A Lifelong Joyful Affliction

Gabrielle Barnby, Orkney 2022, Culture Collective, Age Scotland Orkney, creative sessionsJust like other people, creatives also have lists. My lists have a way of looking at me rather like a parent who lays out a perfectly reasonable series of requests only to be looked at blankly. I have an urge to drag and drop my coat on the floor and slouch away rather than do anything on the list.

Sooner or later though, the coat must be picked up, the list looked at and some appeasement made. This is where I am today, looking at an idea for a workshop I condensed into two words weeks ago: My Team. It is a theme inspired by a particular participants love of a particularly unsuccessful football team affectionately known as the Blue Brazils.

The phrase ‘My Team’ set me thinking about the teams we support, the teams we are part of and the teams that in turn support us. For anyone afflicted with an early tribal alliance to any sort of team, the highs and lows of their success are a lifelong joyful affliction, or as they say in Westray it is ‘horrid good’ although I believe that expression is usually reserved for tablet.

So my creative self sets of riffling through the labyrinth of my mind, poking around here and there while all the time chanting ‘My team…my team…my team…my team’

I start browsing through gousters, glims and veerie-orums edited by Alison Miller which has become my go to collection for contemporary Orcadian dialect poems. I am half-remembering and wishfully thinking that there must be a poem about George Mackay Brown loving football, as well as being a poet he held the open flowing game in high esteem. But there is nothing that seems to fit. I idly flick on and notice a page of Haiku about milling.

I pause and think of a playful adaptation of the haiku form to celebrate or commiserate with a team using strong natural images with the lines kept neatly to the 5/7/5 syllable pattern. I think on. The first line could contain the name of a team and the colour associated with them, then the second line the place they meet or play, then the final line about the feeling of winning, something rooted in the senses. But all that syllable counting makes my head spin, it’s practically sudoku with words and images and has proved too much for me many times.  It might not be much fun for my participants who are living with dementia and tend to wander and play with memory rather than shuffle it into order.

Perhaps the way to go is to take the idea of simple strong imagery but throw away the poetic rules. I think more about the senses and begin to develop a structure that can be used by participants. I want  something that is flexible to different responses, simple, but open to growth. Gradually the idea becomes a prompt. I call it ‘My Team – colours, songs and success’ and it is composed of four lines that seek to draw out memory and positive feelings:

This is my team:

Their goal is to…

I think of them and see…

This is a win…

I jot down a few more starting lines and then my creative self goes riffling about again. I think of a poem I wrote after watching a football game last year after an under 15s decider in the Pickaquoy infield, Kirkwall (The Oystercatchers Call Full Time),. There is another poem, one I vaguely remember that made my heart swell because it named a feeling I had encountered so precisely. I search the Emergency Poet and the Everyday Poet both edited by Deborah Alma, I know it is in here somewhere. Finally, I find Walking Away by D Day Lewis and it is exactly what I am looking for – parenting, love, loss and football. It ends with the beautiful, elegiac, yet hopeful lines ‘How selfhood begins with a walking away/And love proved in the letting go.’

In the same volume I find a thoughtful past self has put a post-it note on the poem Friendship by Elizabeth Jennings. It captures so wonderfully well the strength of a team of two and the value of a long partnership sings through its lines. I will include this.

I sift and skip here and there, and find a prose piece on Celtic FC in Letters from Hamnavoe by George Mackay Brown that captures the early allegiance to a team. It’s good to have some prose to include, but I still want something more, something about being supported too.

I flick through pages, dip in and out of books and then my fingers sidle to the keyboards – it’s not cheating. I search for ‘family poems’ and finally there is the one I have been looking for Family Tree by Alison Jean Thomas. It’s a gem of a poem that gives a sense of being part of a whole, of strength and potential. I begin to put together a second structured writing prompt ‘My Team Diary’ which seeks to draw out the value of being included supported by a group.

All these thoughts will settle out over the next few weeks, some fade, and some crystallise. What interests and inspires me will become less important, I become less vested in what I have chosen and ready to be the attentive listening ear, to offer a bowl ready to be filled, an inviting space for my participants memories and creative voices.

Oh, but I there’s just one more poem… finally I add I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman, for all those who are in the same solitary occupation, like writing or painting, or sitting in the quiet of an empty house remembering, because they are also part of a group, no matter how separated by distance, their souls are touched.


Culture Collective, Creative Islands Network, Gabrielle Barnby, Pier Arts Centre

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Gabrielle Barnby