And though she be but little, she is fierce

Last week I spent an extremely hot, but very satisfying day with the children and staff of Rushbury Primary School.  It’s one of the smallest schools I’ve worked in, with only 46 on roll, and so I spent the morning with KS2, and then the afternoon with KS1.

In KS2 the children have all been studying Shakespeare, and life under the Tudors.  So we started off by reading a broad selection of famous quotes, choosing the one each child liked the best, and talking together about why.  Then I set them to do some freewriting inspired by the quote, emphasising that the link could be as close or as tenuous as they liked.  So I got some enthusiastic pony-lovers responding to ‘My horse, my horse! My kingdom for a horse!’.  Then from the freewriting the children worked up a first draft.

Here’s a marvellous development from ‘And though she be but little, she is fierce’.

On the left is the writer’s first draft, only partially photographed (oh dear!) which I borrowed from her to write onto the smartboard so we could all talk about line endings, and how to decide where to put them.

Here’s her revised first draft:

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Here’s a mature, thoughtful first draft (arriving almost complete) in response to ‘All that glisters is not gold’.

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And I worked with this student on a response to ‘The empty vessel makes the loudest sound’, asking her for similes which she provided readily, and wonderfully, for me to write down –

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By the afternoon KS1 had already been out to a sports event, and the thermometer in their classroom measured 30 degrees.  We gratefully went and sat under a big tree in the corner of the playground, read lots of poems, joined in and made up actions.  They were lovely, and on discovering a little boy who kept bees (and knew everything) we made up a whole group poem called ‘Nine Ways to Look at Bees’, and performed it to KS2 just before home time.

Thank you for having me, Rushbury, and thank you to Wenlock Poetry Festival who provided the funding for this day.

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‘At midnight, pick half a pound of hail out of a blue lake’

In the midst of summer 2018’s heatwave comes Ledbury Poetry Festival, rich with words and sunstruck sofas out on the cobbled lane as ever.  Dressed rather warmly in my best ‘medieval wise-woman’ garb, with large straw hat, I set up in the Walled Garden alongside a colourful spread of tents and stalls providing entertainment to all.

I wrote spells for all ages, requests ranging from dinosaur seeds to relief from headaches. It was an inky joy.  Thank you Ledbury!

‘A rain of sixpences and hunger’ – watch the video

We made a little video for ‘Tom Palin at Cinderloo’ – do share, do tell us what you think!

We’re starting to spread the word about ‘Understories‘ – a new poetry and music collaborative project between myself and musicians Charlotte Watson, Steve Downs and Sarah Ibberson of Whalebone.

Understories band photo portrait

Understories’ explores the new folklore of Shropshire.  Here are both rural and urban myths, tales just out of living memory and tales re-told.   They are the common uncommon.

We’ll be performing the new show from September 2018.  Join us to discover Shropshire’s last wolves and cloggers,  its haunted roundabouts, railway lines and oak trees, not to mention the boy who burrowed under a church.

This poem, ‘Tom Palin at Cinderloo’, explores the story of a rising by ironworkers in 1821, as they protested against draconian pay cuts.  It happened in what is now Telford.  It’s a classic tale of abuse of labour in the interests of profit, and it ended in the deaths of several of the strikers with many further injuries to women and children involved in the protest.

The name ‘Cinderloo’ was coined at the time, following the notorious events at Peterloo slightly earlier. The Cinder Hills was the local name for the slagheaps.  The site of the struggle is now overlain by Telford Forge Retail Park.  Plaque needed, I think.

 

 

‘Understories’ – my new collaborative project

I’m really very pleased to see my poem ‘Tom Palin at Cinderloo‘ published this week on Peter Reynard’s excellent blog, Proletarian Poetry.

‘Tom Palin at Cinderloo’ explores the story of a rising by ironworkers in 1821, as they protested against draconian pay cuts.  It’s a classic tale of industrial abuse of labour, and it ended in the deaths of several of the strikers with many further injuries to women and children involved in the protest.

cinderloo

For the last eight months, I’ve been working on ‘Tom Palin’ (and another nearly twenty poems) in collaboration with the wonderful musicians of Whalebone – Steve Downs, Charlotte Watson and Sarah Ibberson.  Whalebone create eclectic instrumental music with guitar, bouzouki, mandolin and fiddle – their work’s been described as ‘delightfully and defiantly guilty of trespass across musical borders’.  Having now seen them make new music in response to a wide range of my poems, I’m in awe of their skill and imagination.  It’s been perhaps my most satisfying and challenging ever collaboration.

What we’re working on is ‘Understories‘ – a brush with the new folklore of Shropshire.  Here are both rural and urban myths, tales just out of living memory and tales re-told.   They are the common uncommon.

We’ll be performing the show from September 2018.  Join us to discover Shropshire’s last wolves and cloggers,  its haunted roundabouts, railway lines and oak trees, not to mention the boy who burrowed under a church.

We’ve got a final recording of ‘Tom Palin at Cinderloo’, which at the moment you can listen to via Proletarian Poetry.  I’m trying to fix the tech…

JA recording with Whalebone
Here I am, recording…

 

“I’m going to be a poem”

I’m back from a fantastic day in Hargate Primary School.  The joy of being their Poet in Residence just grows with every visit!  This time, a tiny little girl stopped me in the corridor at break, looked up and said, “I’m going to be a poem”.  She smiled broadly, and skipped away, and it all made me so happy.

Today I was mostly in Year 4, who are learning about Africa.  The great range of nationalities in Hargate meant there were children who had relatives in African countries, and who’d been there, so they told us stories.  We read African poetry, one of which had a fierce storm in it, which gave me the chance to demonstrate my Thunder Tube* to fabulous effect, and then we employed the Elfje form (eleven words, in a set pattern, Dutch!) to write about the brilliant colours of Africa.

*Thunder Tube!

 

Here’s some more elfje poems.

And then we had huge fun performing them later!

Words from the Vaults

This spring I’ve been working with a great group of people who’ve been attending ‘Creative Writing in the Museum Vaults’.  Ludlow houses the county’s precious and extraordinary Museum Resources, and this series of workshops allowed us access to the ‘Vaults’ and the wonders they contain.  Throughout all of this we were expertly supported by Ludlow Curator Abigail Cox, and by Fay Bailey at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.

During April everyone can come to Ludlow Library and Museum Resources Centre, and read wonderful new poems inspired by some of the artefacts we met in the ‘Vaults’.  And next week, there’s a special, one-off reading – open to the public.  There will be cake.

Final reading poster #3

Here’s a glimpse (too many reflections) of just some of the work on display in the foyer of Ludlow Library and Museum Resources Centre.

And meet the handsome Dr Hickman, and Lizzie Prudence’s delicious words…

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What a treat
warm intelligence lighting
strong brown eyes
shining out among the dull
bewhiskered dignitaries.

If Jane had seen you
dancing across the
Assembly Rooms floor
she might have chosen
you for Darcy.

 

In the darkness/ a bird makes its nest

Recently I spent two wonderful days at Hellens Manor, in Herefordshire, providing poetry workshops to local primary schools for Ledbury Poetry Festival.  Ledbury PF have an acclaimed community and schools outreach programme, and Hellens Manor is a marvellous place.  Chloe Garner, artistic director of Ledbury Poetry Festival, did a wonderful job welcoming and enthusing the children – a real effort aimed at demonstrating that poetry really was for them.  We hope to see some of them at the Festival, which this year is 29 June to 8 July.

Then it was time for the first workshop.  The children exclaimed in excitement as we walked on snowy cobbles under an arch, and I asked them to help carry in firewood.  Our room was down a maze of flagged passages hung with iron breastplates, and once we’d arrived, on that first snowy Monday morning, everyone could see the point of lighting a fire.

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Once we’d warmed up, we talked about nests.  What they are, how they are, what they mean.  We handled nests I’d brought in with me.  And a very tiny, blown hen’s egg.

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Then we played with cut up poems borrowed from Tom Pow’s beautiful pamphlet ‘Nest’, from Roncadora Press.

And then we wrote poems.  Here are some of them.

For me, it was a very rewarding two days, and fantastic to be working alongside superb practitioners Sara Hirsch, Val Bloom and Matt Black.  We had a lot of fun.

 

My poems in the Agenda T S Eliot issue

I really am very proud to have two poems in Agenda’s special T S Eliot issue this month.  Thank you Patricia McCarthy for including them!

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‘In Yellowhammer Weather’ was written at The Hurst, near Clun, a couple of years ago while on a week’s walking and writing retreat led by David Morley.  We explored Clun’s tiny, idiosyncratic museum, in which I found an (early 20th century?) photograph of local farmer Frank Collins ‘on his favourite horse, Polliwig’.  Walking later along the banks of the Clun river, and hearing the chatter of the yellowhammer in a hedge, the rhythms of the poem began to come together in my head.

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‘How We Rode After Haytiming’ is a memory from my childhood in Cumbria, when I rode with the next door farmer’s grandchildren on a raggle-taggle of grass-fed ponies.  After the hay had been cut in June, six acres of inviting stubble lured us down to race the ponies across Long Field.  The poem was first written several years ago, and then it hung around because I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.

Agenda Feb2018 (2)

 

Shy Snowdrops & Trees Upon Trees

I’m just back from a most inspiring and exciting week at The Hurst, tutoring a band of marvellous young poets from Hargate Primary School. My co-tutor, Wajid Hussain, was just great to work with, and he has a lovely manner with the children.  The staff from Hargate are just exceptional, and they worked their socks off encouraging and supporting the children, who are only 10 and 11 years old (there was the occasional bout of homesickness).  Hargate Primary School, from West Bromwich, is the school where I’ve been poet in residence for the last three years, so it’s a special pleasure.   All week, the house and grounds at The Hurst provided these urban children with an extraordinary and inspiring place in which to live and work: I could see it changing them by the hour.

Snowdrops come from winter.
Why so many?

Leah J

The first night, we all went out for a Night Walk, under a huge full moon.  Once the children’s eyes had adapted, they were staggered by the brightness of the sky.  I showed them their moon shadows, and we watched the snowdrops gleaming in moonlight.  Back inside, Wajid and I collected oral descriptions of what the kids had just seen and experienced.  So at 11pm I was scribing a twelve foot poem onto a roll of lining paper, using only their words, but editing them into order.  Next morning I rolled it out on the breakfast table.  Lovely to see the kids creeping along it, reading.

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Later, we explored the woods, making poem notes on a small folded booklet.

We wrote about magical objects found in the wood, and we searched out doors and portals to write about changing spaces and new surprises.  We looked closely at bark, and discovered storm-torn trees with fragrant heartwood newly exposed.  We listened to the birds and stared into the pond.

A mixture of leaves and mud
turned into a bowl of soup.

We walked and there I found
my magical object.
If you throw it, it comes back.
It is made out of wood.
Do you know what it is?

Simran

Here’s the Crow workshop – my Crow is about to be lifted out of his cardboard box to ooohs and ahhs.  We swopped crow lore and stories, then I gave the children tiny stapled books to write their crow poem into.

On Thursday we wrote about nests, inspired by Tom Pow’s pamphlet from Roncadora Press.  The children held the nests very delicately, and wrote inventive poems.

When the nest came to me
it was very fragile.
The smell of nature
coming into my body
soothed my mind.
The little egg contained inside
was the smallest egg I’ve ever seen
and it made the tiniest of rattles.

Alfie

On the last morning, I admitted that I am also the Spellwright, and encouraged the children to write a Spell for the Making of Poetry for themselves.  They took the very fabric of The Hurst as their inspiration, and investigated fireplaces, doorways, sinks and old glass.  Then I dripped hot sealing wax onto their spells, and they applied the brass Seal which makes the spell work.

Take – 

the soot from the chimney
the spines from the books
and a mile of stripes from John Osborne’s scarf…

And here is the feedback sheet gathered in by Hurst Director, Natasha (while Wajid and I had a much needed coffee).

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Truly, it was a marvellous week.  I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to work at The Hurst again, and especially with Hargate Primary School.

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