During Cardiff University’s reading week in February, I could be found on the University of Jyväskylä’s snowy campus in Finland. Both institutions are members of the European Association of Creative Writing Programmes (EACWP) and formed a link in 2015 with the first teaching exchange between Dr. Shelagh Weeks and Terhi Forssén.
I was delighted that my visit would keep this collaboration going and diligently prepared my presentations, workshops and readings. I knew I would be running a poetry workshop for an undergraduate course and leading presentations and discussions for graduate students. What I didn’t know was how much warmth was waiting for me.
Deep in central Finland, the snow rising high against the brick buildings, I learned more than I could have ever imagined. My first day, I taught a poetry workshop with students and staff from across the university. We discussed Sharon Olds and Rebecca Goss, talked about concrete images, perspective, stanza breaks. I was impressed by their enthusiasm, generosity and willingness to engage in English poetry. I also loved hearing their work read aloud, in their language.
Later in the week, I led two presentations about my PhD study which examines how creative writing can benefit individuals bereaved by addiction. I talked about losing my father, the poetry collection that came after him, the lives of my participants. Both presentations were followed by a flurry of questions and discussions that spilled out of the room and into the hall. Off campus, in between these sessions, I enjoyed dense cakes, Finnish beers and conversations about poetry, art, saunas, snow and more.
Everyone I met at the University of Jyväskylä was engaging, curious, well-read and invested in therapeutic writing. I learned about their projects, collaborations, and work with young people, schizophrenics, families of addiction and more. Although I was there to teach and share insights from my PhD , I came away with renewed energy, dedication to community work and connections I will cherish for a lifetime.
For weeks I have delayed writing this post because I did not, and still do not, feel I could do justice to my time there. I am very grateful to Risto Niemi-Pynttäri and Terhi Forssén for supporting this trip in all kinds of ways. I am also thankful for the support I received from Dr. Shelagh Weeks and Cardiff University whose Teaching Enhancement Fund allowed me to cover my travel costs. I hope to return to Jyväskylä one day.
Later this week, I will also be sharing my first guest posts on this blog from two writers I met at the university: Elisa Auvinen and Katja Kontturi. Their stories and work are inspiring so please stay tuned!
For now though, I will include photos below of my time in Jyväskylä, both on the campus and in the city. I will also sneak in a few pictures from the weekend after, in Lapland, where I met many reindeer and huskies. Enjoy!