I first met M in mid September. When I went to talk to hostel residents at the morning meeting about the new reading group, I recall how he fixed me with a distinctly disinterested gaze! A week later M was in the main office at the hostel when I arrived. One of the hostel workers said, “Give it a go. I think you’d really enjoy it.” M looked very uncomfortable and put-on-the-spot but grudgingly said, “I’ll go for 10 minutes. That’s all.”
That particular day the session was one of the more disrupted variety. M was pestered by two other residents during the session who had arranged to borrow his bike plus a fire alarm meant we had to evacuate the building for a good 10 minutes - both perfect opportunities for M to make a bid for freedom! However, he stayed for longer than his pledged 10 minutes; he stayed for the duration of the session. He was a real pleasure to have in the group, asked direct questions about the text when he wasn’t clear, listened to others keenly and expressed his views in a very articulate manner (so much so that two other group members said at different points: “I think exactly what you’ve just said, M! You put it so well!”). He talked about having a near-death experience, seemed moved by a poem we were reading and challenged another group member’s theory that “real poetry rhymes!” At the end of the session before leaving the room he said, “That was really relaxing.”
When I arrived the following week there was a residents’ meeting still in full swing. However, M came out of the meeting early – and seemed keen on getting cracking with the reading group (he was very smiley, friendly and chatty – not a hint of mistrust - and one of his friends commented to me, “M's been non-stop reading since your group last week!”). Two of the regular group members were still in the meeting. M said as I set off to find them, “Tell them they should be here! That meeting was pretty heavy – this will relax them, get it out of their heads.” A week later I overheard M and another hostel resident talking about the reading group over a game of pool as I was coming to find them (they didn’t see me). Both of them were saying how “relaxing” they were finding it.
Since his first reluctant attendance M has been to every reading group session (bar one where he had a probation appointment), relates politely and respectfully to every one (being one of the best listeners in the group and responding sensitively to very personal things that other group members talk about), articulates deeply thoughtful and intelligent responses to the texts we read - airing views on war, death, disability, loneliness, friendship, family and prison amongst other topics. His confidence in participating seems to be growing week on week and his mood during sessions – the way the texts and the interaction with the group affects him – is ever positive. Today, M was the first member of the group to offer to read a section of our novel aloud. He did a fabulous job and his willingness to do this paved the way for two other group members to follow suit!
As a final comment one of the hostel workers said to me today when I was leaving, “M seems to be getting loads out of the group. When I popped my head around the door before [into the meeting] I could see it on his face – just how much he’s enjoying it and into it.”
The Reader magazine offers a mix of new poetry and fiction, classic and neglected works and interviews with leading literary figures.
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Our trustee Phil Davis is taking part in an event as part of Oxford University Press' Literary Agend
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