I have returned from the John Hewitt International Summer School (JHISS) last Saturday and I am fucking miserable.
There, I said it. Return to everyday life is harder than I expected.
While it is a very busy and intense week full of readings, talks, workshops, poetry, fiction, music and theatre, I found the experience surprisingly…relaxing.
Taking a holiday from cooking, cleaning, childcare, laundry and pointless fights over child’s socks freed up mental energy reserves I forgot I had.
But I should start at the beginning.
I did not think I would get a bursary. I am rubbish at describing who I am, what I do and why I deserve nice things (like a fully paid accommodation and free entry to all JHISS events). I filled in the application form anyway, as a part of a promise to myself to keep going with this poetry thing.
So…when I got a polite “no”, I was not surprised and even mildly relieved. I was settled (if not particularly happy) in my comfort zone (*cough* rut).
Then I got the “never mind, you got it” email and this shit got real.
My husband took a week off work and away I went.
Sitting on the train to Portadown I had no idea at all about what is going to happen. Eventually, I found the Armagh bus, got lost between the bus station and the Royal School (even though it is a 5 min walk).
All I knew about JHISS is that it happens every year, it has poetry in it and it is a GOOD OPPORTUNITY. My poetry pal Laura Cameron got bursary in 2015 and had only good things to say.
The time really flew buy and I got very attached to my green lanyard.
The truth is, I probably could have got more out of it. I did not mingle that much and had not engaged in much coffee-break writerly discussion. And I knew this is how it was going to be.
I am very introverted and I know myself well enough to know that I need to pace myself. So I went to the majority of the events, participated in the workshop (and contributed out loud), read my drafts at the student reading and the open mic.
By Friday I got to meet several people and actually talk to them like a normal person.
But I left with an all too familiar feeling that “I am just getting into this and it is all over!” Damn.
These are a few of my favourite things from JHISS 2016 (in no particular order):
1. Another workshop participant telling me that I have some “raw talent”, that I should write everyday (inspired or not) and not let it go to waste.
2. Walking across Armagh Mall with Stephen Gordon on Saturday morning and talking about the importance of reading your work to other people, not giving up and showing up at the page.
3. Meeting the person who wrote The Poem I Wish I Had Written (Matthew Francis, “Street lamps”), hearing him read, participating in his workshop and getting some very helpful feedback and heaps of encouragement.
4. Andrew McMillan’s reading from “physical”. I can’t remember breathing.
5. Hearing Sinead Coll (another bursary student) sing at the open mic…and realising that true community events do exist and I have just possibly walked into something from “Good Vibrations”. That open mic was something surreal and wonderful and I was so happy I got to be there and brave enough to read a few poems.
6. Going on a walking tour of Armagh, even though there were only me and Martin Tyrell who showed up for it! And getting to talk to Martin about summer school, unacceptability of cappuccinos during certain parts of the year, power of stories in general and “Snow, Glass and Apples” by Neil Gaiman in particular. Armagh is absolutely enchanting and I encourage anyone who is planning to go there to take a walking tour – it was really worth it.
I am sad that the summer school is over. But I got the answer to the question “Could I be a writer?”. Which is really why I filled in the form in the first place.