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Creativity in Lockdown: In Conversation with Deborah Alma

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What I am Doing in Lockdown

This one? I’m swinging back and forth between small bursts of energy and creativity and deep level procrastination because of a tricky and monstrous tax return. We’ve had some family members really unwell, so I’ve been managing my anxiety with walks with friends and mindless TV. I’m also working on improving our café space here for when we’re fully open again and working on an Arts Council bid…I may be procrastinating with that one as well…

Thinking back to the first lockdown how did it affect you and your writing?

I feel a terrible fraud; despite having had a collection with Nine Arches Press in 2019, all my creative energies have gone into the Poetry Pharmacy and I’ve barely done any writing this year. I am on one level strangely grateful for this slow time and I can feel some writing bubbling up again somewhere. It hasn’t got as far as pen and paper.

Have you found it easier to motivate yourself with your work in the Poetry Pharmacy or as a poet?

It’s much easier to motivate myself for the Poetry Pharmacy. It’s demanding and exciting; but also my job, so things must be done. It has too much potential and I can’t realise it all! Plus I am really bad at giving myself permission to write. I always love it when I’m doing it, but it feels too much like play and needs the good energy I feel should be better applied elsewhere…I know, I know…

 What relationship do you see between creative writing and wellbeing?

The answer to this one is a complicated one for me. I have written from a place of needing the catharsis, from a somehow necessary exploration of the self; but also from a place of playfulness…so to write, is like talking to a good friend who understands me and might show me something I hadn’t spotted before, or who might build the sandcastles with me… That what it seems to me to be, (I had to come up with a metaphor), the relationship is like that of friendship. And to write, to have that companionship, is necessarily good for mental health, at least for me. I have neglected it in myself.

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 I find myself reaching for your Hope Pills during this time. Can you explain what they are to others and the range of “pills” you offer?

This is the description on the bottles:

‘Poemcetamol’ handmade at the Poetry Pharmacy for all manner of Emotional & Spiritual ailments. No bitter pills. No adverse reactions. Easy to swallow (metaphorically). These are pill capsules filled with poetic solace on strips of paper.

There are bottles of pills for various ‘emotional ailments’; here are a few of them…Broken Heart, Carpe Diem, Courage, Compassion, Existential Angst, Exhaustion, Indecision, Insomnia, Happy Pills, Hope,  Chill Pills, Mindfulness, Resilience, Writer’s Block, Wild Remedy…

I used to give them away in the Pharmacy under the awning when I was working as Emergency Poet but I’ve been really pleased to see them selling from the shop!

If it weren’t for lockdown I’d visit your consulting room. How can we get a consultation from you and what can we expect?

I really wish you could Abegail! I’ve been really enjoying giving email and telephone consultations and they are available via the website. The ‘patient’ can expect some interesting questions designed to be intimate without being invasive, positive and gentle; and then I will ‘prescribe’ some poems in response to your answers. Then they will become part of a little parcel of lovely things in the post,

How will you focus on your writing during this current lockdown and do you have any tips for other poets?

I am a terrible hypocrite! Early last year I had fun writing 200 writing tips and prompts for The Literary Consultancy called Creativity Pills- for all Manner of Ailments and Afflictions to the Muse  and we sell bottles of Writer’s Remedies to help too…I have loads of advice for other writers…I will endeavour to take some of my own advice.

It’s often a good idea to list the things that are getting in the way of your writing and making it hard to focus? Establish some challenges to them and come up with practical strategies for overcoming them. See each one as a path of small stones, rather than an immovable object, and make some notes about the small steps towards change.

Make a list of a few things that you’re curious about. When you find that you are in the doldrums with your writing, step away from the writing and find this list and enjoy doing some research. And remember that working as a writer is not simply writing. You will come to a dead-end in your work unless it is replenished by other art, by connecting to other people, by looking after your physical and mental health, by paying attention to the quality of your sleep. Sometimes what you believe to be procrastination is a necessary replenishment of the self.

Thanks Deborah.

PROMPT

Use the image of the Hope Pills as a prompt for your writing. What does it make you want to say?

debDeborah Alma is a UK poet, with an MA with distinction, in Creative Writing from Keele University. She taught for 3 years at the University of Worcester and now lectures part-time at Keele University, where she is also an Honorary Research Fellow. As well as teaching part-time at Keele, she works as a writer in the community, especially in schools and with vulnerable groups.

She is editor of Emergency Poet-an anti-stress poetry anthology, The Everyday Poet- Poems to live by (both Michael O’Mara), and #Me Too – rallying against sexual harassment- a women’s poetry anthology (Fair Acre Press, March 2018). Her True Tales of the Countryside was published by The Emma Press in 2015 and her first full collection Dirty Laundry was published by Nine Arches Press (May 2018).

Deborah believes strongly in its ability to engage all audiences in the relevance and therapeutic nature of poetry, through one to one consultations, the poetry pharmacy and workshops and delivered this experience in festival settings, libraries, schools, city centres conferences and at various other events.

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