Catch up on all the latest from ArtfulScribe

A Guest blog - by Grace Seeley

20 May 2024

ArtfulScribe does what it can to serve the writing community, regardless of age, experience or specialism. In January 2024 we were approached by Grace regarding the possibility of a work experience placement and were glad to be able to help. Here's a blog from Grace about that experience.

An insight into the world of literature: LITFEST 2024

When I reached out to ArtfulScribe it was in the hope that they might offer me a work experience placement. What they actually offered was a gateway into the writing community. On Friday 15th of March, I travelled from my home in North Dorset to the city of Southampton to attend the literature festival put on by ArtfulScribe with a focus on poetry.

LITFEST 2024 consisted of a varied programme ranging from showcases and open mics to workshops. This allowed a chance to experience poets performing their work, with some being brand new to the writing world and others fully established in their fields. The workshops were delivered by amazing poets dedicating some time to help other writers pursue their craft.

On Friday, I attended two events, first the Keynote speech, followed by the International Women’s Day Showcase. 

The Keynote began in the early evening and the audience began to gather in the café of the MAST, settled across various sofas. The atmosphere was calm with warm lighting and friendly people buying drinks and settling down for the talks from the English Department of the University of Southampton. Matthew West addressed the audience welcoming them and saying that the talks prepared were focused around the stories of women.

The next was a Masters student, Emily Rose who delved into the ability of female documentary makers to ‘affect’ audiences by foregrounding emotional connection and relationships. She talked about a Ukrainian documentary that followed a matriarchal family as they attempted to sustain themselves whilst being surrounded by conflict. The juxtaposition between the all too familiar family dynamics and the almost illusory level of extreme violence hit home for viewers. They did not frame Anna and her family as unnamed, faceless victims but as complete humans just like us, restoring our awareness of their dignity. It was suggested that the expression of human emotion within this documentary that struck viewers and was the true feminist act.

The second speaker had written a short story that explores the queer man’s fascination with women, as well as how gender is presented in the mainstream media. His story was inspired by the Netflix Show ‘Married at First Sight’ which is essentially a dating show where two individuals wed without ever seeing each other. Contestants on these shows are interviewed by the producer for talking head clips to edit into the show. Within this story, a female contestant was interviewed by a gay man. The humorous tone of his writing cased ripples of laughter amongst the MAST audience.

The final speaker was Toby Lit Head of Creative Writing, recounting his experience collaborating with Emily Hall, composer and singer/songwriter. They worked together on producing songs for the WOW festival in 2006 and continued afterwards with Toby constructing lyrics and Emily composing and performing the songs. He played a song that discussed the life cycle surrounding motherhood and the struggles of a couple after a stillborn and their joy of a healthy child ,celebrating both events as equal in importance and memorialization. The song displayed the work process that Toby and Emily came to understand where the lyrics were secondary to the music. This was showcased as even without hearing the words she was singing, due to issues with clarity through the speakers, the song’s message was clear. Like the lyrics he wrote for Emily, Toby believed that men should write women when their work has earnt it through goodwill and the knowledge that their words are secondary to the story of the woman. 

The Keynote was probably where I felt most within my element within the festival (having little experience surrounding poetry).

After a half hour break and some drinks, we moved to Studio 2 for the International Women’s Day Showcase curated by the award-winning poet Joelle Taylor. The evening was comprised of 4 poets (including Joelle herself) all talented female poets of vibrant and brilliant backgrounds, offering a wide variety of fabulous work that truly showcased not just the versatility of the female voice but its power in all its forms. 

Fran lock began the evening with several poems inspired by her reading of medieval descriptions of animals. Joelle sat in the front row providing a masterclass in how one appreciates poetry, clicking her fingers and leaning back into her seat letting out bursts of laughter. Fran juxtaposed her great readings of her stunning poetry with dry humour interspersed in their introduction.

Next came Safia Kamaria Lavery standing in the spotlight dressed in orange with gold accessories. After a moment, she removed her stilettoes, placing them at the edge of the yellow circle of light, framing them as she stood foregrounded with her feet against the carpeted floor. She recited an extended poem with brilliant displays of movement and expression, the words being brought to life as she performed a story of rebellion, a display of the injustice stemming from her being seen as anything less than equally important. 

The next poet, the Edinburgh Makar, Hannah Lavery introduced a poem that she wrote inspired by the shadowed women seen in the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde telling their stories with a fluidity of words and emotion. As these once meek and washed-out women gathered around Dr Jekyll as he slips from life alone at the climax of the poem, they were filled with vigour and passion compared to the pathetic figure of a man wasting away on the wooden floor. 

Finally, Joelle herself took to the floor reading from her book C+NTO & Othered Poems which tells her story, the story of her friends from her youth who have since passed away, the community and the spaces they gathered that have left defining marks on Joelle’s life and work. She wrote the book to tell of her friends as well as her own experiences growing up as a queer person in a time where it was dangerous to be anything out of the ordinary, anything ‘other’. Her words introduced you to these women with such vitality that you almost feel as though you knew them yourself, their powerful figures and bravery leaving an impression on the audience that lasted long after the evening had come to a close.

At 9am the following morning, I attended Joelle Taylor’s workshop on ‘Writing the Female Experience’. Joelle began by asking us what group we belonged to, what community we were a part of because of who we are. People hesitated and Joelle listed some possibilities. She asked us to write a praise poem which mimicked a religious chant or hymn. After listing several praise words such as ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Praise be’, we wrote a poem dedicated to our community. The results were as diverse as the group themselves, with some being humorous and others emotional. Next Joelle read some of her own poems dedicated to specific members of her community, namely her queer friends. She then asked us to think of a person who was significant to us and write based on them. I constructed a poem based on my friend Connor whose kindness, talent and sense of style has contributed to who I am since the day we met 10 years ago. Despite feeling significantly underconfident and inexperienced, the workshop was a joy to attend due to the support of the group and the welcoming, down to earth nature of Joelle Taylor. 

After a short break, we attended the ‘Write Your River’ workshop in which I found myself slightly out of my depth. The concept of a ‘river’ in this context confused me due to the versatility of the term. A river both referred to the geographical feature and a much more spiritual and metaphorical concept within an individual. We began by analysing several poems surrounding the topic of rivers before moving onto writing our own in gradual segments. Although I struggled, the passion of the other people in the workshop was wonderful to be a part of and their genuine support and awareness of different skill levels was comforting. At the end of the workshop, we each wrote a line onto a piece of paper which would be combined into a poem constructed by the efforts of the whole group.

The final workshop of the day was ‘Tips and Tricks To Get Published’ with Stuart Bartholomew who looks after Verve Poetry Festival and runs a publishing company specializing in poetry. This workshop offered a fascinating insight into the more professional side of producing poetry, creating a space for aspiring poets to ask questions about succeeding in the industry. Although there seemed to be little money in writing poetry it is an artform that contributes to an almost self-sustaining community where those ‘who read poetry are poets’.

On Sunday, the final day of the literary festival, the focus was poetry in translation. Translation is not limited to the direct transfer of words from one language to another and is within itself a format of self-expression and creativity. 

We began by attending a ‘Translationplay’ workshop run by Harriet Truscott who began by reassuring us that we did not need to be multi-lingual to take part. We all discovered that everyone in the room was relatively new to this side of poetry production. This, and Harriet’s playfulness and skill, allowed for a very relaxed atmosphere with everyone contributing. We were given a poem in Spanish along with the direct translation and then we as a group decided how we were going to translate it as the process allows for much more expression than first thought. We listened to the poem being read and discussed our thoughts as a group and went through, writing it up. After this we were then given the opportunity to display this poem how ever we wished adapting it to our individual tastes. I chose to flip the layout of the words themselves to reflect the meaning. All in all, a very freeing and fun workshop, one of my favourites at the festival.

Finally, the Modern Poetry in Translation showcase in the afternoon of the Sunday, was an opportunity to see some poets translating poems from around the globe. Harriet Truscott recited poems written by an extraordinary woman who wrote throughout her life to cope with the almost debilitating circumstances she often found herself in. The translator poet’s works were beautiful and gave a great insight into the feelings of the poet as though you felt it as well. The speaker translated these emotions superbly and displayed a deep respect and regard for the poet herself. The next and final speaker Adham Smart read several of his translated works from his recently published collection. Adham was skilled in translating from several languages and was fluent in a multiple of these. The pieces he read exemplified this breadth of talent.

As the festival came to a close, I was left with a sense of purpose, community and identity as a writer. Best work experience ever!


By Grace Seeley


Back to news

Sign up to our newsletter

Sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest news on events, workshops and upcoming projects

*We never share your details with other businesses and promise not to swamp you with emails. You can also unsubscribe at any time.

What's on

Find out more

Our projects

Find out more


Find out more

Our blogs

Find out more

Our films

Watch now

Headlight Press

Find out more

Our blogs

Regular news and insight from our many poets, writers, educators and facilitators

Find out more


Why not get in touch?