Variety at the John Hewitt International Summer School

“Raise your hand if you identify as more than one thing.” That’s what Raymond Antrobus instructed us – the people gathered at the Market Place Theatre to hear his poetry – to do.

We all raised our hands, and this was when the theme of my week at the John Hewitt International Summer School really sank in for me.

Officially, the theme was “Facing change, shifting borders and allegiances.” When I first read it, it struck me as a little odd; like something that was better suited to a political conference than a writing school.

But that’s the thing: there’s crossover there.

John Hewitt – the man himself – was as much a political commentator as he was a poet.

The quote from himself that kept popping up in various places was, “Celt, Briton, Roman, Saxon, Dane, and Scot. Time and this island tied in a crazy knot.” Which says so much. About being everything and nothing, anything and something. Being complex. Multivarious. All of the above.

“Are you a poet or do you write fiction?” – “Both.” 

“Where are you from?” – “Belfast. Or Bangor, I suppose. By way of Lincoln and Oxfordshire.” 

When presented with an ‘either/or’ question, I’ve often delighted in trying to puzzle out the unspoken third option. Never more-so than this week, when it returned me to the overarching theme and made it sink in just that little bit more.

What is the John Hewitt Summer School? It’s workshops, and talks, and exhibitions, and panel discussions, and books, and people, and networking opportunities, and good food, strong tea, staying up late and getting up early. It’s new friendships, new people; it’s words and music and theatre.

“But what do you do there?” I was asked.

“Everything,” I said.

This will not be the last word I say on the matter. As you might be able to tell, I’m just getting started.

It feels like this week has given so much to me, in terms of experience and insights. It’s gonna take more than one blog post to capture it all. Be on the lookout for part two.

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