Twitter dialogue: David Ross Linklater + Ellen Renton
Recently we invited Scottish poets and #project002.5 workshop leaders Ellen Renton and David Linklater to take part in a Twitter dialogue discussing their writing, inspirations and involvement in our work to rewrite the story of dementia. An insightful discussion followed, played out interactively across Twitter in real time. Exclusively for our members who missed the event, we’ve pulled together the conversational highlights of the discussion.
Hi, I’m Ellen – a poet, performer and theatre maker from Edinburgh. I first got involved with boom saloon in 2017 for the Creative Riot, and I was delighted to be part of their most recent project, too. You can read more about my work here ellenrenton.co.uk
To kick things off, what/ who ignites
It could be anything or anyone: conversations I overhear in passing, text on the side of a lorry. Music is huge. I’m probably more inspired by music than poetry in all honesty, but of course I love reading poetry, too.
I go through phases with music. I will listen primarily to, say, Neil Young, intensely for a month, then I’ll move naturally on to another – say, Anne Briggs. Currently I’m rinsing Syd Barrett, but I just went through a Boards of Canada phase; I’m a big fan of anything rich in lyrics/ textures/ explorations.
But I’ll listen to anything that moves me in some way. I almost always have music on when I’m writing.
Being around other creative people and learning from how they work is very important to me, especially across different art forms. For me one of the most creatively exciting things is building a really good collaborative relationship.
Of course listening to music, and reading and watching films all help me feel creative, but also taking some time without all of those, just to think, is useful too. It’s a rare thing but I think it’s equally important for our creativity.
Do you make a conscious effort to give yourself these times of reflection?
I do my best! I’ve been pretty bad at it recently, but it’s definitely always worthwhile when I’m feeling organised enough to set the time aside.
What messages do you wish to convey through your writing?
I think quite often I’m writing because I’m not sure about something, or I’m using poetry as a way of exploring it, rather than trying to put across something final.
I am, though, as a visually impaired person, interested in making work that challenges a very sight-centric society; so I’m always keen to think of new ways to put that across to readers or audiences
Generally, a quiet spirituality about the world and our relationship with it, to do right by ourselves and each other, to celebrate wee things, to pay attention. Sometimes there’s a need to call things out, to get angry. But it changes from poem to poem so there’s no one answer.
I’ve always found it difficult to articulate what my writing does/ is about; writing the dreaded blurb can be tough. I think many writers/ artists feel this way. Conversations with other people are a good way to help ken your own work, though.
Writing blurbs is definitely my least favourite thing!
How important is it to reflect on ‘lived experiences’ when creating poetry?
I think it’s important to an extent – lived experience is obviously a rich source of inspiration and good to draw on. It’s definitely important not to be telling any stories that we as individuals don’t have the right to tell.
I don’t think poets should feel a pressure to use everything in their personal lives as seeds for poems, though. I like it when writers blur their lived experience with the surreal or imaginary.
Language is part of our lived experience, too – I love it when poets write in their vernacular language and hold a mirror up to the way that we speak every day.
It depends on the person. Some only write about what they know and others actively avoid it, preferring to explore something new altogether. I write a lot about the past/ nostalgia etc, so I guess I fall into the former category of trying to find meaning from lived experience.
But it’s not an imperative, and like Ellen says, blurring the lines between reality and a more surreal or imaginary place is always interesting to explore.
How did you approach teaching poetry workshops as part of our work to rewrite the story of dementia?
I work a lot in disability arts, and so I’m often thinking about access needs – this isn’t a disability-specific idea, every group will always have particular things that they need to get the most out of a session.
I really enjoyed having the chance to meet STAND and get to know them, and then planning the session around what might interest them.
The writing that came from the group on this topic was so emotional and evocative. Being able to share our favourite places with each other was a beautiful moment of connection, especially considering that the workshop took place in December 2020, at a time when we all so needed this.
Do you think conducting the workshops virtually affected your approach and the subsequent outcomes?
I think filming the workshops and having them accessible on demand for the workshop group was a brilliant format, and working virtually facilitated that.
The aim was to get everyone creatively engaged and ignite an interest in poetry as a tool for expressing ourselves. Small considerations helped make it more accessible, such as leaving more time between prompts and pre-recording so attendees could pause and come back at their own pace.
I genuinely loved doing this workshop and getting to know those involved – what a great bunch of people, and such a rewarding experience for me personally.
It’s always rewarding working within the parameters of a workshop, and the work created by ‘the gang’ was brilliant. I think we all took something positive away from it.
To conclude this discussion, is there anything you've learnt from this experience that will influence your own work in the future?
It’s always eye opening to realise how much you don’t know about something. I really valued the opportunity to better understand the many complexities that those living with dementia face. It made me want to learn more and educate myself
Absolutely, it’s so important to be reminded of how little we know about other people’s experiences.
I think the project has reinforced my belief in the importance of building communities and making inclusive work. I’m really grateful to have had the opportunity to learn more about dementia – despite its prevalence, I think we all still have so much more to learn.
The best thing about this whole project was definitely the group though; I’ve never laughed so much leading a workshop!
Hard agree. I got called Ed Sheeran by Gerry the first day and it stuck fairly instantly – I was Ed from that moment on. Class.