I can’t believe it is three years since I got to hang out with you at Totleigh Barton observing you and Mike. Though that particular project has come to an end, I wanted to let you know how much of a privilege I found it to sit in on your teaching sessions, both the full workshops and the one-to-one tutorials.
I learned so much from the way that you conducted yourself in every part of that week, a performance I am still relishing, an influence and outlook on art-making and the creative life that still courses through my veins every day.
I loved the way that you introduced each poem at the workshops. The little one-liners about how you came across the poem for the first time, or which book it was from, or something the poet had once said to you. I loved that. It seems to me that most of us in the poetry game carry with us a storehouse of such anecdote, information and lived responses to poems, so what I found refreshing and enlivening was the way that you strove to make this as visible as possible to the assembled participants, nearly all of whom did not see themselves as writers let alone inhabitants of planet poetry.
The one-to-ones were no less instructive. In contrast to what happens in writing workshops, which in their nature are so public, I think most of what goes on in these more intimate teaching sessions receives much less attention. I am not sure why that is. (I could speculate. But this isn’t about me.) I think a lot of your strength as a teacher is to do with tone, the way that you give praise and advice and make suggestions and proposed cuts being as important as the actual teaching itself. I think smiling has a lot to do with it. And you have one of the best. And laughter. Plus, you make it look effortless. I think of great dancers, great singers, who just by pausing and breathing in the right places seem to make the space around them grow and fill with light.
As I say, the particular project that brought me close-up into your orbit is over, but your influence is with me all the time. I am so grateful to have had that chance to sit on in the inside of your process (I nearly said magic, but hesitate because I know you would roll your eyes at the word). Thank you for hosting us with such good grace, humour and wisdom. I feel the world of poetry owes you a living. We are lucky to have you. Without poets like you, what are its chances in this world? You are one of the best.
In admiration and as ever with love,