I take the train from Edinburgh to Inverness with two poet friends. The train weaves through the Cairngorm mountains, it’s February and they’re snow-peaked and beautiful in shades of green and brown.
When we arrive at Moniack Mhor I’m struck by the sweeping vista, the clear blue sky, the valley, and the snowy mountains. I’m filled with deep happiness when I see my room. There’s a small desk at the window looking out for miles and miles to the mountains. I love desks, I think there’s a magic to them, and this one is brimming with the promise of creativity. Here, there’s space to dream and think expansively.
Every night at Moniack all the writers eat dinner together. This is my first retreat and everyone here is attending as part of the Scottish Book Trust New Writer’s Award packet. Hearing about everyone’s creative projects over dinner is inspiring and I’m eager to start writing.
When I wake up, I open the curtains and drink in the view. I start my day freewriting and looking out over the mountains. I brew fresh coffee and everything feels so calm and still.
The sun is bright and soon I’m longing to be outside. I feel like I should stay at my desk and be productive, but the words won’t come and I can see my fellow writers walking in the gardens. I decide to go for a walk on my own to the nearby woods. It’s a surprisingly warm day and the moorland stretches away from me. I find a path through the forest and the trees are so dense that I can only see deep shadowy undergrowth.
Something opens up inside me and when I return to my room two poems pour onto the page. When I listened to what I needed the poems appeared.
Today on my walk I discover a field of goats and I write them into a poem. I write from the cottage which houses the poetry library and I work quietly alongside my fellow poets. From the window, I watch the shifting light and the horses grazing in the field outside. I read from Mina Gorji’s Scale, Jane Hirshfield’s The Beauty, Em Strang’s Bird-Woman, and Roger Robinson’s A Portable Paradise. Each day I read so much poetry I’m exhausted by the afternoon.
Later, I sit by the fire eating orange cake and chatting about grandmothers, memory, simplicity, and truth in poetry. I feel very far away from my 9-5. This space to think and follow my creativity feels natural and strange at the same time. I feel like I’ve lost a powerful and integral part of myself through the daily pressures of full-time work. Here, as I take my ideas and poetry seriously, I am taking steps back toward myself.
I’m reading Bashō’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Bashō writes about inviting friends to ‘snow viewing parties’ and that ‘even a horse / is a spectacle.’ I want my poems to capture the wonder of small things. I walk out to visit the goats again.
An idea for a poem has been following me around and I finally sit down to write it. By reading and writing so much I’ve pushed past the judgemental part of my mind that prevents me from starting in fear of failure.
It’s easy to feel daunted by the thousands of words the fiction writers have been able to produce during our time here, but for a poet progress can be a lot harder to see. Even if it’s slow, you have to trust that it’s happening.
On the last day, I find a field of stags and they take my breath away. When I walk back, I’m sad to leave the stags and I’m sad to be leaving Moniack.
We all gather in the evening to read the work that we’ve written. I’ve worked quietly alongside people all week and now I feel like I’m getting a glimpse into their internal world. Meeting new writers has been such an integral and nourishing part of my time at Moniack – and I know that my friendships will last. I feel invigorated.
Without the award, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to book myself onto a writing retreat. But we all deserve space and time to pursue our craft. Having nothing to think about except my poetry felt like an incredible luxury. It’s a transformative experience that all writers should have.
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Roshni is a poet from Leeds living in Edinburgh. She is a winner of the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award 2022 and the Scottish Book Trust New Writer’s Award 2022. Her debut pamphlet Bird Cherry is published by Verve Poetry Press. She writes about nature, memory, and quietness.
Twitter/instagram @Roshni Gallagher