Writing For Pleasure Has Its Own Rewards

A poet always writes of his personal life, inches finest work out of tragedy, whatever it be, remorse, lost love, or mere loneliness.

WB Yeats

We have just celebrated Neighbourhood House Week and working as I do, in three local community houses, I felt the pressure to showcase what my classes achieve to encourage new enrolments and justify my existence.

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Evidence of ‘money’s worth’ and ‘bums on seats’ has to be seen in a world where the power of economic rationalists reign supreme. Everywhere, it seems is pressure to ensure education in the adult sector is all about employability skills with the wellbeing factor often forgotten, although numerous reports have investigated the ‘social capital / human capital spectrum’.

  • How do you quantify or monetise the benefits a ‘Writing for Pleasure‘ class brings to society?
  • Unless students write their individual stories how will the beancounters or the decision makers know that friendships have formed and limited the number of doctor visits and prescriptions for anti-depressants?
  • How do you recognise the importance of gaps in education being filled for students beyond working age?
  • What about the benefit to future generations of the family histories that are written, the individual legacies recorded?
  • Who considers the pride and soaring confidence when someone writes a poem or a short story, a novel or a play and achieves a dream they never thought possible?

Two of my classes have concentrated on poetry this term so that we could produce a zine for Neighbourhood House Week. (The covers above)

With the 8-page booklet I manage to get the majority of students to polish some poems to include.  I even wrote a few new ones myself during our splurge time!

We’ve studied rhyme, metaphor and simile, form poetry including limerick and clerihew, and free verse.

Lessons in Rhyme
Mairi Neil

On the train, stations slip by
My thoughts are fleeting too
Years of commuting make me sigh
Respite days, oh, so few.
And yet there’s something comforting
About train journeys I have taken
They’re a metaphor for life
Places loved and others forsaken.
The stations and various signals
Stop start – get off – get on
Stay on the rails or let loose
But always journey on.

Bentleigh station May 2016
Bentleigh Station in the midst of renovation

Haiku Selection
Mairi Neil

Twilight glow from sky
Pier promenade shelters us
From gathering storm

Ships in harbour creak
Moored safely for the night
Silent sentinels

Beneath the water
Life blossoms and flourishes
Our ecosystem works

A tourist mecca
Attracts people in all weather
Revenue alleys

I Love Cooking (After Dr Seuss)
Mairi Neil

I love cooking, I love the smell
I love it more when it turns out swell.
I love old recipes, they are the best
I gather ingredients and begin with zest.

I love my oven, it’s electric. If it was gas I’d be sick.
I love my bench top, granite and wide, equipment sits side by side.
I think my cooking is okay, there’s not much more I can say.
I’m not an expert like some boast, I’ve been known to burn the toast!
There’s people who just love their food, always categorising, bad or good.
I eat to live, variety’s not king, a few favourite recipes are my thing.

I’m happy to bake my apple cake. I am.
Can even manage scones, cream and jam.
I love to peel, dice, chop and knead.
It’s from cleaning up I want to be freed.

I love cooking – it’s a necessary evil – we have to eat.
But boy I’m glad – really glad – Nandos have opened up the street!

Election 2016
Mairi Neil

Australians are having a vote
Malcolm and Bill both want a moat
People smugglers to shatter
‘Cos Refugees don’t matter
We’ve stopped the boats they gloat.

Writing Class
Mairi Neil

Monday writing class
A library of imagination
Pens fill blank pages
Words arranged and stacked
Released to the public
Knowledge laced with fantasy
A choice of genres
To receive a stamp of approval

Albert Street May 2016 copy
Albert Street at dusk

21 Albert Street
Mairi Neil

My Edwardian house no longer sags
And sinks into sandy soil
Aged and in need of renovation
It now squats on renewed stumps
A bulldog ready to scare off
A proliferation of developers.

Mary Jane’s car gleams, winking in sunlight
A cheeky adolescent ready for adventure
Compact and fuel efficient
It darts in and out of traffic
A trainee athlete refusing to be intimidated
By those more powerful.

My garden an oasis of peace today
But as the rain continues flora flourish
the garden transforms
An island of tranquility becomes
A factory production line of
Unwanted grasses and weeds.

Aurora, my ever-alert sentinel
Listening, watching, protecting
Warning of danger.
Aurora, a loyal, loving companion
My four-legged disciple of friendship
Epitome of unconditional love.

Keep Mordialloc Beautiful
Mairi Neil

Albert Street busy each morning
Passersby always on a mission
They head for church, railway station,
U3A, public schools – people in transition
They’ve found God, want to learn
Are travelling near and far
Perhaps they just love to shop
Or are looking to park their car!

I love this changing scenery
Glad Council upkeeps the greenery
But I don’t like the litterbugs
The ones who care nought for others
They chuck containers, cans and bottles
Did they learn nothing from their mothers?

A magpie pecks at sodden ground
Moves to nibble at bark on trees
He takes what he needs, moves on
No rubbish left when he feeds
So, why do humans leave their litter
To clog drains and on roads skitter?

Albert Street an extension of my home
And passersby are free to roam
But please keep your trash, bad manners too
That’s a plea, from me to you!

 

A Wake Up Call
Mairi Neil

The people of Longreach
Appeal to fellow Australians
You’ve forgotten us they cry
The rain has stopped
Not seen for years
The grass all withered and dry.

The people of Longreach
Appeal to fellow Australians
Do you know what it’s like here?
Drought has destroyed
Our way of life
The community we hold so dear.

The people of Longreach
Appeal to fellow Australians
Climate Change must be faced
This parched land
No longer produces
Bore water has poison laced

The people of Longreach
Are silent and so sad
Heads bowed at funeral pyre
People, cattle, farms
Now dust to dust
Their history erased by fire

The people of Longreach
Not the only community to die
The driest continent
Will shrivel and shrink
Global warming is making us fry!

 

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Writing For Pleasure & Publication at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House
A Reflection by Teacher Mairi Neil.

The writing class at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House is the longest running, continuous class since the House was established. The size of classes has fluctuated over the years, reflecting the growth in U3A in the area and a variety of writing courses at TAFE and online, but for students attending Mordialloc the motivation, inspiration and intimacy they gain is invaluable.

For several years we ran classes in the morning and afternoon. Student Barbara Davies has been attending since 2002 and Dennis Worledge has joined this year.

A retired primary school teacher, Barbara taught creative writing for fourteen years at U3A and joined the class at Mordialloc to encourage her own creativity.
‘I love coming to this class and have made so many friends over the years while improving my writing.The class is a safe environment to write, a place of trust to share confidences.

Barbara is one of many students writing memoir in a creative way but also having fun with imaginative stories and poems.

When individuals take the time to reflect and document even 10-20 short stories about their family history, culture, life experiences, opportunities, challenges, gratitude, disappointments celebrations and ideas, they communicate their wisdom, values and generosity to the next generation in a very positive and instructive way.

New student Dennis agrees. ‘I love writing and want to further develop my skills as well as enjoy the fellowship and fun I’ve found in this class. I hadn’t anticipated writing poetry and am amazed I enjoy the challenge!’

Heather, Amelia and Kay joined the class in 2004. In the years between Heather moved from Beaumaris to Mt Eliza, but still makes the trip each Monday morning. ‘I’ve been coming forever,’ she says with a laugh, ‘because of the fun and friendship and I love the mental stimulation.’

Heather added, ‘I’m staving off senility and it’s keeping me fit. I attend poetry readings, visit libraries and bookshops because through the class I’ve become a more discerning reader.’

Kay published her memoir from workshopping stories in class as have other students: Fay Lucas (a book of poetry about life in the Mallee) and Bob Croker (tales of being a grey nomad travelling around Australia). All of the students have work published in class anthologies.

However, the class is not all about retirees. More than 140 students have participated over the years, many like Tori who joined in 2008 and loves coming to the class because she is accepted as a writer and storyteller. We see her ability, not disability.

Tori Dowd and me May 2016Younger students have included Michael (23) who thrived despite his ABI from a severe car accident and now publishes poetry online. Often the carers discover latent writing talent as they join in!

Young women have come for semesters while on Maternity Leave using the great childcare facilities to have alone time and write about the changes in their lives. Students with English as a new language like Mari and Naoko love how creative writing improves their understanding of the nuances of English as well as extending themselves to learn techniques while making friends.

Although it is a constant struggle to find funding and support for the classes in community houses, I hope they continue to provide everyone with the opportunity to reflect, write and share their stories and imagination for themselves, their loved ones and their communities. We have established a great tradition of that at Mordialloc.

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