Orkney Tapestries: from the pen and through the lens

Thoughts on a project by Gabrielle Barnby

Over the past months I have been creative facilitator for the collaboration between Age Orkney and The St Magnus International Festival. I have leaned many things about the community Age Orkney supports. I have been entertained, moved and honoured by the stories that have been shared.  There is a bubbling desire to communicate and share connections from the past and present. I have learned that the creative wellspring of this community is not defined by age or caring responsibilities, and it has been a joy.

We met as a group seven times on-line, but this description barely scratches the surface of our communications via e-mail, Facebook and telephone. My determination that we succeed in meeting has been shared by my participants. We experienced disruptions of just about every sort, from caring duties for grandchildren and spouses, to medical appointments and car servicing, not to mention a total broadband black-out on Eday, gremlins in an out of date router and the countless subtle variations between internet browsers and web cameras. 

Imagine you are on the waiting list of cataract surgery and are only able to sit comfortably for twenty minutes, but still showing up every week for an hour and a half on-line creative session with somebody you have never met before. It takes a leap of faith, and physical and emotional courage.

Stones, Precious Objects, Journeys and Feasts and Festivals.

Our sessions were divided into different themes. Each stood alone but built into an overall scheme to encourage long term creativity. Each session included a period of creative reflection that focused on specific experiences and developed images to write from. This was followed by guided support that extending these into pieces of poetry and prose. Suggestions for further optional writing between sessions was also provided. Inspired by Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters we began writing about the shore. The themes of further sessions evolved as time progressed to include: Stones, Precious Objects, Journeys and Feasts and Festivals.

One session was also devoted to creating a group poem loosely following the traditions of Renga. The joint concentration and creative goodwill around this exercise inspired each other’s writing, one pair lines would link and shift to another as each participant added their voice to develop the collective piece. The session also launched something of a ‘mania’ for Haiku in several members. Many of the participants have unpredictable and busy lives and the form being short and amenable to composition on the go led to many creative ideas unfolding.

Homecoming Across the Water

Our final session was themed Homecoming Across the Water. Here we reflected on creativity, change and renewal using the ancient Celtic Song of Amergin to inspire images of personal strength and representation through metaphor. These pieces touched deeply many of the aspects we had passed over already and brought the sessions to a conclusion in a place of strength and safety.

The collaboration reached out to inspire eight individuals, including two mother-daughter pairs who supported each other through the exercises. Not all members could come to the on-line sessions, but were regularly involved in fruitful on-line communication with written pieces and sessions notes moving to and fro. A flexible and inclusive approach has been rewarded with a glowing tapestry of writing, the richness of experience echoes through narrative prose and the immediacy of sensation rolls through the poetry. The knack of folk song rhythm and rhyme runs through many pieces reflecting Orkney’s traditional literature that is still carried through to this day. 

If these notes should fall into the hands of a benefactor – may I say thank you. Thank you from all of us. We have had a ball. We have shared everything from how to make farmhouse cheese to the poignancy of the young and old walking hand in hand by the shore. 

If you might think to fund such a project again I think there will be a queue.

Gabrielle Barnby