The power of poetry – a review of Michaelmas Term by Mariah Whelan

Our Poet-in-Residence Mariah Whelan reflects on her first term at Homerton and how poetry has helped to lift spirits across the College.

In many ways, it has been a very strange start to my time as the Jacqueline Bardsley Poet-in-Residence here at Homerton. Most of the recruitment process happened via Zoom and while I did manage to get across to the College in person in early October, since then I’ve been Poet-in-Residence from my own residence as the second lockdown took hold.

Online Poetry Workshops

Despite the challenges, as a community we’ve been busy with all things poetry. In the first of our Zoom poetry workshops in October, we began by focusing on how to use our senses to generate material for new poems. In our second online workshop, attended by over 40 students and staff members, we focused on harnessing the power of figurative language to express our thoughts and ideas.

In both sessions, I was deeply impressed by attendees both in terms of the poems they produced and the enthusiasm and appreciation for each other’s work. It was brilliant to see people cheering one another on in the ‘chat box’ as we took turns reading our work aloud. It’s been a tough old term, but these sessions have been a reminder of the power of poetry to help us connect. As one attendee said, ‘…it was exactly what I needed today and has given me a real lift, as well as some excellent advice’.

Putting Poetry at the Heart of Homerton Life

One of the joys of working at Homerton is how keen everyone is to integrate poetry into everyday life. Since starting in September, I’ve had so many warm and welcoming Zoom coffees with colleagues and students that have led to some wonderful collaborations. Poetry was front and centre in our wonderful alumni weekend as I ran a session focusing on poetry and connection.

Collaborating with Homerton’s Lay Chaplain Trish Maude, poetry has played an important role in our digital Armistice Day commemoration and Christmas carol service. We also kicked off our mental health and wellbeing week with an ‘open mic’ where participants shared poems of their own and those written by favourite writers.

Next year I hope to continue putting poetry at the heart of Homerton life through a series of workshops and videos with Homerton’s brilliant Changemakers program. The New Year will also see more writing workshops and an exhibition of poetry created by the College community.

My Writing

One of the very great joys of being a Poet-in-Residence is that it has given me valuable time to write. This term, I’ve been based in the college archives which have prompted me to start thinking about the purpose and function of archival activity.

To familiarise people with the working life of a poet, I’ve also been documenting my writing practices throughout the term. In October, I live-streamed how I set about writing a ‘Collage’ poem via the College’s social media accounts. In November, I produced a short video detailing the stages of producing an original poem. You can view both here:

Creating a Collage Poem

How I Write

Writing by the College community

It’s been a strange but also brilliant start to my tenure as the Jacqueline Bardsley Poet-in-Residence. As a community, we’ve gone a long way to putting poetry at the Heart of Homerton Life. Special congratulations go to Homerton alumni Ella Duffy, for publishing her new pamphlet Rootstalk, and to Rebekah Miron, for publishing a poem in the Emma Press Anthology of Illness. Please do reach out to me at mw830@cam.ac.uk if you have any poetry news of your own.

Finally, I’d like to finish this roundup by sharing a poem written by Homerton EdD student and BACP Senior Accredited Counsellor, Certified Theraplay Therapist, Trainer and Supervisor, Fiona Peacock. We modelled our poems on What I Learned at University by Kate Bingham and I think Fiona’s poem perfectly captures the mood many have felt this term.

What I learned in not being there with you

By Fiona Peacock

How to see myself right next to you on screen

How to find energy from just myself to hold you in my mind

How to make the same smile with emojis and make the smile on my real face smile too

How to love you even when your words and sounds don’t match, and your face froze

How to hit the button at the end and cry without dying inside and never trying again

 

When to let go of what was and enjoy what I have

When to accept the internet is duff and we can’t talk

When to say things that usually we ‘just know’

When to pin your picture so I can see all your face

When to use the chat to say what I couldn’t say in words

When to, in my heart, work so hard to puff you out to three dimensions
 

Where to sit myself so you could connect with all of me

Where to settle myself inside before the call, to make you real, not just a video

Where to find the mute button to turn myself on, not off

Where to hide my cup of tea and office mess and make a small, small space our whole world

Where to stretch the power cable so we wouldn’t be tied to someone else’s idea of what we should be
 

And never to think nothing has changed and we can carry on just as before