In response to strange times The Oxford Blue culture team has started a new creative writing project: ‘CREATIVITY IN CRISIS: a writing collective’. This week we’ve teamed up with State of the Arts for a special issue.

Interview with co-founders of SOTA Pete Miller, Orna Rifkin, Carlotta Hartmann, Georgie Dettmer and Srutokirti Basak.

Illustrations by Mia Sorenti.

So who set up SOTA and why?

“After meeting at a freshers event, Sruti and Georgie got talking about the writing scene in Oxford and felt that there needed to be a space which fostered all writing and writers: new, amateur, unsure, professional. We wanted to create a platform that was welcoming and accessible, encouraging new and fresh perspectives from writers who are underrepresented. Our friends, Pete, Carlotta and Orna joined the team and we came together to create our fortnightly New Writing Nights! From there we’ve expanded, hosting writing spaces designed to encourage creativity via prompts and discussion, playwright feedback pools and much more. We are always open to conversation and collaboration and we want to hear from everyone, regardless of experience.”

Do you have to have lots of writing experience to take part?

“We founded SOTA as a platform for new voices, to give marginalized writers a chance to be heard. We’ve had both published poets and people who have never shared their work read some of their writing. I personally hadn’t written in a while, but when we started SOTA I picked it up again. In part that is because I was coming away from the sessions so impressed and inspired. Even for people who haven’t written before, the sessions can be a great place to get a glimpse of what other people are doing. And above all, they’re a safe space to share and workshop your work – even if it’s the first thing you’ve ever written.”

What is the format of the writing workshops? 

“The New Writing Nights take place every fortnight during term time at Oxford. The meetings are usually held at either Mansfield or Trinity on Saturdays at 5 pm – they tend to last an hour and a half or so, but there’s no pressure to stay for the full workshop. We usually go to the pub for drinks and a chat after the meetings, SOTA can be a great way to meet new people and join a community of students interested in literature and art. 

In the week following up to the meeting, we put out a call for submissions on our Facebook page – @stateoftheartsox. We are looking for all forms of writing; that can be play scripts, poetry extracts from novels, or writing for TV and film. The SOTA organisers choose three to four pieces to be read out at the meeting that week; those that are not chosen are simply held back to be read out at the next meeting – everyone’s work gets heard!

The workshops are meant to lay the way for informal discussions about your work, involving feedback from the rest of the group after you have finished reading and telling us about your piece. The discussions after each reading are a chance for the audience to get involved – even if you are not reading a piece we encourage you to come along, contribute your thoughts, and hear some new writing.”

I looked through the SOTA page and found some fantastic writing prompts- how do you go about choosing them?

“We offer the prompts as fun resources which can be used whichever way people choose — as writing practice, as the basis of a piece that we then workshop with them – the main aim is to get people writing. When I choose the prompts I aim to provide a real mix of starting points, since I want to create a somewhat meaningful selection rather than the kinds of prompts you could find on google. Some focus on a particular subject, often trying to get people thinking creatively about routine processes like making tea. We started putting these up over lockdown, so I’ve been trying to provide opportunities to reflect on life at home, and what it’s like to communicate online. I also try to include a visual prompt with each set — this comes from my camera roll, which I look through to find a picture of an object/objects which people could respond to in interesting ways. Our most recent one is of a display of masks at the Pitt Rivers Museum, which could spark a creative examination of the colonial history of the museum. Another format I sometimes use is setting a prompt that asks people to write using a certain technique, or within an unusual form, like representing a text exchange or making a calligram. These prompts get me thinking in different ways about writing, and hopefully, they help others to do the same.”

The following is just a sample of the brilliant work that has previously been shared at the writing workshops – 

Stacks – Rosa Arthur

Home is safe.
Home is comfort.
Home is the casket.
For too many black people.
Coughing our way to the coffin
from pollution levels
from COVID
from whatever.
Our bodies have always   been   a currency.
We prop 
up this country 
with our broomsticks, our stethoscopes, 
our skeletons
are the scaffolding 
that stacks up 
to the sky.
            We lie
            in Concrete Blood.
We pave their streets in gold,
gold they collect, 
at all costs.
They don’t pay for anything,
for PPE, for the protection of people, fair wages,
for their actions.
They sit on their hands.
Or twiddle their thumbs,
maybe the occasional clap,
maybe roll their sleeve up
to shake hands with COVID,
thank it for helping them 
in the business transaction.
Their home is safe.
Their home is the safe
comprised of bricks, 
each brick a wad of cash.
Stacks and stacks.
Claps and claps.
We live to the rhythm of claps,
dance to the rhythm of claps,
work to the rhythm of claps
when it suits
and ties
in with the agenda.
As if claps pay.
Claps for this,
claps for that,
claps for when the NHS workers had their pay rise 
They do not value us.
But yet they do.
They value us at the price 
of a grin
when the paycheck rolls in
along with the new lambo.
We are a 
they disguise
as a problem.
in all CAPS,
in all caps.
That is the basis 
of claps.

Hear her perform the poem on her instagram @karithecreative 

The Big Black Coat –  Sam Spencer

So it was midday last Thursday, on the way to town – drizzling. It’s Britain, what do you expect? Had to wear that big black coat with those hideous, chunky pink buttons Gareth bought me. Quite a scandalous cut, so I think was it meant for her? Kim. Is that who it was bought for? Bigger question, were the buttons pink or fuchsia? I hated the feel of it. Should've pawned the thing. A hundred or so would've gone a long way after the “Egos Fiasco”. Good Lord! Everyone was watching, it was an absolute embarrassment. Even next door managed to find out. Came knocking with their flowers. Now those were fuchsias I can tell you. Can't bear the things.
But anyway, midday Thursday, and I had to go into town to get some things:​
− Hat
− Cake
− Party poppers − Bunting
And in the medicine aisle:
− Something for the pain
I knew the plan by then.
(I didn't even know how much the trolley was coming to, but was hoping it wouldn't run over whatever was on my card. I had to take care of those things, since Gareth and I . . .had chosen to continue in different paths.)
I couldn't get the “Egos Fiasco” out of my head. You know those moments in life where everything suddenly changes at once and you can just feel everything you ever worked for and loved slip, far too easily and much too quickly, away? That was Egos -
You know, I’ll really miss Egos, our go-to Mediterranean, with our go-to balcony spot if we called ahead. Not like I can go there any more though after the scene Kim created.
I didn't know who she was at the time. She just walked in, all make-up and extensions, bold-as-brass and started howling at Gareth with her gutter mouth...
Got what was coming for her. She'll be combing mushroom ravioli from her hair for a month, I tell you!
Who did she think she was? A hairdresser – all X Factor and celebrity gossip and text messaging and fake tan without a single GCSE I bet. Wouldn’t know what hard work was if it crash landed in her bed and spat in her morning Frappuccino.
But Gareth? Oh, Gareth . . . He had it easy. So, so easy. He got to keep his money, his respect and escape from me, as he saw it. Getting away with murder, that's what it was. It was consuming me, the pain. Growing.
​- Something for the pain. That's what I needed.
So I swerve the trolley into the medicine aisle, a bit of a skip in my step as I do so. Christmas coming in mid-October. Paracetamol! That’s the plan – packets and packets and packets of the stuff – the more the better! CCTV on my back, the shop assistants circling like vultures, there are probably spies posing as a married couple in the frozen foods aisle, so everything gets tipped into my pockets and down my trousers like I'm smuggling across the Mexican border, and before you know it I'm twice the size I was when I entered, with white packaging poking out my sleeves.
That would ease the pain.
Let’s discuss Gareth’s milk drinking habits. He’s a sucker for milk – in his morning coffee, tea, cereal, custard, anything – guzzles like a babe at a teat! Four bottles of it delivered to the door every other morning; he really is an addict. And after fifteen years of living in the same house as that man, if there's one thing I know, it's that he's not a morning person. He stumbles about, picks up the wrong things, eyesight all blurry . . . can’t taste properly . . . So when, every other morning, he goes to open the bottle of milk, he barely even looks at it – just tears it open and drinks without a single moment of thought.
It's surprisingly easy to contaminate a milk bottle.
Next door managed to find out. Came knocking with their flowers. How awfully tragic that Gareth suffered such an unexpected decline into liver failure. You must be devastated. Here, have these, we cut them from the garden this morning. I hear lilies are appropriate. Yes, how awfully tragic, I agree, unsure whether they’ve noticed the bunting I’ve hung up in the hallway, or the final sweet crumb of Wake Cake on my bottom lip. Oh me.
I might wear that big black coat to Gareth's funeral next week. Shows off my hips.

Landlock – Maya Little

Come back! 
Hello. I saw you
looking at me.
Everyone looks at me
all the time.
You’re not special.
Keep looking at me.
I don’t want you
to stop. Everyone
turns away from me
all the time.
People like to visit me.
It’s an activity.
I’m so temporary,
but I’ve always been here.
I’ll be here when you come back.
Come back.
I can’t look I can’t look
I’m looking right at you
not blue-
               so small-
                              like a pin
the sea is a pin
(I am fabric that needs holding together)
how do we meet?
how can I meet you when
you are all this?
I came here hoping to be filled and
you have emptied me.
Do it again.
Do it again.
why is it natural that in every other moment
I have to pull back from you?
I’ll keep coming forward
and you’ll have to learn
the nature of how to take it.
can you hear me how about now can you hear me I can’t hear
you can you hear me the signal’s bad it’s because
there’s no signal
You keep talking but I can’t hear you.
It’s alright, I’ve given
up asking anything of you.
I’m going to keep leaving you
just so I can keep coming back.
can you hear me? 
how about now?

If you want to be published in next week’s edition, submit your work to the link below:

If you have any ideas, questions, or queries related to SOTA get in touch with them via their Facebook page (link below), website, or email ([email protected]).

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Gaia Clark Nevola

Gaia Clark Nevola (she/ they) was the Senior Editor for Culture from June 2020 to March 2021 and is now the paper's welfare officer and a member of the board. She is in her second year studying English at St. Catz where they are also LGBTQ+ welfare rep. Gaia is the Bi Rep on the SU LGBTQ+ Campaign committee and sometimes does costumes for student theatre. She is the proud owner of a questionable mullet and enjoys telling people that she's actually half Italian, as though that constitutes having...