The Midlands Odyssey Writing Workshop
A creative response by Charlie Hill. (With apologies to Homer, to Samuel Butler and to anyone who’s read the thing.)
…Presently the visiting poet got up to go towards the town; and Birmingham shed a thick mist all round her to hide her in case any of the proud traditionalists who met her should be rude to her, or ask her who she was. Then, as she was just entering the arts centre, the city came towards her in the likeness of a woman behind a desk, tourist-information style. The poet stood right in front of the desk, and said:
"Excuse me, will you be so kind as to show me the way to the classical/modernist workshop? I am a poet in distress, and haven’t been down the MAC since they did it up."
Then the woman behind the desk said, "Yes, distressed poet, I will show you the workshop you want, for it is upstairs, quite close to the ladies’ bogs. I will go before you and show the way, but say not a word as you go, and do not look at anyone in the caff, nor ask them questions; for the people here cannot abide contemporary synergism, and do not like ideas that come from some place that isn’t a long time ago. They are a traditionalist folk, and traverse the culture by the grace of definite structures, in verses that glide along in meter, or as a rhyme scheme."
On this the woman led the way, and the poet followed in her steps; but not one of the traditionalists could see her as she walked through the foyer in the midst of them; for the city in his good will towards her had hidden her in a thick cloud of darkness. She admired their photographs, prints, pencil drawings, and the muffins in the cafe, which, with the sprinkles on top of them, were very striking, and when they reached the place of the workshop, the woman said:
"This is the room, distressed poet, which you would have me show you. You will find a number of great writers sitting at table, but do not be afraid; go straight in, for the bolder a poet is the more likely she is to carry her point, even though she may be unaccustomed to post-modernity. First find the boss. Her name is Elisabeth, and she comes of the same anthology as her co-facilitator Charlie. They both descend originally from Polly, who was mother to the University of Birmingham’s Arts and Science Festival by Jonathan, a man of much public money. Jonathan was the youngest son of Arts Council England, who at one time reigned over the giants, but they were ruined by their ill-advised masters and lost their budget to boot...”
…Outside the window of the workshop room there is a large park of eighty acres. It is full of beautiful trees - beech, lime, and omnipresent goose shit. There are ice cream vans also, and children in full growth...In the furthest part of the grounds there are beautifully arranged beds of flowers that are in bloom all the year round. Two streams go through them, the one carried under the grounds, while the other flows throughout the whole park, and the city's people draw stomach bugs from it. Such, then, were the splendours with which the Parks Department had endowed the room of the workshop.
So here the poet stood for a while and looked about her, but when she had looked long enough she crossed the threshold and went within the precincts of the room. There she found all the chief people among the writers drinking water from a jug on the table, which they always did the last thing before chewing on the end of a biro. She went straight across the room, still hidden by the cloak of darkness in which the city had enveloped her, till she reached Elisabeth and Charlie; then she laid her hands upon the knees of the facilitators, and at that moment the miraculous darkness fell away from her and she became visible. Everyone was completely unsurprised at seeing a poet there, but she began at once with her petition.
"Elisabeth Charis," she exclaimed, "daughter of great Polly, in my distress I humbly pray you, as also your co-facilitator and these your workshop attendees (whom may ACE prosper with large grants, and may they leave their embittered optimism to their children, and all the honours conferred upon them by the state, hahaha) to help me discover a new way to interpret classical verse as soon as possible; for I have been long marooned in Wace and Stubbings’ Companion to Homer and away from my contemporaries."
Charlie Hill is one of the writers featured in the Midlands Odyssey publication. This workshop was part of the Arts and Science festival 2017, and was supported by BRIHC.