On Saturday the 20th of May, I attended the Queer Love is Poetry workshop, hosted by Brooke Scobie. The event helped us improve our writing skills, opened our eyes to new ways of creating a poem, and taught us that there were no wrong answers or one way to go about it. There was a particular focus on encouraging people who identify as queer to break the norms that the majority of society put on literature and use poetry as a way to express themselves.
Brooke is a queer Goorie woman who grew up on Bidjigal Country in South West Sydney and now lives on Darkinjung land. Brooke’s grandmother, a Bundjalung woman, was raised in the Mallanganee area of Northern NSW, until she was forcibly removed at 10 years of age and placed into Bidura Girls Home in Sydney and put to unpaid work in a men’s boarding house. Because of the removal and displacement of her Nan, Brooke and her family grew up without Language. Some of Brooke’s notable achievements include being published in Red Room Poetry’s Writing Water: Rain, River, Reef, awarded 2nd place in the 2020 Judith Wright Poetry prize, and completing the course ‘Writing a Novel I & II’ through a First Nations Scholarship at Faber Writing Academy. She studied a Diploma of Creative and Indigenous Writing done through Charles Darwin University, who sadly no longer offer the course.
Brooke originally found a love for writing and words through bad teenage poetry. She was spurred on by her mother being an avid reader of Stephen King novels and her father’s love for The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Unfortunately, growing up in a black working-class community, there was often the assumption that one “could never be an author” and Brooke would often write when times were good but turn away from her passion when things were rough. However, after the birth of her daughter seven years ago, Brooke truly began to concentrate more on her writing and pursue the career more seriously. She credits her successes to other Indigenous peoples advertising and advocating for opportunities for queer black people. Brooke is currently writing her first full-length novel and I cannot wait to read it!
To start, the day was split into two workshops with lunch in between to allow people with conflicting schedules the opportunity to come either in the morning or the afternoon, and everyone got to meet and talk during the middle. I went to the morning workshop with nine other beautiful people, who were all very lovely, and I think it’s safe to say we all had a great time. I certainly did.
Before the workshop got underway, I asked everyone in attendance why they had come to the workshop and what they hoped to get out of it. All had a love for poetry and wanted to develop their writing skills and techniques, learn how to express themselves through this medium, and one participant even wanted to see if she could use it in her PhD!
There were four writing exercises throughout the workshop aimed at helping us improve our writing skills, establish the attitudes each individual had towards poetry, and challenge the way we think, see, and write poetry. At the end of each exercise, everyone had a chance to present their piece and the rest of the group gave friendly and constructive feedback.
To open the workshop, we started with a silent five-minute free-writing run based on one of two prompts, where you must keep writing no matter what. This set the mood for what was to come and got people feeling good about the rest of the workshop and the work they would produce throughout it. The prompt I used was “As the sun sets…”, and when I first put pen to paper I had a vague idea in my head about what I was going to write about, but my writing soon morphed into something entirely different. I ended up retelling the experiences I had from the farm I grew up on, something I’ve never written about or planned before. This is one of the many benefits of consciousness exercises, you have to challenge yourself to not stop writing the entire time and simply put down what comes to mind.
The next exercise was using a concrete noun (e.g. water bottle, pen, window, table, chair, door) versus an abstract noun (e.g. expression, joy, desire, freedom). Choose a concrete noun and write three sentences describing that noun using the word ‘it’. Then choose an abstract noun and replace the word ‘it’ in your three sentences.
Here are the two sentences I ended up with:
“It is see-through. It allows us to see outside. They come in all shapes and sizes.”
“Freedom is see-through. Freedom allows us to see outside. Freedom comes in all shapes and sizes.”
It’s accidental poetry. It doesn’t work every time, as some people were describing ‘expression’ as ‘cute and fluffy’. But it did teach us that poetry can be found anywhere, through a variety of techniques and is a lot easier to write than one first expects.
We discussed Sappho, the Greek poetess who lived in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. She was the first documented English-literature poet of note who was queer and challenged the societal norms of sexuality through her poetry. The term lesbian is derived from the Isle of Lesbos where Sappho lived.
More modern writers and their works were discussed which challenge norms and attitudes towards race, gender and sexuality. Poets such as Audre Lorde, Eileen Myles, Allen Ginsberg and Adrienne Rich, just to name a few.
This led us into the black-out poetry activity, where we took a poem by famous straight white poets and used their words to create our own. I had the pleasure of editing Edgar Allen Poe’s Annabel Lee and made it about two women who fell in love but were torn apart by tragedy and men. I also took the piousness element out, leaving the angels and demons who lived “down under the sea”. I’m sure some people won’t be too happy about that.
The exercise was a very visual and physical representation of what Brooke was trying to do: teach us that it is okay to write about these things and challenge the way we have been taught to view ‘poetry’ through our upbringing and societal pressures.
During the last exercise, a 15-minute free hand of a piece under the umbrella of ‘love’, one of the participants, Angelina, wrote two poems and it was quickly decided that they should be presented as a pair. With her permission, I have added them here:
What I have with her is not what I want with you
I see the beauty in you, in me
And I forgive myself for not challenging my thoughts sooner
The hate for my family, my upbringing,
In time I will forgive them
But for now, let me enjoy this
The sweetness I’ve never known.
I’ve kept it hidden for so long, but has always been there.
There are moments when I look back and realise that it’s a part of me
Only now that I come into my own do I see
I let myself out
I won’t ignore it
I won’t hide, I won’t conform
I’ll just be me.
As you can see, the poems are incredibly beautiful and powerful. There is a lot of pain, regret and anger but also acceptance and peace. When Angelina finished reading out the poems, the entire room was stunned into silence and then everyone was speaking at once, encouraging her to let me publish them here. So here we are. These two pieces are incredibly moving and Angelina has done a wonderful job at bringing her experience of her sexuality, both the good and the bad, so perfectly to life through poetry. She is an incredibly talented young lady and I look forward to seeing more work from her.
After everyone had finished reading their final works for the day, one participant hesitantly raised their hand and said something that everyone in the room immediately understood and felt deep down. They said that after hearing one of the poems, which was a beautiful, short smutty piece about two female lovers, that they had the immediate thoughts of “Oh no, you can’t write something like that. That’s crossing a line.” The person was very embarrassed and admitted shame at having these thoughts, but the room quickly reassured them that they weren’t the only one to think like this. A discussion ensued about how the feelings and attitudes that had been ingrained in so many people – that anything beyond the norm of what is considered ‘good poetry’ and a theme throughout history, shouldn’t be written at all. That no one would accept anything else, but that’s not true. There are people out there who are listening and reading to stories like this, and need to see pieces similar that they can relate to.
Overall, I had such a fun time and the group of people in that room were super supportive of each other. At no point throughout the day did I feel like I was being judged or anything negative. Everyone was very respectful of each other and their work, and Brooke and the important lesson she was giving us. The main thing that I walked away from the experience with was that I need to consider and challenge the way I think, feel and write about poetry. I learnt that a good poem, above all else, should make the reader feel something and think “what is this about?”.
Brooke had some final parting tips for us:
- When attempting to write a poem, sit quietly in order to activate ALL of your senses.
- Either avoid cliches or write about it on purpose.
- Your writing doesn’t need to be good, it just needs to be an expression of yourself.
- You can use metaphors and similes, but they aren’t always necessary.
- Write with fear, not from it.
Brooke is working hard to encourage any and all people interested in using poetry as a form of expression, especially queer Black people, to start thinking beyond norms and create something meaningful to them regardless of what others think.