Trace Online Mentoring Scheme

Poets:

W.N. Herbert, working with mentor Andy Oldfield.
WN Herbert's most recent poetry collections include The Laurelude (Bloodaxe 1998); Cabaret McGonagall (Bloodaxe 1996); and Forked Tongue (Bloodaxe 1994). He won Scottish Arts Council Book Awards for all three Bloodaxe Books; Poetry Book Society Recommendations (Forked Tongue, Laurelude); Northern Arts Awards (Forked Tongue, Cabaret McGonagall); New Generation title for Forked Tongue; subject of South Bank Show New Generation programme; various poems filmed and broadcast (BBC 2, Channel 4, Radios 3 & 4); and he wrote and presented 'Dour Fun', programme about Dundee for STV.

Martin Glynn, working with mentor Leonie Winton.
Martin Glynn has worked with Education and Arts establishments in North America, The Caribbean, Europe, and extensively in the UK, developing literature initiatives, producing and directing performances. As an established Arts Development Consultant he assisted in the formulation and implementation of policy initiatives, ranging from youth theatre to writers' schemes. His most recent poetry collections include Ancestral Whispers (Triangle Press - 1993) and Griot Excursion (Shomari Productions - 1995), and poems published in anthologies including Unzip your lips (Macmillan - 1998) and Dear Future (Macmillan - 1999).

Elizabeth James, working with mentor Simon Mills
Elizabeth James has had poems published in (print) magazines and anthologies, several small-press pamphlets, and the collection 1 : 50 000 - sixteen short poems (Vennel Press, 1992). Her poetry and sound works for radio, made in collaboration with Jane Draycott, have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3; Engaged magazine; and by Independent Radio Drama Productions. She also writes reviews and catalogue essays on contemporary art. She is a creative writing tutor at Reading University's Centre for Continuing Education, and a librarian at the National Art Library, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Background

This pilot scheme provided a chance for poets to increase their internet skills via email mentoring for 12 weeks. Poets were asked to keep an online journal of the progress of their learning, and then attended a day-long conference (see Poetry in Cyberspace) to evaluate the experience. Skills were developed in the areas of:

  • Building a website
  • Creating hypertext
  • Collaborative writing
  • Writing in MOOs and other text-based virtual worlds
  • Using specific software packages
  • Exploring cyberculture

Writers' Journals

 


 

Report: Creating a website as a resource for black writers

Martin Glynn, poet & playright

I feel personally I had a very emotional traumatic journey doing my stuff, in a real sense; I'll explain why in a minute. I was very resistant - when I was first asked to look at this I didn't want to get involved. I'm a storyteller, I've been in the African oral tradition for 20 years, I've worked in about 2000 schools, I've worked extensively in prison. Basically I've worked with a lot of people that society has forgotten, that's who I work with. I've been performing poetry for 20-odd years, I've travelled around the world with it... So poetry for me is a way of life. It's not something I do; it's a way of life. My work has been translated for Radio 4, so I've worked in radio and I've used sound as a medium to promote poetry. I also write film & TV scripts; when you're writing dialogue for a TV show, you're writing pure poetry in many respects. So, fortunately for me, I've engaged with the visual medium.

But I have to say that when I came into contact with the possibility of doing something on-line I had a lot of scepticism. On my journal - it took me 5 weeks to actually do anything on-line. If you read my journal (link) I was really depressed; after the first two weeks I wanted to give up. Couldn't do it. After an initial period of trepidation frustration and insecurity, I managed to navigate the terrain of the internet. When I uploaded my first piece, I'm telling you, it was like constipation. The euphoric feeling of actually doing something was amazing.

I have to say when I came to this, it took me ages. For me it was traumatic because I got very frustrated, I wanted to give up; the thing that I want to say is that Sue and Leonie have the one ingredient that hasn't been talked about this morning, and that is patience. When I wanted to just throw in the towel I forgot that my status in the Black community is quite high and therefore a lot of people depend on me, and I was willing to walk away from it which meant that - because I work with people that you lot don't see: I work with guys serving life, I work with kids who sell crack, I work with so many Black people, and all of these people are very creative because they're all good storytellers. And I suddenly realised if I walked away from it what chance do some of these people have at all. I work with a lot of people who are dyslexic - people who are dyslexic commit crimes because they're told they're stupid, so when you say let's talk about the internet...

When we started to get into the kind of big issues, I started to talk to members of the Black community, to surf around and I started to see what was my community doing on the internet, because somebody said to me everybody can get access to the internet and I thought well no that's not true because if you can't afford it you can't get access: if you're on social security and you haven't got a telephone you can't get access. What my problem was is I come from the oral tradition, and also from the Black community. And the biggest issue for me was the fact that as a community we are what I call silent voices: we don't figure in the world of publishing, we do not figure in television, we do not figure in the media. Basically, we don't figure. We put up lots of information - history, politics - but in terms of the creative use of this medium that's what I started to get panicky about, because I couldn't get any reference points. People were saying the internet is not culturally-specific, anyone can do it and I'm saying that's not true.

With films you can do it because you've seen someone, but as I said the first time I had a chat room conversation with Leonie I had a problem because I couldn't see Leonie, I couldn't touch Leonie, so I said how honest is Leonie with me on-line? Nothing to do with her, but I'm used to interaction, work-shopping, touching people, and that was my first big problem because I'm thinking if I'm going to talk to Leonie every week, in an on-line dialogue, I'm going to have to trust her. I understand sub-text, so when you're writing a line of dialogue you ask what is the sub-text in this dialogue, so when we're having a conversation on-line, I'm trying to gauge what the sub-text is; see my point? So suddenly I started thinking I can't handle this, I have to phone her up, because I need to hear her voice. It was easier for me to talk to her than to type, because I was concerned that as a performer I can use my hands, I can use my voice, I can use my body to engage; now I'm faced with this situation of the ultimate dying discipline of sitting on my ass in front of a keyboard typing. And I was resistant. I realise that for me, it's not that I was scared of the internet, it's just that I was resistant to change. I didn't want to do something different. I didn't want to sit there and engage in a different way, which showed me I was conservative, and I had to get beyond that point.

So I bought Microsoft Frontpage. You know, when I go into Waterstone's, I'm the person that buys 'The Idiot's Guide' - that's me (and even that's too sophisticated sometimes for me, so I'll probably have to write the version, you know, 'Idiot's Guide to the Idiot's Guide'). But nevertheless in terms of the process of collaboration that myself and Leonie went on, it wasn't just about Leonie and me, it was about my partner. Because when I came off totally frustrated she had to put her arm around my shoulder when I was really in tears because the program crashed and I couldn't do it. It was my kids, who when I'd bite at them and shout at them because I was upset, would realise dad's upset because he can't do stuff on the computer and wait until I settled down.

I realised that what made it worthwhile is my friends who'd come in, who can't read and write, who would look at the visualisation of what I had done and would actually get some enjoyment out of it without being made to feel inadequate.

'Covise' is an anagram of voices, because I have a lot of voices in my head and I'm not schizophrenic, but in the black community you're six times more likely to get diagnosed as schizophrenic because there's no culture diagnosis for schizophrenia. Sometimes I'm a father, sometimes I'm a grandfather, sometimes I'm a stepfather, sometimes I don't even know who I am. So all these voices, doesn't make me schizophrenic but it will affect my behavior. So I came up with a piece that would reflect that, and Covise is it.

If you jumble up 'voices' you get 'covise' and I came up with a new meaning, so if you're in a state of 'covise' you're in a state where you've got all these personalities but you're not schizophrenic. So what I wanted to do, this is like a jazz poem because I'm very much into jazz improvisation, so what I tried to do is some visual stuff with the language, so everytime you click on the screen (and somebody said you don't want lots of text, well I like lots of text, because people don't read enough as far as I'm concerned). You know, I work in film where the first thing the producer says is give me a strat line, so you've got 6 lines to sell the script. So for me, I wanted to do something that was long. Because, my kids - they don't read anything longer than 3 minutes, so I wanted someone to spend a good half an hour on this. Really, I look at it from a slightly different point of view in that the people I'm aiming at, I want them to actually soak it in, on top of a visual experience. I wanted someone who would read it to speak it out. So the bigger the letters, the louder you read it out.

- Martin Glynn


Cyberday: Is poetry thriving in cyberspace?

 

11am-4pm Saturday 6 November, the BT Poetry Studio

at the Poetry Society 22 Betterton Street, London WC2H 9BU

 

The Poetry Society and trAce Online Writing Community, presented a day of talks and discussions looking at recent poetry projects on the internet. Participants in Wired Poets, the Poetry Places online mentoring scheme, spoke about their experiences and presented the results. They were joined by their online mentors, Simon Mills, Andy Oldfield and Leonie Winson and two writers who have recently completed residencies in cyberspace: John Burnside, the Poetry Society's Poet on the Internet and Christy Sheffield Sanford, trAce's Virtual Writer in Residence.

Young Poets Network