Haworth Hodgkinson

Haworth Hodgkinson

Music, theatre and poetry have always been important to me. As a child I was always looking for things to hit to see what sound they made, or putting on puppet shows to entertain my brother.

A friend of my mother's gave me an LP of Respighi's Fountains of Rome and Pines of Rome conducted by Malcolm Sargent, and this opened my ears to possibilities way beyond the recorder band that I played in at primary school. At eleven I briefly flirted with the clarinet, but this didn't work out, so, feeling excluded from the conventional musical path, I decided I was going to stick with the recorder and make it do everything that more respectable instruments were capable of.

Poetry came later. I still have a poem that I wrote as an English homework at the age of fourteen, but it was at sixteen that I first wrote for my own amusement and that of my friends, and it didn't take long for deeper and darker teenage emotions to creep into what I was writing. Rabindranath Tagore and Ivor Cutler were my poetic heroes at this time, and to some extent they still are.

At university I still wrote some poetry, but music became more important again. I was discovering Shostakovich, Ligeti, Scelsi, Messiaen, Schnittke and Steve Reich, as well as Indian classical music, and each of these brought revelations equivalent to those of Respighi years earlier. I composed and improvised with friends, and kept acquiring instruments – different sizes of recorders, assorted percussion, electronic keyboards.

Music and poetry remained largely private pursuits until 1993, when George Gunn, then writer in residence with Banff and Buchan District Council, established a writers' group in Peterhead, and a friend persuaded me I should go along. It was here that I first met other people for whom the written word was a natural form of expression, and George introduced me to some "real" writers, not least the great George Bruce who shortlisted one of my poems in the Breaking New Ground competition.

George Gunn also provided my first opportunities to read in public, and, terrifying as it was to stand up in front of an audience, I found something strangely addictive about the whole thing. I particularly remember a couple of occasions at Macduff Arts Centre when complete strangers came up to me after a reading to say they had enjoyed my work. At last I felt there were people out there who appreciated what I was doing.

At this time I also became involved in a number of drama projects in Fordyce and Fraserburgh, initially providing music, but soon also directing and devising.

I moved to Dundee in 1995 and was immediately drawn into a thriving community drama scene led by such figures as John Harvey and Marilyn Reid. I wrote and performed music for about thirty plays over the next three years, including three for which I had also written the script. I ran Ormiston Junior Theatre, a children's drama group in Whitfield, and became particularly interested in pieces in which children and adults would perform together on equal terms.

Returning to Aberdeen in 1998, I joined the Lemon Tree Writers, a serious but friendly and informal community of writers led by Michel Dudropt and David Nicol, and when they left the group in 1999 I was asked to take over. I continued to lead the group until 2005, aiming to provide a forum for both new and established writers to gain valuable constructive feedback on their work, as well as providing opportunities for public performance, writers' retreats and exchanges with other groups.

Meanwhile I continued to write poetry, and, encouraged by Magi Gibson who was writer in residence with Aberdeenshire Council at the time, I also began to write short stories, two of which have been published in the magazine she founded, Pushing Out the Boat.

I was also a founder member of Dead Good Poets, a group organising monthly poetry readings in Aberdeen in which guest writers are juxtaposed with open floor spots, and from the buzz that was created by these events I realised in early 2006 that Aberdeen was ready for a new festival to celebrate its literary talent. Scotland has been well provided with book festivals in recent years, and the Word festival run by Alan Spence and Elly Rothnie at the University of Aberdeen is one of the best. I wanted something different: not a book festival focusing on big names with lucrative publishing profiles, but a festival highlighting some of the new talent that I knew was around in abundance. Thus was born Wordfringe, a festival that celebrates writers at the beginning of their careers, writers who might not yet have many books to sell, but who certainly have something new to say, as well as writers who are established in their own right but remain outside of the mainstream, writers who seek new and interesting ways of presenting their material, or writers who have pursued other careers and only came to writing late in life.

My own creative contribution to Wordfringe 2006 was to dream up the Spinners and Spoons Multimedia Event. I know the title was a bit pretentious, but there wasn't time to think of anything better. Spinners and Spoons was a book of stories and poetry by Catriona Yule, Knotbrook Taylor, Helen Elizabeth Ramsey and six of my own poems, and the idea behind the Multimedia Event was to present readings by the four of us, combined in various ways with other artforms. As well as being poets, we all had other talents to bring to the show: Catriona is an expert with a laptop and digital projector, Knotbrook is a photographer and Elizabeth a painter, and I surrounded myself with musical instruments. We also invited dancer Mhairi Allan, bowed psaltery player Amanda Armitage and guitarist Cath Ferguson into the mix for what turned out to be a fascinating if largely improvised experiment.

After the festival, Knotbrook, Catriona and I decided that this idea of presenting poetry in the context of other artforms was something we wanted to explore further, and so the Blue Salt Collective came into being.

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