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Poetry and Transformations in Ireland

In July, Autumn traveled to Ireland with Putney Student Travel: Writing in Ireland. This unique travel experience brought together carefully selected student writers to explore the literary roots and storytelling traditions of Ireland, all while improving their own craft. Mentored by a Ph.D. candidate and creative writing teacher from Duke University, participants immersed themselves in writing workshops and retreats. Autumn was also selected to contribute to the official Putney Travel Blog. Here, she reflects on a challenging prompt that inspired one of her favorite pieces of writing.

Inishbofin, Ireland. From Dublin, it’s a 45-minute ferry ride to this small, remote island. The complete opposite of New York City: trails of people on the city pavement are replaced by walking trails and miles of empty beach. In New York, there also aren’t treacherous hills that seem to reach onwards and upwards for miles. The only real similarity is the danger of stepping in animal feces at any second! The dogs of New York leave their mark, while the sheep, cows, and horses of Ireland leave theirs.

When my school leaders selected me to apply for a study abroad experience, I knew I wanted to try for a writing program. I composed an essay detailing why I thought this trip would be good for me, explaining that writing helps me focus and makes me happy, and that I wanted an experience introducing me to new people from different backgrounds. Ireland seemed like the perfect opportunity.

I hoped that my time here would be unlike anything I’d ever experienced. After settling into our hostel in Inishbofin, I discovered that this island had no wifi, and my suspicions were confirmed: this would be very different! Suddenly, there was more time and space to focus on one activity with my new friends: writing.

The next morning, I found myself on the beach — only, I wasn’t enjoying the cold sand beneath my bare feet. I didn’t have any desire to take off the three layers of hoodies that I wore to this freezing beach. Instead, I sat on a stone wall with a salty wind blowing on my face, and wrote one of my favorite pieces, ever.

My instructor Julia (also known as Juju) had earlier read us a piece called “How to Be a Writer,” by Lorrie Moore. The story was told in second person. Juju then instructed my group to tell a story of our own choosing. The only rule: it had to be written in second person. After receiving the prompt, I’d wandered away towards the stone wall overlooking the Inishbofin beach. At first, all I could do was gaze. Rays from the rarely seen Irish sun  began to surface, and the light caused the water to glimmer. I thought about the prompt; I liked the challenge. I hadn’t written in second person very much before and thought that this style could add a new perspective to a piece. An idea popped into my head that seemed interesting and cool, so in a moment of focus, I began to write:

How To Live A Lie

You always know something is off.
You accept It as your normal.
You push yourself farther and farther away from the problem.
You allow this uninvited guest into the home of your body.
You allow this problem to creep its way into your life. The visitor slowly changes your
mindset. Your perspective becomes a kaleidoscope constantly juggling reality and the lie.
Slowly but surely you forget. Forget your family friends and sense of self worth.
You are no longer connected to the person in the mirror.
You have become the lie.

The experience on the beach is just one example of how much writing consumed me on the trip. We wrote and wrote, and I found myself becoming happier and happier. I started to realize that what I described in my application essay — about writing being a passion of mine — felt inadequate. Ireland solidified and strengthened the role of writing in my life. We wrote so much, and were so inspired by our surroundings and the prompts, that the experience sparked a fire in me. I wrote as if my life depended on it, pen moving vigorously against the page. I never wanted to stop.

Writing has always been my favorite form of expression, but now I know that I want to make this into something more. I dream of being a successful screenwriter! Back in February, I was a girl who knew that writing helped her focus, so she chose to apply for a summer writing trip to Ireland. In July, I became a girl who realized that writing isn’t just a hobby — it’s a necessity for my fulfillment.

Whenever anybody asks me if I enjoyed my trip, I say what I can. For once, the words are simply not strong enough to express my gratefulness for this experience.  


Autumn and her writing team at Inishbofin. Photo courtesy of Putney Student Travel.

Written by Autumn Swepson August 3, 2017

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