Fri 16 Sept – Sun 18 Sept 2022, Start Bay, Slapton, Devon.

Led by Max Hope and Sophie Christophy

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Mary Oliver, The Summer Day

What is the Soul Fire Writing Retreat?

The Soul Fire Writing Retreat is a space for changemakers and activists to get together and reflect, imagine, and co-create. We have booked a fantastic venue in Devon – the Start Bay Centre – which is a short walk from the coast and a nature reserve. There will be writing, cooking and eating together. We will have fire and circles. We will offer two interconnected strands of activity, woven together: one carving out a space for individual and collective creativity and writing, and one to support healing and self-liberation work. The combination intends to bring us to our soul’s fire and most authentic expression. We will co-create a piece of writing that we can publish at the end of the weekend, something which speaks of our time together. We experimented with such a co-writing challenge at our first Soul Fire Writing Retreat (held in March 2022) and the final piece – a chain letter – can be found here.

For this retreat, we are taking inspiration from Mary Oliver (1935-2019), an American poet who has a reputation for work inspired by her connection to nature, poetry and prose, which is full of wonder, humour, and a profound reverence for the wild. Poems like The Journey, Wild Geese and The Summer Day are well-known as being transformational poems and are characterised by her tendency to ask deep and searching questions about ourselves, our life choices, and our soul’s purpose. Being inspired by Mary Oliver’s writing and life will inform aspects of the retreat, particularly being outdoors and in close proximity to the natural world, the way writing provocations will be offered and the themes of those provocations – such as inviting poetry, prose, playfulness, joy and sadness, and by invitations to slow down, to be in solitude, and to connect deeply with the wild.

Why have we chosen Mary Oliver?

What is it about Mary Oliver, and her work, that we believe is inspiring for changemakers and activists? Max Hope and Sophie Christophy, facilitators of the retreat and partners in life and work, explain their connections here:

Max: “I have always struggled with poetry. Since school, I have felt that I simply ‘didn’t get it’. There always seemed to be a deeper meaning that was moving for other people, but the words seemed to just wash over me. That is, until I was introduced to some poems by Mary Oliver. For the first time, I felt that I got what she was saying. Her poems spoke to me. They moved me. Some of them resonated with some seismic changes that were happening in my own life at that time. Others simply made me smile or laugh. I could see her humour, her joy, her seriousness, her love, and her deep reverence for the natural world. Reading, or hearing her poems encouraged me to slow down, to stay present, to listen to my inner voice, to feel part of a bigger, wilder ecosystem. Later, I learned more about her as a person. A woman who continued with her soul’s calling even though she was not recognised as a poet until later in life. A woman in a lifelong relationship with another woman. Someone who had experienced a violent and abusive childhood and found solace in the natural world around her. Often described as a recluse and a loner, she kept much of her private life to herself. She was not, in any way, a celebrity. These small details of her personal life intrigued me. I was hooked. Who was this woman who touched the lives of so many, including my own? What can we learn from how she lived her life?”

Sophie: “There was a time when I needed to sleep outside. There was so much going on in the house, I needed to not sleep in there as well. So I put up an old but loved tent in the garden. Still near enough to the house to not have left it fully, but far enough away to have space and peace and reprieve overnight. I started sleeping out in April and didn’t come back in again until September. While I was out in that tent, I somehow found Mary Oliver and her poem Sleeping in the Forest.. When I read that poem, I felt companionship. There I was, walked away from home. Sleeping outside on the ground, in a place that felt safer. How could it feel safer than in the house that I had made? But it did. And Mary Oliver’s poem made sense of that, and I didn’t feel alone. At another time, I was reading Mary Oliver with Max, and we came across this poem together. The muskrat poem. And I just found it hilarious. Every time it said muskrat, I laughed out loud. I don’t know why! Except that just the word muskrat amuses me. But what I know is that Mary Oliver’s poems can be deep and sincere and life changing, and also provoke something irreverent and hilarious. And all of that can happen in the same poem! And can’t that happen in life too? I love how she lifts us and brings us right back down to earth again. Finding out that she was gay and learning more about her life story fired me up too. I think her poems are ultimately about a healing journey, and healing is hard, but laughing can help. Staying grounded is essential. As a human, an activist, a spiritual being, a lover and a fighter, a journeyer, I can keep coming back to Mary Oliver to feel held and free and to find all of life again, including the muskrats.”

How will the retreat be facilitated?

During the weekend, we are offering a plan and structure, a programme of opportunities designed and led by Max and Sophie. We will support you to navigate that plan in a consent-based and self-directed way. You choose what you want to take part in and how you want to participate. We hope to support you to stay centred in yourself, to explore and be authentic in your choices, so that we can have a shared experience and your weekend can be what you need it to be. 

For example, if you want to come, to be in community and to just get on with your own writing, that works. If you want to come to be together, but find you need to chill the whole weekend, that works too. Or come and take part in something or everything that is on offer. We need you at the circle meetings and to pitch in with cooking/clearing, but the rest is all up to you.

There will be space and time to come together as a community and to spend time outside in the grounds of the Start Bay Centre as well as at the seashore and in the nature reserve. There will also be a chance for you to offer your own things into the programme, such as particular discussions, poems, stories, movement, and spiritual practices and so on.

Plan for the weekend

Dates and times: Fri 16 Sept at 4pm – Sun 18 Sept 2022 at 4pm

Venue: Start Bay Centre, Slapton, Kingsbridge, Devon TQ7 2QP

Friday:

There will be a writing warm up, dinner together, and a soft circle around a fire for introductions.

Saturday:

Breakfast, morning circle meeting, offsite writing and exploring activities at the beach and nature reserve including solo in the wild, picnic lunch, structured writing provocations, co-created time, dinner, fireside with Mary Oliver poetry (and other poetry!) reading, late night ‘dark night of the soul’ circle.

Sunday:

Early morning wild wandering, “Embodying the Muskrat” session, breakfast, morning circle meeting, guided writing provocations, ‘I do not know what a prayer is …: session, last lunch together, more writing, closing circle meeting.

Cost

Price based on shared rooms (maximum of four people per room) or camping spot: £180 (13 spaces available)

Price based on a single occupancy room: £295 (3 spaces available)

If you do not have the financial freedom to manage the cost, but feel the burn to come, please get in touch because we are committed to supporting some attendees on a ‘pay what you can’ basis.

What is included?

Food will be provided (plant-based, and gluten free options) and taking a share in cooking and washing up will be part of the ethos of the retreat. Accommodation, including sheets and towels, is provided, but please bring your own toiletries. All sessions, activities and workshops are included.

Booking a place

Please email hello@maxhope.co.uk and we will send you a Registration Form and payment details. Please tell us which type of place you wish to book (shared or camping / single) as they will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.

About Max Hope and Sophie Christophy:

Max (she/her) is a facilitator, educator, researcher, activist, and writer. Max’s own identity as an activist and changemaker is rooted in her commitment to social and environmental justice. She has spent many years as a grassroots activist, primarily focusing on challenging queer and gender-based inequalities and providing innovative alternative spaces for marginalized young people and adults. She is angry about poverty, about sexual violence, about the abuse of power, about patriarchy, and about the state of the wild world. She is a firm believer in the power of the collective and strives to find ways of joining forces with other activists to push for simultaneous changes across multiple fronts. Max is a keen writer and has authored or co-authored two books, twenty academic articles and book chapters, as well as pamphlets, booklets, and blog posts. She has also run writing retreats and supported dozens of students in their writing of essays, dissertations, and PhD theses. She is the creator of Write On Changemakers, a writing space for changemakers and activists. She is also Director of Rewilding Education, Co-Lead of The Lodge, and Co-Facilitator of Call of The Wild. For more info on Max, including a full list of publications, go to https://maxhope.co.uk/

Sophie (she/her) is the co-founder of consent-based, self-directed learning communities, the Cabin and the Lodge. She’s a feminist, children’s rights and education activist, with a focus on post-patriarchal, consent-based models for personal, family, community and other organisational and interpersonal systems, relationships and dynamics. Phew! Over the last ten years she has supported and worked with many people committed to social and environmental justice change-making. Through her Consent-Based Education course, she has worked closely with people on deschooling paths, unpacking and addressing the blocks that get in the way, and working towards establishing and strengthening connection to self and consent-based learning and life. As an activist, her work happens through speaking, collaboration, facilitation, writing, life long learning, and spiritual energy and body work designed to help unblock and unlock our most authentic expression of and connection to self. She has written for newspaper and magazines, for her own blog and social media spaces, as well as website copy, pitches, policy documents and recommendations. She believes that the personal is political, that our hearts, bodies, lives and choices are all spaces for radical activism and transformation, with the most influential change happening first in the relationship that we have with our selves, and then in the relationships with those closest to us. For more info on Sophie, go to https://sophiechristophy.com/

“One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began ….”

Mary Oliver, The Journey