Wed | Nov 14, 2018

Drawing room project now in 'Senior' year - Annual poetry retreat attracts overseas applications

Published:Tuesday | October 10, 2017 | 12:04 AMMel Cooke
Professor Mervyn Morris surveys one of the bookshelves in his home.
Professor Edward Baugh
Olive Senior
Millicent Graham

The Drawing Room Project was started as a 10-day workshop in 2008, and, in 2014, its annual master's level retreat began at Country Thyme in Highgate, St Mary. The fourth retreat is slated for Good Hope, Trelawny, from November 10 - 13, with renowned writer Olive Senior as the facilitator.

Millicent Graham, co-founder of the project, with Joni Jackson and author of the poetry collections The Damp in Things (2009) and The Way Home (2014), told The Gleaner that the workshops were started because of the founders' experience at the Calabash workshops. The intention's to provide other persons with the kind of experience they had at the writing workshops associated with the Calabash International Literary Festival.

"We firmly believe that we should have a resident writing programme. We have all the makings of a great programme," Graham said.

Christine Craig, author of All Things Bright & Quadrille for Tigers, facilitated the first retreat. Professor Mervyn Morris (Peelin Orange, 2017) guided participants at the 2015 retreat at Liberty Hall Great House, Lime Hall, St Ann. And Professor Edward Baugh (Black Sand, 2014) was the mentor for last year's retreat at Woodside in Greenwich, St Andrew.

Graham makes it clear that the retreat is not for persons at the outset of their writing efforts. "We are appealing to writers who are early career. They are ready to submit to a journal or magazine. They have some knowledge of craft but probably need guidance," she said.

Considering the workshop's level, responses to the call for a three-to-five poem submission are vetted and not all are accepted.

The project's trustees are Dr Velma Pollard, George Davis, and Anne-Marie Bonner.

As the retreat is done in a workshop format, writers are expected to be part of the public exchange among the participants. Graham describes a process where there is exposure to the community's activities, beginning with a collaboration with the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) in 2014. For the 2017 retreat, there will be a focus on Georgian architecture, for which parts of Falmouth are known, as well as conditions (including potential mining) affecting the Cockpit Country. It is expected that this exposure will be reflected in the participants' writing.

On the final day, there is a reading by the participants and mentor, which is open to the community. "It is not every day you have a great Jamaican writer in your midst you can listen to," Graham said.

The Drawing Room Project has been attracting attention from outside the country as among this year's 15 applications were submissions from Aruba, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, and Poland. Previously, there have been participants from Puerto Rico and Trinidad, as well as interest coming from the British Virgin Islands and parts of Europe. Graham says that about 18 - 20 writers have done the Drawing Room Project annual retreat so far.

"Our objective is to create a writing programme in Jamaica that can support writers as they try to develop their craft with a Jamaican aesthetic," Graham said. However, funding is a challenge, and, in addition to being open to sponsorship, the Drawing Room Project hopes to host a fundraiser at Victoria Pier, Kingston, next February.