…exploring the power and potential of creative writing

Writing to discover that’s the amazing thing…There is no wrong way to do it…it is your space to find the language where your everyday language fails to understand yourself a little bit more.
Cecilia Knapp

I have always believed that working in collaboration ignites unimagined opportunities for new ideas and developments, which could never possibly be known in the same way if we work alone. Collaboration offers witness – a witness to what the ‘I’ needs to speak, in order to be understood and acknowledged as our own voice is weaved in connection to other voices to become ‘we’. Herein lies a profound shift that offers our self to the world, no longer separated but part of a collective whole. As the lyrical German poet Rilke describes: “I live my life in widening circles to reach out to the world.”

In November 2020, Free Word invited The Forgiveness Project to collaborate with the poet, playwright and novelist Cecilia Knapp as part of their How to be Kind Season.

On meeting Cecilia, I felt an immediate kinship – to her curiosity, wonderment and passion to give voice to those under-represented in society through creative writing.

As programme manager of The Forgiveness Project’s RESTORE prison programme, I am crucially aware of the need to embed poetry, creative writing and visual arts into the fabric of our approaches. I have always known, as a creative artist myself, that in order to tell the stories of our lives, of our whole self, we must find other forms of expression not reliant only on the spoken word. A form that holds safety, non-judgement, care and kindness where the unbearable places of shame, guilt, harm, loss and pain can be placed. As a result, men and women in prison have felt safe to reveal themselves as poets, writers and artists, weaving different languages to express that which would otherwise never have been spoken. I believe, in the very act of expressing ourselves creatively, we can be our own witness, as a human being who has a right to exist in the world – a place to stand that speaks beyond the one story that we and others tell of ourselves.

The Sands of Time Waits for No Woman!

…I don’t want to awake one day
At 60 or 70 years old and think
‘What have I done to myself’
Why didn’t I forgive and made
The choice to go forward with
My Life
The Sands of Time waits
For No Man
This Not so perfect show of
My Life
Has to go on with or without
My Awareness!

RESTORE Participant, HMP Peterborough

Writing poetry has also been a life thread for me in my own personal journey, allowing words, which could not be spoken as the promise I made to another to hold secrets lay deep within my bones. These words that lie in rhythms upon pages of journals stacked six feet high in my small loft have offered solace and grace into my life.

Together Cecilia and I devised The Radical Kindness of Forgiveness – a creative two-part workshop exploring storytelling as a transformative process and a form of kindness to the self; a unique journey of discovery for us all. We invited two of our storytellers Anne -Marie Cockburn and Jacob Dunne, to share their thoughts in the sessions on the importance of creative writing in their own journeys.

If I know where I’m going to end before I start there is no discovery.
Cecilia Knapp

Anne-Marie Cockburn, author of 5742 Days described how she started writing her book within six hours of her daughter Martha dying. She called it her 4th emergency service. “I’ve never experienced such determined focus, it felt as though my own survival depended on channelling all my thoughts out of my head and onto the page.” “For as far back as I can remember, a blank page has always provided me with comfort. Every blank page is full of endless possibilities, a world of adventure, exploration and meaning which has always helped me to unravel my thoughts and try to work out what’s going on inside my head.”

In my darkest moments, I’ve used writing as my 4th emergency service and it has always guided me gently into the next chapter of my life.
Anne-Marie Cockburn

Jacob Dunne, renowned for his recent award-winning Radio 4 series The Punch, and author of his own life story due to be published in 2021, began with this poem he had written.

The leaves outside are tired, they have
Worked so hard and have done so well.
Like bumble bees working frantically until
The sun falls and the cold sets.
Into the soil, the air, the water and the fire.
For the future to fly, drift, soar and stand.
Because the light on the leaves gives life its breeze.
The chance to breathe.
A reflection for all the ‘others’ to see.

Jacob Dunne

Reflecting on this poem Cecilia shared how the beauty of trees is a poetic metaphor that affords us to look inside ourselves: “We can mirror those seasons as humans. When we shed those ‘tired leaves’ we need to understand what to let go of, and when to bear like the trees and when to grow our little buds.”

In conversation, Jacob described how for him venturing into landscapes of nature is “a poetic experience” where you can “immerse yourself and just see beyond.” The poignancy of these reflections leads me back to Rumi’s quote as one you arrive at when you have travelled an extraordinary journey, as Jacob has, toward forgiveness: “Out beyond wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field, I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.”

As I come to a close, I warmly invite you to watch this clip of Anne-Marie speaking the words of participants who responded to the question, Precious to me is…

If you’d like to respond with your own line or thoughts to that question, I would love to read them. You can send them to me at sandra@theforgvenesprioject.com.

Sandra Barefoot, Programme Development Lead
22 December 2020