The woman at the workshop


I am at a thing. Not a famous thing, but an important one nevertheless. People are there, people you and I have not heard of and who sustain the remarkable gift of the poetic culture we all take for granted.

Readers. Writers. Passionate people, quietly going about their business of not wanting to become famous but nevertheless making poems to the best of their delight and their reading, with as much joy as possible, while they have time.

There is no higher calling.

I can say most things with irony, but not that.

I have designed the thing for intimacy. Tables and chairs are in a circle, and us arranged around them, looking in, at each other. It is not an accident.

And the thing in question could not be more intimate. How we exist in these bodies, what we do (and say) when they become frail, give up, die. And what we say about that, and how, if ever.

We talk about two of my favourite poets, Julia Darling and Tony Hoagland, and one of my favourite poems, Alison Mosquera’s still astonishing ‘Tamoxifen‘.

I don’t say very much about Julia Darling, except to mention that her poem has a teacup in it, and a shawl. How amazing, I say, the gift of choosing to look around you with sufficient awareness to notice the ‘gift’ in everything, even though you are dying.

We move on.

Apparently meatier things take our fancy: Tony Hoagland’s relationship with his doctor(s) and his mother; Alison Mosquera’s still astonishing extended metaphor of the elephant (in the room?) of cancer. Outside there is wind and sunlight and in here it is warm.

None of us is being shot at but it feels deadly serious, the words that we are saying to each other, who only met half an hour ago. Poetry does this.

The poems, of course, are remarkable. Not because of anything I have done, but because there is a sudden collective (and silent) decision to cut through what could be said to that which is most essential. The truth, if you will. Not one of is ‘disclosing’ anything, but in a sense we have known each other all of our lives.

Poetry can do this.

Two days later, at another thing, a woman from the workshop comes up to me. In her hand is an envelope. She hands it to me. ‘If you don’t mind,’ she says. ‘It was what you said at the workshop. About Julia Darling’s shawl. It gave me the way in to finishing this poem I’ve had on the go for two years. I suddenly realised it needed to be about a kimono, and not my ‘health’. Would you read it for me, please?’

‘It would be a pleasure,’ I say.

When I am asked to give an account of my life, I will mention this story: that one wet autumn weekend (with sunlight) I drove six hundred miles where I met a woman who wrote a poem about a kimono, and that she said thank you.

Poetry can do this.



  1. What a lovely post – it makes me feel so privileged to be part of these ‘things’ and to begin to understand the importance of poetry in my life. Thank you for sharing your passion.


  2. “Poetry can do this.” “cut through what could be said to that which is most essential.” Yes. Thanks Anthony for saying this. And for doing it here in your blog posts over and over again.


  3. For me you say perfectly what writing should be – always, in all circumstances. Nothing famous but soemthing passionate and joyous. I knew Julia, she helped inspire and encourage me, thank you for remembering her here


  4. First I’ll brush away the tears and then I’ll gather myself to say “thank you” for this amazing post which went straight to my soul. The shawl, the tea cup, the kimono. We can never know how or where our words reach others or what use they make of them, but be assured this post reached a woman lost in a wilderness, alone and with little left but hope, a book of poems, and a cup of good tea. Which may, if she’s lucky, be quite enough. Thank you so much for the gift, Anthony.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Anthony

    I read Julia Darling’s volumes of poetry several years ago and was profoundly impressed by them. She deserves to be much better known.
    She was also extremely brave whilst dealing with terminal cancer.

    Best wishes from Simon


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