A lake full of poetry

Imagine sitting by the shore at dusk, just reflecting on Lake Trasimeno’s peace and beauty … Who could fail to be inspired by it?

When Vittoria Aganoor, an Italian poet with Armenian ancestry, arrived in nearby Monte del Lago in the late 1800s, she felt compelled to write about the majesty of the lake. In 1901, she married a well known local politician, Giudo Pompilj, who – thank goodness – saved Lake Trasimeno from drying up.

WP - gelateria jetty.jpg

Less than ten years later, with the couple now living in Perugia, Vittoria fell gravely ill and died. Giudo was heartbroken by her death and took his own life close to her grave. In the note he left behind, he asked to be buried next to Vittoria.

The heroine of this romantic but tragic love story is considered to be the best known 19th century poet in Italy, and you don’t have to look far to see why Lake Trasimeno inspired so much of her work.

Handing on the destiny baton

I’m based in Assisi this week, an hour from Isola Maggiore, because the island’s albergo Da Sauro is still closed until April, but I headed over to say hello and round off a few arrangements for the May retreat.

About five of us got off the train at Passignano sul Lago, including a couple of young guys from Japan, with camping gear on their backs.  The one with a Nikon camera thudding against his chest asked me in Italian if I knew where the best place was to take photos? In my creaky Italian I explained that I was English but that I could definitely tell him the perfect place – Isola Maggiore, no contest. ‘Just follow me!’ We swapped our Italian for English and headed off to the jetty together, with me feeling like I should be holding up a sunflower on a stick.

Light amplifies water - Maggie Butt

They were studying Italian language for six months, Nikon guy told me (his friend spoke little English) and had been told in Perugia that they should head to Lago Trasimeno, because it was so beautiful. They’d never heard of it. No surprise there … Like most other people I’ve spoken to, they’d heard of Como and Garda, and probably been, but Lago Trasimeno? I told them about its quiet magic, about its absence of cars, its tiny population, and how I’d come across it completely by chance eight years ago. (A very long story, involving a monastery.)

It was my destiny, Nikon guy said, some of the best experiences were found tucked away in the smaller places, in the history of a landscape, in the stories of its people. Absolutely. This young man was on my wavelength. And now, he said, I had passed the destiny on to them, because they would never have known about Isola Maggiore and would have stayed on the mainland. Yet my own destiny would continue to grow, he went on, because as a writer I needed somewhere beautiful to write the most beautiful words.  He wasn’t to know my writing was more bleak than beautiful, but still.

When we reached the jetty we said goodbye, because I was heading for a cappuccino and they were off to ask about camp sites. I sat watching the lake, waiting for the ferry and thinking about our few minutes’ chat. Who would they be passing the baton to? And where would it be? Back in Perugia … Japan? It could be anywhere. And it could be tomorrow, it could be eight years.

Memories of Isola Maggiore

2015 Retreat Participant Biddy Unsworth tells us why Isola Maggiore is the perfect place for a writing retreat.

Our first glimpse of the island from the ferry and a growing excitement after the journey to Italy.

A taxi, a plane, a coach, a train, a taxi and then the ferry and our journey’s end in sight. As we came in to the jetty we saw Glynis waving from the shore. A week later and the same in reverse, waving to those who were to catch a later ferry, wiping away a tear.  The magic of this wonderful place, which in just a week had got right under my skin; I did not want to leave.

So, what is it about Isola Maggiore that is so special? Yes, it is quiet (except for the pheasants), yes it is small and old and Italian, yes the food is wonderful, yes, the people are welcoming but there is something else. A deep seated sense of history and of place, the olive trees on the hills, the pathways that all lead to the church, the water all around and a slow, slow pace of life.

Then, of course, there were the workshops. I had never done anything like this before so I was a little apprehensive – would I be brave enough to share anything I wrote? I relaxed quickly as Glynis led us gently through well planned activities that got us writing straight away and I did find it easy to read out what I had written as everyone was so open and supportive. I looked forward to each workshop – what would it be today? A pair of lace gloves, some old postcards, a description of a walk in a garden, a piece of writing by a brilliant author, all served as starting points for our writing about characters, place, dialogue. We discussed where we wrote and where we got our inspiration from. We tried our hands at styles well away from our own. By lunchtime each day I was buzzing with ideas.

The afternoon walks and the evening meals (with a large glass of wine) complemented the workshops and there was time to reflect and write as well. Sitting in a garden, under a medlar tree, surrounded by yellow autumn flowers and looking out across the lake, how could one not be inspired?

As the week progressed, my ideas developed and I think my writing did too. There was something about the slow, quiet pace of the island that settled into me more and more and this helped me develop my ideas. This was a retreat in the real sense of the word, time away from my busy city life, time to take stock, time to think, time to write.

I will go back and I will always carry the memory with me.

About Glynis

“A terrific portrayal of family life” – Jimmy McGovern

“Your poem was just astonishing” – Jackie Kay

Glynis has many years’ experience of running workshops, both in Italy and in the UK.  She has a First Class BA (Hons) in Creative Writing and her work has been published both in print and on screen.  Most recently, it was Highly Commended in the Bridport Poetry Prize 2016.

Glynis’ workshops are always friendly and informal, using plenty of varied prompts for inspiration, and her Italian retreats nurture the supportive setting. She is passionate about words and about helping and encouraging people in how best to use them creatively.

“Inspirational sessions led by Glynis and the added bonus of a wonderful camaraderie with the other writers.  Sharing ideas, experiences, and I loved every minute.” – Tony, Isola Maggiore, 2016