The Understory Conversation

‘It is tied together by a single golden thread:  a mutual intent to meet around a theme, The Understory.  That’s it; simple and as vast and as layered as you want to make it…’

An Understory group member

The Understory Conversation is a new way of poets – people! – working. It’s an online ongoing small-group setting, where members meet to talk about their writing. 

The idea of the ‘Understory’ is we all have stuff that causes us difficulties in life (stop press!) and acknowledging that might help before we start trying to talk. It can be a relief to do so and, ironically, free us to leave some of the weight at the door.

An Understory group is a small group of poets who meet regularly. From my experience, it provides a ‘space’:

  • Where we sit with ambivalence, uncertainty, mixed pots of feeling.
  • Where we make connections – so many – between us in why, and how we write, and all the doubts, and frustrations, and fruitful questions we encounter.
  • Where we visit and revisit emerging, common and usefully-contrasting themes – both within each session, and from session to session – without rushing to answers, or feeling the need to brush away dilemmas: our Understories.
  • Where we bring our unique selves into it, and are welcomed.
  • Where we really listen.
  • And learn so much from hearing from, and about, each other.

The experience is not ‘heavy’, in the way one might imagine. There’s something about the accepted understory that actually lightens things. There’s been a shared experience of relief on arrival, despite our otherwise-Zoom fatigue. Something about not having to pretend, maybe.

If you’re curious, and interested in knowing more, do drop me an email on ckg [at] seestep [dot] com.

What participants have said:

‘The Understory, for me, is first and foremost a space:  a space into which I can step, as my human self as well as my poet self, and share and talk and listen to and with others who have chosen to step into that space.  As a member, sometimes I want it to be a head space;  other times I want it to be a heart space;  and – actually, most often – I want it to be both:  a head and heart space.

The Understory is unique because it facilitates all of these spaces, all at once, for all of us:  it’s multi-dimensional, it’s open, it’s fluid – it is a fully human space for poets.  But it’s not wishy-washy or groundless.  It is tied together by a single golden thread:  a mutual intent to meet around a theme, The Understory.  That’s it; simple and as vast and as layered as you want to make it, on any of the occasions that you take part.

The Understory is the group I so badly needed and didn’t know how to find.  How could you possibly look this up on the internet?  And now here it is:  the beginnings of an innovative, experiential, inclusive conversation about what it means to be human, as a poet, in a flailing but wondrous world.  I can bring a poem to a meeting.  I can bring a problem or a thought, about writing or about my understory.  I can bring all of these things – or none of them.  This is utterly liberating.  How many poet-group-spaces do that?’

‘I couldn’t come up with one phrase that distils my experience of the group. But therein lies its richness. I often feel rather pressured in ‘normal’ writing groups – to write well, to share my work and opinions, or sometimes even to keep those opinions to myself. However productive and stimulating they may be, and they often are, I find writing groups exhausting and tense. Not helped by Zoom, I’m sure. But I leave our group feeling reinvigorated and reconnected – to myself and my writing. It’s a safe space to share anything that’s pressing on my creative mind – a poem, a draft, a phrase, a thought, a feeling, a dilemma, a discovery – and I know that whatever I bring will be welcomed, listened to, nourished and returned to me with deeper understanding and compassion.’

‘The Understory is a unique ongoing conversation that is endlessly thought-provoking.  Charlotte provides a wonderfully open and nourishing space in which to explore and share thoughts about what motivates us to write and how our life experiences influence, enhance or, indeed, sometimes hinder our work.  It’s a rich seam of revelation, every session.’