‘Hours upon days of waiting…’

Today I started work with Shropshire Council’s imaginative project ‘In The Hands of the Boys’, which focusses on World War I, and uses dance, poetry and photography to explore and share stories about Shropshire’s involvement in the war.  The project involves young people aged 7 to 14 as researchers, creative interpreters and performers.

100 boys and young men from 6 schools across Shropshire are working with creative practitioners, heritage specialists and museums and archives. A piece of contemporary dance is being choreographed and (this is the bit I’m delivering) poems written in response to the work of Wilfred Owen, who was born in Oswestry.

There will be a performance at Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury at the end of the project.  It’s a very exciting project to be involved in.

This morning, under the strange red sun of Storm Ophelia, I worked with a lively class and their teachers in Whixall Primary, talking together about the war, reading and discussing two poems by Wilfred Owen.  Then the children wrote their own, working from free-writing, through drafts, and into short poems.

We wrote the poems up as ‘fragments’, as at Wilfred Owen’s death, just a week before Armistice Day, he’d left many poem fragments uncompleted.

Here are some of ours (I ‘aged’ the paper to mark the passage of a hundred years) :

And here’s some of the feedback at the end of the workshop!

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‘And threw a spade to own a space’

 

Today I went to Meadows Primary School in Ketley to help bring poetry into Heritage studies.  I had a brilliant day with the talented staff and two classes of 8 year old children, who are making something very special from their detailed and practical studies of local history.  We went for a good long walk in a cold wind, exploring Ketley’s industrial past – the Inclined Plane which once hauled tugboats from one canal to the other; Ketley Hall, home of William Reynolds who owned the town ironworks; Ketley Paddock Mound, a man-made tump created out of clay and ironstone spoil from the mines –  and the Squatters’ Cottage (below) built in a night on common land.  Your garden ground around your cottage was determined by how far you could throw a spade or an axe.
Someone made smoke rise
from an overnight chimney
and threw a spade to own a space

Meadows Primary Heritage Oct17 (4)

We made Poem Notes, and later created whole class collaborative poems as well as a really exciting set of poems from individuals.

Some poems were written as cinquains, so much counting on fingers went on.  Others were written as six line poems split into two, or three stanzas.  Naturally, some young poets scrapped the rules and made up their own, with great success!  I particularly liked a subtle poem based on the word ‘not’.

 

 

 

And here are the two class collaborative poems, based on oral suggestions made by the children after two minutes of silent ‘free-writing’.  Just a delight.

 

Am I growing or am I flying?

I’m celebrating National Poetry Day by adding this post about another marvellous day spent being Poet in Residence for Hargate Primary School in West Bromwich.  I go in usually once a term, sometimes more, and this is our second year of partnership.  I love the way it’s becoming more and more collaborative and creative.

 

It’s really exciting to be among such inspired teachers and lovely children.  This time, I worked with four classes, two from Year 3, a Year 4  and a Year 6 class.  I’d worked with some of these groups before, and one of the loveliest moment in a day rather full of them, was walking into a classroom and hearing the children behind me excitedly whispering “Poet!” “Poet!” to each other.

Here’s some of the work we did.  Some groups I asked to write ‘I Come From’ poems, a great standby for early in the school year – one of the teachers came up afterwards and told me how the exercise had helped her hear so many new things about the children in her care.

I come from happiness and laughter and being surprised…

I come from pancakes and jam and a white plate…

In the Year 6 class I read them a lovely poem called ‘My Cat Mitzi’ by Georgi Gill, suggested for National Poetry Day by the Scottish Poetry Library this year.  It’s all about floating free of gravity.  Great idea for a poem – and the children, as always, did not disappoint.  We talked about words that feel ‘floaty’, and white space around words, then did some visualisation, followed by some drafting and editing.  Enjoy these!

I saw ducks swimming the sun to me…

I was the kite on the wind in the breeze…

Happy National Poetry Day 2017 from me!

Writer/blogger-in-residence this August

This August I’ve been writer/blogger-in-residence at Museum of Cannock Chase, providing an outsider’s eye on all the wonderful and extraordinary things to be found inside the museum – and then flagging it up on a lovely new blog, which you can find here.

Davey the Canary cThe idea of the new blog for Museum of Cannock Chase is to create a place where you can find out more about what goes on behind the scenes, and what it takes to manage a museum, day by day, within their lively and engaged community.  In the short time I’ve been there, we’ve explored aged bicycles, the local mining heritage, pigeon-racing, behind-the-scenes in the Museum Stores, traditional Punch and Judy, which is not to mention the yellow feathers of Davy the Canary.  You can find him – and follow him – @DavyTheCanary…*tweet*  chick emoji

The archaeology of poo was especially memorable – as part of a Horrible Histories day, Penny the archaeologist could be found in a tent in the Museum grounds, encouraging young and old to take a special interest in poo.

“Yes, the photo shows my hand,” she said fearlessly, “holding a 3,000 year old poo”.  One small boy squealed and ran at this point, but others crowded in, agog for poo.

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“Pick a poo!” said Penny.  And explained how archaeologists are never happier than when they’ve found a midden, because poo can tell us such a lot.  If you find seeds in there, you know what the people were eating, at that time, in that place.  If there’s sweetcorn husks, then you’re probably in Mexico, with the Aztecs.  Bits of stone in your chosen poo, and you’re looking at a Viking sample – they ground their wheat in stone querns, and didn’t sieve it for tooth-breaking grit.

I can’t think why this was so popular.

Celebration Day for Impressions of the Past

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At last this wonderful project has come to its end.  To celebrate the months of workshops, walks and community, we held a celebration party at Poles Coppice, the site of the Oak Palisade and the Poetry Bench.

Around 55 people turned out to share food, fun, stare over at the Iron Age ramparts on Earl’s Hill, find the clay roundels they’d designed, and the words they wrote.  We read a few poems, and crowded round the installations.

Over 150 people contributed to ‘Impressions of the Past’ – thank you to each and every one, and special thanks from Ruth and me to Huw, Mike, Betul, Bob Gibson, Jim Sadler, Nigel McDonald and Joe Penfold.

A Spell for Haymaking

Today I was The Spellwright for the Hay Meadow Festival in a cool and beautiful field below The Stiperstones in Shropshire.  Whenever I looked up I saw people scything meadow grasses, tossing haybales over a high bar with a pitchfork, making flowers, drinking beer, listening to a spot of jazz and swing.  All very lovely.

Meantime, I wrote spell after spell, for people of all ages, requesting everything from help to catch a Shetland pony to spells for invisibility, for wings, for a tree house, for Silliness… Here’s a small selection.

Words on the Water & Newport Canal

I’ve started work on a new project.  It’s called ‘Words on the Water’ and it’s a course of creative writing inspired by Newport Canal.  Funding for this project has come through Public Health at Telford & Wrekin Council, in support of social prescribing through GP surgeries.  Every week our group of friendly people come along to Cosy Hall on Water Lane and we set off down the towpath to observe, talk and make notes about what we see.

So the place is the same, but each day’s different.  As someone wrote last week:
Distances are short
but thought is long.

Here’s a flavour of what we’ve created so far:

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here’s willow branches dipping
kissing the canal

frog
I saw a frog, he was playing dead
a lovely green body and a shapely head

Week#1 Words on the Water (7)
at the black gate we’re locked out
behind the black gate, the black dog


yellow lollipops
lilies stand up like yellow lollipops
& children’s voices shrill out

Making ‘Outdoor Magic’

Outdoor Magic is a collaborative project based at Hereford Community Farm, and funded by Ledbury Poetry Festival.  I’m working alongside the wonderful artist Jeanette McCulloch, and with the people who come regularly to the Farm.  Hereford Community Farm provides inclusive therapeutic land based activities and skills training for people who face disadvantage through disability, ill health, social need or any other condition or situation which has an impact on their daily life.  The Farm is a warm and wonderful place.

Jeanette and I are working towards a collaborative exhibition which will be on show during Ledbury Poetry Festival 30 June to 9 July.

Visit 2 HCF (3)

Here are things that are used & things to be fixed
& a garden ringing with snoring pigs.
Tulip & Rosie snore through bristle

 

Visit 2 HCF (8)

His horns are two ink coils of ampersand. 
He hops with rage.  Then comes a moment’s lull.

He reverses smartly, drops his head. 
The charge to butt, the click of skull.

 

reccy visit (7)

All busy lips & ruffled beards
& brindled yard-brush coats
the pygmy goats are nibbling up
one dropped handful of oats.

 

Visit 2 HCF (15)

this is fiddly work
Lisa, but now
you’re talking
in riddles

you say,
it all takes skill

that was a goat
this is a drill

 

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Jane slabs on
smiling
stripes of turf.
Her grass grows high.

And gently Jake
swirls his brush
through
his own blue sky.

 

Visit 4 2

The swallows are back
chattering on the phone wires.
They dive before cumulus
whip through wooden barns.

I love Mondays in Hargate Primary

This week my Monday was a joy, spent in the company of the wonderful children of Hargate Primary School, in sunny West Bromwich.  It was sunny, it was a lovely day.
I first met Hargate Primary when they sent a group of 15 children to The Hurst in Shropshire, for a week on Arvon’s schools programme, at which I was one of the tutors. Since then I’ve become their Poet in Residence, visiting the school every term to celebrate poetry with all ages of children.

On Monday I worked with Years 4, 5 and 6, and we played first at telling what could be a truth, or could be a lie, and I had to guess which was which.  In the process, I get reminded of the children’s names!
Then we all enjoyed Robert Seatter’s well-known poem, ‘I come from’, before writing our own versions.  So many fantastic lines:

 


I come from wanting a hamster and a parrot

I come from a house full of havoc and phones
I come from Sandwell Hospital with fireworks outside
I come from a cup of tea

At lunchtime I took my cup of tea to the library, made poems with visiting children, and we read together. At the end of the day I gave a reading, and fielded lots of questions from bright-eyed children enriched by a great range of languages and cultures.  Hargate is a very special place.  There’s a lot of humanity about.

 

 

 

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