Writer in Residence Presents
22 Feb 2021
By Joe Smith
The Paisley Book Festival is a very young event, only in its second year. One of the most exciting aspects of this year’s Festival is the fact that, for the first time, it has its very own writer in residence, Imogen Stirling. Sunday afternoons’, Writer in Residence Presents, was a chance for her to elucidate on what her role entails, how she has gone about her job, and what results have emerged from this wonderful opportunity.
The remit of Writer in Resident was three-fold. Firstly, it had a strong focus on community engagement, built around a series of creative workshops. Lockdown restrictions meant that the workshops had to take place online. Secondly, the role involved event curation of aspects of the Festival itself. Thirdly, Imogen was tasked with producing a creative response to the post, which will be presented as part of the Festival and will take place on Friday at 7pm.
Imogen spoke fondly about her online community engagement with the creative workshops. Although they were a diverse group, they shared a great deal in common. All of the community participants had encountered challenges through the pandemic and, as well as experiencing collective hardship, all of them shared in common a high degree of compassion for others, a great deal of gratitude and an acknowledgement of small fortunes. A central theme of this event was the meaning of ‘Radicalism’ and participants were invited to reflect on what this concept meant for them.
Community participation took the form of several groups, six of which participated in this session. The first group to present their work was U3A (University of the 3rd Age). The theme presented by this group revolved around the perceived age and generation gap experienced in lockdown. The group crafted a collective poem called Your Future is Still Waiting, the sentiment of which was to reach out to young people, aiming to offer wisdom and hope. This was a fabulous collective effort from three women who had never written creatively before, with their contributions touching on themes of chaos, boredom, loneliness, but with considerable optimism for the future. When asked about their interpretation of the meaning of ‘radicalism’ the U3A participants agreed on notions of a fairer and more equitable world, made possible only through the engagement of both the young and the old.
The next group to participate represented the Disability Resource Centre, with five women presenting individual poems reflecting on their own pandemic experiences. These inspirational works covered a range of issues that included escapism, hope and the value of friendship, even in times of imposed social distance.
Norma from the West End Growing Grounds Association read her touching poem ‘On the Beach ‘and the Script to Stage group, one of the few with previous writing experience, made an excellent job presenting a challenging style known as Univocal Poetry. Next up was Paisley Book Festival blogger Natalie, whose poetry was perhaps the most accomplished among work of a very high standard. Her three river-themed poems were exquisite, she is a real talent and definitely one to watch. Natalie’s Radical New Future is bound up with hope, ‘what can we gain, what can we do, what still matters, and what is essential?’
The final piece, the Writer’s recital, was Donna’s optimistic and uplifting poem of great beauty called Daffodils. Donna’s definition of radicalism was for me the most insightful. Radicalism, she said, is a weighted concept. People think of protest and class struggle, and of holding power to account, but as the COVID pandemic has shown capitalism isn’t broken - it is working perfectly well. The pandemic has shown that capitalism was never designed to bring about equality, fairness and justice. In Donna’s future, kindness is radical.
Imogen’s concluding section of the event also served to outline her up-coming in-put to the Book Festival. This includes Imogen's Big Night In, with Dean Atta, Iona Lee and Emme Woods - Feb. 22, 2021, 9 p.m. and Radicalism in Stillness: Imogen Stirling in conversation with Sarah Grant, Feb. 26, 2021, 7 p.m., where Imogen will be debuting her own creative work.
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