Interview _ Ceinwen E. Cariad Haydon
She graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle University in December 2017.
In this interview, Ceinwen talks about the work she is doing:
The Wombwell Rainbow states that you believe everyone’s voice counts. Please elaborate.
Traditionally, a narrow group of men has controlled which writing is published, which narratives and voices are heard. This produces skewed accounts and neglects to progress the articulation of the true range of human experience.
Literature has played a big part in investing the norms of the dominant group with high value, and by reference the majority of people are ‘othered’ because they will not/do not/cannot conform to or share these. The ‘others’ are therefore perceived, and often perceive themselves (due to social conditioning), as ‘less than’.
Things are changing, but not fast enough, in my view. Everyone has a valid and interesting story to tell. As a reader and as a writer I am concerned to listen and celebrate people’s differences.
In workshops, I support individuals to express their unique stories and creativity through the written and spoken word. Many people have characteristics that lead them to be marginalised and silenced by the mainstream, and the education system has insidiously groomed them to feel that they and their experiences do not count. These are the very voices that everyone in our communities should be able to hear, acknowledge and value.
Currently you are developing practice as a creative writing facilitator and are working with hard to reach groups. Which groups are these? What makes them hard to reach? As a creative writing facilitator, what do you do with them, and why is this work important? Why does it matter?
At the moment, I am mainly working with people living with dementia and their carers, and also with other groups of elders. These individuals are from a variety of backgrounds, but all experience elements of ageism. Many have learnt to be quiet and compliant, in the belief that no-one would want to listen to them.
Workshops concentrate on imagination rather than memory as this values the present moment in their lives and avoids the anxiety that can manifest when the emphasis is on retrieving memories. Clearly, memories do come to the fore, but this remains within the control of the person and is not sought by someone external.
The work provides opportunities for creativity, social connection, agency, validation and fun. It is wonderful to see people’s personalities blossom within the group, along with their stories.
In some circumstances, if they consent, I ‘harvest’ their words and order/frame them into a poem. I do not alter their verbatim expressions, but might pare some words back, introduce refrains or re-order lines. These pieces remains their work, I am merely the scribe. There are moments of joy and recognition when people hear their poems subsequently.
I also use the ‘Timeslips’ group story telling method. People respond to an image, often quite an unusual one that speaks to the imagination. I ask open questions and accept the answers offered unconditionally, (embracing even contradictory ones). In this way a short story develops. This is read back at the end and a title is chosen. Each person has their own copy a week later.
In the past, professionally, I have worked with survivors of abuse, offenders, people experiencing mental ill-health, young mothers and many others. I hope to widen my area of practice as a facilitator to include people who have lived with challenges of this sort.
In terms of access to groups, I use existing networks, often set up for other purposes, and offer taster sessions. Then, if there is interest, I develop a scheme of work after consultation with those involved and their representatives. Breaking the silence and creating a space in which people can communicate and connect openly can led to self-generated support networks of great value.
In 2018, not only were you highly commended in the Blue Nib Chapbook Competition, you were also shortlisted for the Neatly Folded Paper Pamphlet Competition, and won the Hedgehog Press Poetry Songs to Learn & Sing Competition. Can you say something more about this and what you are doing to build on this success?
As a late starter, I didn’t have a large body of work when I commenced my MA in Creative writing in 2015. I also started the course as a prose writer and emerged a poet. Since then I have submitted individual pieces widely and have had acceptances amongst the inevitable rejections. My next step is to aim to achieve publication of a pamphlet or collection. I am due to have two chapbooks published in the next few months, and this represents a next step towards my goals.
I find that I sometimes submit work prematurely, in my enthusiasm, and I am still learning how to edit effectively.
Some of the anthologies that I have been featured in are political in nature and focus on an individual issue. These include:
- Planet in Peril, Fly on the Wall Poetry, 2019; and
- The Poets Speak Anthologies [‘And’ Vol.1, ‘More in Common’ Vol 2, ‘Water Rights Vol. 3, ‘Pandemonium’ Vol. 4 and ‘In or Out’, Vol 5.], Jules Poetry Playhouse, New Mexico, 2017/18
The subject of Planet in Peril is self-evident, The Poets Speak Anthologies were published in response to the election of Donald Trump.
In my work I try to balance the immediacy of threats, an implied or explicit call to action and hope. Humans are very resourceful and if we can use these talents well, I believe we can change our destinies for the better. However, currently we are leaving things very late in the day.
I have been published in other anthologies and printed magazines, and my work has been varied, often more introspective.
In 2018, one of your poems, ‘No Woman is Indispensable’ was published in Write to Be Counted: an Anthology of Poetry to uphold Human Rights (The Book Mill, 2018). What inspired the poem? What do you hope the reader will take from the poem?
This dystopian poem expressed my distress about the undervaluing and abuse of girls and women. Although it is stark, it does not seem to fall far outside of the bounds of possibility and, in some societies, parallel practices are, or have been, present.
I have two daughters and a teenaged granddaughter, and I cannot bear to think of how their life trajectories might be curtailed or derailed by structural sexism or the misogyny of individuals.
Another of your poems, ‘March 2019, SOS’ is featured in Bollocks to Brexit: an Anthology of Poems and Short Fiction. What would you say the poems are about? How did the poem come about?
The worst outcomes would include the fragmentation of communities, a closing off of life opportunities for ourselves and our children, a rise in poverty, an increase in tribalism (and its correlate – violence), hostility towards those different from ourselves, the breakdown of civic society, further polarisation of power and wealth, the lethal poisoning of our planet and the triumph of fascism.
However, it is critical that we don’t underestimate our personal power, especially when we act collaboratively with others. Hopelessness and despair are the fastest routes to foster the very things that we might dread. Impotent apathy is not an option if we want to survive the challenges of our times – those that are global and those on our street.
Why is it important for poets to speak up on social, political and related matters?
Everyone who has gleaned some understanding of current environmental risks should use their means of communication, their art and their humanity to alert others to the hazards that encircle us. This includes alt-right politics, global and personal insecurity, climate change, unfair distribution of resources, oppression of difference, gender inequalities, persecution or denial of human rights to people with protected characteristics and other systemic abuses of power.
Poetry, in particular, engages both the emotions and cognition of readers in subtle yet powerful ways. Alternative perspectives can be introduced and generated before hostile defences come into play. To “tell the truth but tell it slant”, as Emily Dickinson advised allows for human to human contact and, therefore, transformation, as awareness is extended.
In your view, what do anthologies like Bollocks to Brexit add to poetry and public discourse? And why does this matter?
People have always needed stories, whether historical or imagined, through which to learn and to celebrate their humanity. Poetry tells stories and/or explores internal narratives whilst leaving space for the reader to relate to the content on their own terms, drawing on their own experiences.
The public have been so ground down by the mainstream media’s reporting of Brexit and connected issues that hearts have hardened. This has resulted in people living in silos with their own prejudices and preconceptions.
Poetry has the potency to ventilate and stir, which has the potential to join people together rather than rip them apart. Without this, public discourse becomes sclerotic, polarised and driven by narcissistic individuals who have accessed the means to control the state and the flow and nature of information. They are frequently mendacious and careless of the common good.
All this matters because our survival as individuals and, by extrapolation, the survival of our communities and our earth, depend on all of us developing increased awareness and a sense of fundamentally shared lives. The consequences of negligence and self-seeking nationalism will be visited upon every one of us.