On reading and writing in company, and the virtues of a snail’s-eye view.

Somewhere near the start of the first Covid lockdown I picked up an open invitation from my old friend and colleague, the poet Alyson Hallett.

Alyson had an idea to explore the creative possibilities of this new Zoom thing that had begun to reshape our lives, by setting up a donations-based online poetry class.

What unspooled from saying yes to Alyson’s invitation has become a sustaining red thread – first through the shifting phases of the pandemic, and latterly, through a life infested by activism’s endless busyness.

For three years now joining this small group for an hour’s reading and writing together has held up a mirror – both to an abiding wish to engage more actively with poetry, and to the ways in which I procrastinate allowing that wish to become a lived reality.

There’s no manifesto for this educational experiment and I don’t suppose it would want to be solidified in that way. But I think it’s true to say that our shared venture in poetry-as-community, which now goes by the name The Guerilla College of the Free Arts, embodies a particular sense of value.

Each of us would no doubt voice that sense of value differently. Here’s one account of it by Alyson, in her endnote to our first foray into collaborative poetry publishing – the delightfully hot pink pamphlet, Grounding.

And here’s another take on the creaturely perspective these weekly meetings have been helping to foster: a note to self about how I wish to proceed in 2023.

Let’s see what comes of it.

You will allow no agenda or idea to come between you and what you find yourself in relation to.

Each encounter – an enamelled pill box, a parent’s death from cancer – will be met with curiosity and attention. Writing, like reading, like is a form of listening.

Your totem shall be a garden snail: your body a thin-skinned ear pressed to the suchness of things. Feeling your way by touch, you’ll crawl an unhurried path through the real, one that leads you from nowhere, to nowhere.

Unable to get ahead of yourself or to be anywhere but here, face to the ground, the spasms of hope and obsession will less easily lay hold of you.

What matters now is only your slow, meandering passage from this encounter, to this, to this – laying a silvered mucus trail of who and what met each other here.

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