A Poet’s Return to Finland

Today I held the initial meeting for the lucky Cardiff Metropolitan University students who will accompany me to Finland for a Creative Writing Summer School in June this year.

In anticipation of hosting my first international writing school, I thought I’d share a piece I wrote for Cardiff Met’s staff news page, Insite, about this very topic. For anyone who wants to read blogs about my first time in Finland, or read guest posts from some talented people I met there, you can check out the following posts:

Thanks for reading, as always!

Back in 2017, I travelled to the University of Jyväskylä in Finland for a creative writing teaching exchange. When I arrived, the snow was higher than I expected and the darkness much deeper. Although I’d meticulously planned my presentations, seminars and writing workshops, I still felt unprepared and nervous about my first day. Buzzing with both excitement and worry, I barely slept. In the morning, I walked tentatively to my new campus; I already knew that I had not packed enough sweaters. I also feared my clumsiness would get the better of me on the slippery and narrow pavements. When I arrived for my first class, full of cold and questions, I was greeted with the one thing I really needed: warmth.

My Finnish colleagues welcomed me enthusiastically as did each and every student I met. Over the week, we talked about all forms of love and loss, home and community. We read poetry – me in English, and them in Finnish – about the things which mattered most to us. I shared my research about bereavement writing and learned about their work with young people. Everyone I met at the University of Jyväskylä was kind, curious, well-read and invested in creative writing both as an artform and a therapeutic tool.

It is for these reasons, and more, that I am so grateful to have received Short Term Mobility Funding to travel back to the University of Jyväskylä in June 2020, where I will set up my first Creative Writing Summer School. This school will provide up to 10 Cardiff Met students, as well as students from Jyväskylä, with the opportunity to explore and experiment with creative forms as well as learn new approaches to writing, editing and the creative process. The group will be mixed, representing different ages, abilities and cultural backgrounds. This summer school will be a place where risk-taking is encouraged and where students will have a rare chance to write freely without being assessed. It will offer students the chance to read Finnish literature – perhaps for the first time – and give them an opportunity to perform their work in a new country.

I hope all the Cardiff Met students who take part in this programme will grow – both as writers and as people – in ways they never imagined. I too am looking forward to returning to Finland and growing again there. As the Finns say: ‘work teaches the worker’ or, in Finnish: ‘työ tekijäänsä neuvoo’. I know that I will not only teach my students during this new adventure, but they will teach me. We will learn together from each other; from our peers in Jyväskylä; and from the place itself. Since we will be travelling in the summer, there will be no snow. But, I am told by my Finnish friends and colleagues that exciting things await us: silver birch groves, blooming bluebells, seven-spotted lady birds, a high bright sun, a warm welcome.



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