Published on: 10 February 2010 Author: Nii Ayikwei Parkes
The award-winning poet and author Nii Ayikwei Parkes, writer of Tail of the Bluebird, became our second Writer in Residence back in 2009. In this blog Nii tells us about his tendency to daydream and how it has helped him write poetry.
It strikes me that a large part of my life has been spent daydreaming.
First it got me into trouble- as a kid my mother could scream for me for ages and I just wouldn't hear her (of course, she thought I was ignoring her), resulting in my winning a catalogue of chores as punishment, during which, yes you guessed, I would daydream! Later, in boarding school in Accra, it got me out of trouble.
A few of the seniors (who were inordinately powerful and lacking in restraint) became aware of my dreamy way with phrases and would spare me punishments in exchange for love letters addressed to the girls of their dreams - and, of course, now, daydreaming is the engine for my career.
People ask me what my writing routine is and are often disappointed when I tell them, truthfully, that I don't have one.
Most of my work is done in my head - when I'm travelling, when I drift off during conversations, when I'm having a shower - and then, when I finally sit down it comes pouring out. A very messy process, I assure you.
But I want to talk about another thing I do by daydreaming - writing workshops! One of the first things I decided, soon after the first writing workshop I led, was that I was not going to prepare lesson plans for the exercises I intended to do. Naturally, my decision led to an uneasy initial relationship with many schools and filter organisations (the ones that the schools initially approach to find a writer to visit), but over the years my method has paid dividends so I get less scepticism now when I refuse to present plans.
My reasoning was simple; my first lesson plan was well-written, timed, ideally-pitched and done with the best serif font available, but once I got to the school I realised that the ability level of the students was quite low and I had to adapt very quickly - at other times it's been the opposite (I guess it's a similar problem to the one I mentioned in an earlier blog about the age categories on children's books).
Anyway, the reason why I mention daydreaming and workshops now is I had one of those great moments of concurrence last week when teaching a class of outstanding Year 9s at the American School in London as part of my Bergeron Fellowship. Unsure how to progress an initial writing exercise in which they had come up with glorious fictions about the origins of their names, it suddenly occurred to me to ask them to write about daydreams and vague memories, those memories that have you asking your friends and siblings if they remember them the same way you do (Trust me, I have thousands - I use my older brother as a truth machine).
See, a daydreamed workshop about daydreams! What we did to make the exercise take on beneficial dimensions in which they could explore nuance, empathy and perspective, was to recall the memory in questions, taking on other possible truths about the event and - for fun - including two outrageous questions. As they read their work back to me, I was struck by how deep the roots of good fiction lie in that liminal space between what the writer knows or researches and what comes from dreams and the subconscious.
Now I find myself asking my two outrageous questions: Is fact and truth the same beast? What if truth lies in dreams?