There was a sense of melancholia during the workshop on Wednesday. Past memories and forgotten feelings were brought back to a present space through the ‘practice of poetry’, and during the post-workshop discussion there was a mix of excitement, sadness, and relief.
I held my first official workshop, This is not a Dress, with a group of eight at the Poetry Café. Overall the event seems to have been a success that resulted in self-reflection and unexpected observations. Most of the participants discovered something different and said they thoroughly enjoyed the process.
The group was mainly comprised of people who are familiar with creative writing; seven out of eight participants use poetry to express themselves on a regular basis. The majority of the participants found out about the workshop through my collaborator Alice Hiller. It was interesting to see how each individual responded to the topic and although they are experienced writers, the process still led them into unexplored and unexpected territories.
Most of the people brought an item of clothing with them, as instructed. Three participants, however, did not bring anything and only had a mental image of a specific item. Based on my observations and the participants’ own reflections, not having the physical item did have an impact on the overall experience and outcome; a sense of distance remained during the process. The process was experienced as more intense and beneficial by the participants who had brought the item with them. This illustrates the importance of the visual and tangible elements, especially during the main deconstructive process.
Only one person expressed that their item was directly linked to a person and their absence – as opposed to the first informal test workshop where everyone brought an item that was associated with bereavement. However, two participants discovered feelings of loss during the visual deconstructive process although their items were not at first considered to be connected with loss. For one of them an open buttonhole and missing button had a ‘potent effect’ and made them think of the ‘absence of an old lover’. Although most items were not explicitly connected with absence, a theme of abstract loss could be read between the lines; past events, forgotten identities, invasion of personal space, and a desire to bring back elements or make sense of that are long gone.
One person chose not to share much at all about the garment (which is stored in a box in the US), the emotions linked to it, or the workshop outcomes. However, afterwards she thanked me personally and said she thoroughly enjoyed the process and that she wishes she would have had the item with her.
During the closing discussion there were a couple of accounts that clearly show the self-reflective possibilities this method and process has. They said the process had made them ‘really sad’ but that they were ‘quite happy to be sad’. They did not write anything during the deconstructive exercise and mentioned that: ‘as a few of you know I write loads in workshops’. his participant had entered a state of intense self-reflection and said about his thoughts: ‘I’m just willing to let that be there and see what happens…’
Information during the workshop was collected by observation and field notes, audio recordings of the discussions, and interview forms filled out by the participants. Regarding the question ‘Did you discover anything new about your relationship to the item, your relationships to other people, or yourself?’ Six out of seven participants who filled out the post-interview form said yes. One participant found it ‘interesting’ how the ‘reflections revealed more about their emotional state at the time they wore it than about the object itself’. An observation that suggests they were perhaps surprised by the evocative properties of the object. Another participant did not feel that the activities did not make them connect with the garment more deeply and intensely than before and wrote that the experience was different but ‘still felt a bit superficial’ and that perhaps they ‘needed to go away, think, and come back?’ This may be an indication of the participant’s willingness to let go and explore their emotions, but it may also illustrate how important it is to leave space for the reflective process. During the first workshop the idea is to let emotions and associations flow freely; to embrace the wild and chaotic of your emotions and subconscious. The raw material that comes out of it can then be reflected on and discovered in different ways and to allow this process to happen as naturally as possible it is important to leave sufficient space between the raw material and the creative process; exploring the wild takes time and patience…
The second part of the workshop will be on Monday 5 November at the Poetry Café.