been a slow writing week. No writing group due to childcare issues, no publications. One very positive acceptance and a handful of submissions I managed to get out. I managed to find a pocket or two of time to work on some unfinished poems. 

I've also bit the bullet and sent an application to do a reading into a local poetry event. I've tried to convince some of the other poets from my group to do a larger reading, but there have been no takers so far so I put in an individual application. I think we'll have a better chance to pull more of a crowd and get accepted if we could do a longer set with more people, but I'm happy to be added to another programme or do a short one on my own. Well, maybe not happy, scared silly is more apt, but I'll give it a go, if I get a chance.

I took a bit of time to read another Hedgehog Poetry publication The Legend of the Kettle Daughter by Amy Alexander. Accompanied by the author's artwork, the poems tell the story of the Kettle Daughter, Alexander's mother, through the imagery of Utah, moving between a cabin in the mountains to Salt Lake City and back again. 

The Kettle Daughter's daughter tries to unravel the mythology and family stories to understand what haunts her mother and in turn herself. 

'I existed, an audience
as she spoke everything
into myth,'


I was intrigued by these poems' slow opening, like moving hesitantly through a dim lit room. They pulled me to follow the threads they lay through the rooms with words and images to better understand the stories. The fine webs between them caught me, but lead me on carefully from one poem to the next. This is a collection I will have to reread several times to feel I've really followed everything, one that builds up in my mind as I traverse it again and again, but it's definitely worth the time.

The various Hedgehog collections I've managed to read, and I have a good pile left from the two Cult deliveries I've received, have each been their own creature. I couldn't put my finger on what kind of poem and poet Hedgehog prefers, no house style. Each book has their own appeal and strengths. I've found treasures in each pamphlet. As a future Hedgehog writer this is reassuring. Hopefully, I will fit because I have my own voice and my stories are strong enough to stand on their own.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

A Bright Light on a Dark Brexit Day

I haven't had any time to commit to writing this week. I've been subbing full time, trying to sort applications for courses and I've been chasing a new editing client and continuing a project with a previous client. 

But Friday evening, Brexit Day, I managed to stay awake past dinner and go to my writing group for the first time in three weeks. It was great to see the regulars, catch up with a returnee I haven't seen in a year or so and meet the newbie. I shared a couple of poems I liked, but knew weren't quite working and got helpful feedback, so hopefully I'll find some time this weekend to tweak them. 

I forget how much I enjoy the camaraderie of other writers, especially foreign writers here in Finland. We're a good mix of nations, last night there were British, American, Hungarian, Romanian and Jamaican writers attending. We usually have a Finn or two as well. We went out for a drink afterwards, to talk shop, politics and just generally blether. We may not agree on everything politically and I was grateful the conversation did not turn to Brexit, but I feel we can actually debate and break open subjects that touch on writing, teaching, literature and being immigrants.

Though the other writers and I are on different paths in our writing careers, there are few poets in the group, it's nice to have a small community to share worries, successes and struggles. If someone asks, how do you decide when a piece is finished, there are lots of different points of view and stories shared, poems that get rehashed to death, stories that never get finished. They understand. I'm so glad I've managed to find this in a place where I can't properly engage with the local literature because my language skills just aren't up to it. Even if I can't make it every week, I know it's there when I have time. 

I'm not sure how Brexit will change things in the UK, in Scotland specifically and here in Finland. There's this sense of dread over the social media posts from my Scottish friends back home, from the British immigrants I know here. The closed minds that have initiated Brexit are having their moment, but I hope that some sort of balance will quickly be established.  I hope Scotland gets independence. I hope the hate that started all this doesn't continue to gain momentum in the UK and in Europe.

I'm not British, not European, but my children are. They don't understand Brexit and what is being taken away from them, but I do. They don't see borders, nationalities, they don't worry about immigration regulations, residence permits. Finland, Europe is their home. They have Finnish friends and friends from all around the world and they don't separate them except by which language they speak. If asked, they don't know if they're British or Finnish or where their friends' families are originally from and don't see why it would be a concern. I want to keep that acceptance. I want them to find a place, a group of people where it doesn't matter where they're from, but they can share a common passion in their interests. 

Only time will tell.