As part of the Hastings Library residency I visited groups at all sorts of organisations to give them the opportunity to try out some creative writing.
Following on from their recent work on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I visited year sevens at Ark William Parker Academy to work with them around the theme of love potions.
These were no ordinary love potions: the focus was on the creative use of language. Together, we discovered that a love potion doesn’t have to be all petals and rosewater. It could, for example, involve "chiselled wooden dice dunked in gallium”, or “shattered LED light rubbed with acid”.
We were looking for thoroughly modern incantations, poems with a touch of the mystical but grounded in reality. We combined fantastical creatures with solid objects and liquids our readers would be familiar with and able to picture. This resulted in “leprechaun livers soaked in ink” and “the spine from the minotaur marinated in boiling pond water”.
We were learning about the power of specificity in language. Rather than just saying “bone”, we’d say “tibia”. Rather than “coin”, we’d say “twenty pence piece”, so that our reader could summon the image.
At the end of the exercise, participants had the chance to embellish their potions. Given the unusual ingredients, were these still recipes for love? Some decided the materials leant themselves better to other magical implementations (we had a transformation potion, a war potion, even a death draft). Those that stuck with love learnt a valuable lesson. As one student put it, in the darker of these poems: “the love for love is like lust for blood”: if you need to go to the trouble of tracking down a magical creature and grinding its fangs, a magical potion probably isn’t the solution to finding love.