Writing into Loss

A workshop by Andrew McMillan


“The role for me as an artist, often seems to be to stand back and offer a silence, a space”

Andrew McMillan


In this session, Andrew shared some of his approaches to working with communities, in which writing worked as an arts based mode of inquiry. Key to this is decentring knowledge outside of the academy, and traditional dominant sites of ‘expertise’. Andrew explained his approach would never begin with sharing with own poetry, and then encouraging participants to try to write something similar.

Instead, adopting a deliberately humble or amateur position was vital, along with avoiding structure and pre-planned outcomes. More organic productive work seems to emerge this way. Writing can be seen as a way of tapping into people’s unconscious. Naming what they have been through can act as a route to imagining a different future.

This led our group to a discussion about expertise and amateur-ness. How does Andrew bring together this approach to working with communities with his own practice as an established writer? What role does his experience in writing poetry have in these groups, even when it is not foregrounded? Thinking more generally about arts and research, how can we think about skill, experience, mastery, anti-mastery, being an amateur and what becomes centred and decentred during these processes?


You can read more about the Social Haunting project with Geoff Bright that Andrew discussed here:


And a paper on Andrew’s work with Kate Pahl here:

McMillan, A. & Pahl, K. (2015) Writing Out The Loss: Intersections and Conversations Between Poetry and Ethnography. Argument and Critique April 2015


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