The impact of a distinguisher at a vaseboard

Cafe Writing is once again under way in lovely Ludlow Kitchen at the Food Centre, Bromfield.  I run these workshops for people who wish to write poetry or prose while enjoying a good coffee, and sometimes a pastry too.  This morning a dozen ingenious minds created a Dicsaurus.

I had asked everyone to invent a new word using two words handily hanging around the beautiful conservatory in which we’re working in Ludlow Kitchen.  So – a vaseboard derives from a cupboard.  And a vase.

Then all new words were passed to the left (or right, or somewhere, this bit was creatively chaotic) and a definition invented for the new word.  Which we then shared, through raucous laughter, fine coffee and cake.

The word Dicsaurus was duly invented to explain what we’d done.  Here it is:

CW Dicsaurus

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A blog for ‘The Dark Farms’

Some years ago, I became fascinated with the Galloway Forest.  It’s a remote, depopulated region in south west Scotland, hundreds of square miles with scarcely a road across it, and a diminishing number of working farms on its inhospitable hills and moors.  It’s become a place famed now for its dark skies, and it’s visited by astronomers and those curious to see a sky without neon.  I’ve very belatedly set up a blog to record my explorations and the poems that came out of them.  Click here to have a look.

I grew up in rural Cumbria, among small family farms, and so recognised that what I saw in 2011 in the Galloway Forest was disappearance.  The disappearance of the hills under the conifer forests which were mass planted there in the 1950s and 60s, and the disappearance of small farms, some overwhelmed by the new conifer forests, and many more slowly abandoned as hill farming has become so uneconomic that only the oldest are still farming, often without the assets to retire.

So I went looking for the ghosts of stables, and cart-sheds, and sheep rees (the Galloway word for a sheepfold).  I went looking for the ghosts of placenames and farm names.   I found places where the severe weather has reduced cottages to a threshold stone and a hearth stone.  Cottages overtaken now by birches and brambles.  I found a rural museum with a black leather bull mask and a necklace of horse’s teeth.  A farmhouse with its windows bricked up – truly a Dark Farm.

I took the photographs at the time, on days of being savaged by midges, falling into peat clefts, wading upland burns where the O.S. map still marks the place as a ford, long since washed away.  The poems were published in 2012 in pamphlet form by Roncadora Press, enhanced by Hugh Bryden’s rich artwork.

‘My friend thinks the bombs have stopped’

All too soon, it’s my last poetry workshop for Shropshire Council’s imaginative project ‘In The Hands of the Boys’, which focusses on World War I.   This morning I went to Severndale Specialist Academy in Shrewsbury and worked with an enthusiastic and energetic group of students.

I read ‘The Sentry’ with them, and we acted out what happens in the poem – so we all cowered in the Boche dugout, holding just three candles in the darkness, and sent one ‘soldier’ up to be the sentry at the top of the mud-covered steps.  Deafening shelling was going on all the time, we imagined the din in our ears – and then the sentry is blown back by a whizz bang and hurled down the steps into the mud at the bottom of the dugout.  We acted out how we dragged him from the mud, only to discover that he thinks he is blind…

We tackled another poem in much the same way, then gathered in a circle.  I asked everyone to close their eyes.  I did a visualisation exercise with the group, asking them to imagine a cold morning, waiting for breakfast in the muddy trench, knowing they were going over the top into No Man’s Land later on.  Then I encouraged them to contribute words and lines towards a class poem.  The children were hugely focussed on this, and very thoughtful.  We read back the first draft of it, and I promised to edit a second draft and – here it is:

It’s a cold, frosty morning
on 19th January 1918
and the whizz-bangs are flying over.

Over the top it’s dangerous.
No matter what you do out there
you can easily get hit.

I hear a scream and someone
throwing up.
I see killed soldiers in deep mud.

The sky is black as soot. It’s rainy now.
The mud is grey and brown.
Smoke blows towards us.

I feel shattered, I’ve had no sleep.
I’ve been on sentry duty, watching for biplanes.
The rats are eating our food.

There’s frost on the tap, frost
on my mug and on my metal plate.
I see a tank in No Man’s Land.

In my ears the banging and the bombing
are like thunder
but I can hear someone dying.

Later on, I handed out the browned and tattered ‘trench paper’ and they all wrote their own work – and we remembered the fragments of poetry left by Wilfred Owen on his death in action, ninety-nine years ago.  Here’s just some of the work the children produced:

And here’s a sample of their thoughts on the workshop as they headed off for their lunch.  What a lovely group!

Feedback

 

Thank you to Katherine Webb and the classroom assistants for supporting me so well.  ‘In the Hands of the Boys’ uses dance, poetry and photography to explore and share stories about Shropshire’s involvement in the war.  Young people aged 7 to 14 are working as researchers, creative interpreters and performers.

“In The Hands of the Boys” has been funded by a National Lottery grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Then and Now’ programme (commemorating the centenary of the First World War), Shropshire Council and participating schools.

Rifle fire rattles like a ball bearing in a can

I arrived at St Mary’s Primary School in Shawbury this morning, all ready for our Wilfred Owen workshop, part of Shropshire Council’s imaginative project ‘In The Hands of the Boys’, which focusses on World War I. The project uses dance, poetry and photography to explore and share stories about Shropshire’s involvement in the war.  Young people aged 7 to 14 are working as researchers, creative interpreters and performers.

This was a great class to work with.  They listened really well to each other, and most attentively to Wilfred Owen’s work.  Here’s just a sample of their responses, written up on battered fragments of aged ‘trench’ paper, reminiscent of the fragments of poetry left by Wilfred Owen on his death in action, ninety-nine years ago.

It was great reading through the poems with class teacher Janet Turner afterwards.  Then I took down the post-it evaluations the children had stuck speedily to the classroom door as they went out to lunch.  Here’s a few.  What a mercy I was quite kind.

“In The Hands of the Boys” has been funded by a National Lottery grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Then and Now’ programme (commemorating the centenary of the First World War), Shropshire Council and participating schools.

Be as quiet as a sheep in the dark…

Back to my throne in Shrewsbury Museum this morning, for a second day of Spellwrighting with the hordes of young witches and wizards enjoying ‘Museums are Magic’ weekend.  I absolutely love the way they get into writing a spell – I say, “So what kind of water do you think we should put into this spell?”, and they reply, “Definitely running water”.  For example.  And their eyes go round with the magic of what words can do.

Big thanks to the wonderful staff and volunteers at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery who helped manage the queues!

Widen your eyes, tie a knot in your handkerchief

Museums are Magic!  I’m being The Spellwright for two days of wizardry at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.  The Museum lent me the most magnificent chair and table.  There was a Stuffed Owl and goose feather quills…

Everywhere were bright and sparkly kids in Hogwarts cloaks and gowns.  They turned up clutching potions they’d made, and requesting spells -everything from the power to freeze time to a means to summon dragons.

Here’s just a flavour of the spells we wove:

A day being The Spellwright in Herefordshire

“Its fur is soft as pollen” she says, and waves her wand.

I’m writing a spell for a small girl who wants a kitten.  “This may take some time to work”, I warn, mindful of her concerned parent.

I spent today at Courtyard Arts in Hereford at their wonderful Family Festival, packed with dragons, witches and unicorns.  Ledbury Poetry Festival were there in support.  The sun shone in, and hordes of excited children stared around them for signs of magic.  I had a massive queue waiting to write a spell with me.

“What would make your life amazing?” I asked.  “The ability to control time” replied a serious boy.  Right.  We discussed time, and his requirement to be able to travel through it.

“I want to be able to turn a person into a duck”, announced a determined-looking girl.  “Is this by any chance a revenge spell?” I enquired.  It was.  She loved it.

“I need a sleeping spell for him”, said a mother, appearing in front of me with a sweet baby in her arms.  The queue groaned in sympathy.  (They really were all lovely people).  “Poppies”, she said, “Poppies should do it”.  We applied poppies.

The youngest was just two and a half.  He wanted things to put in a cauldron.  “Blue slugs” he insisted.  “And a magpie feather”.  And he was quite clear that the only time of night to stir it with a long bone, would be at midnight.

Here’s a selection of their genius and my inky fingers:

‘I am the bearer of stretchers’

I helped set up our working space in the stage area of the main auditorium at The Edge today, shifting tables and chairs with the students of William Brookes School in Much Wenlock. William Brookes is the only mainstream secondary school involved in Shropshire Council’s imaginative project ‘In The Hands of the Boys’, which focusses on World War I.  This was a group of young people from different year groups, and included the group of boys involved in the dance element of the project.

We shared knowledge about the war, and I tried to learn names, before reading some of Wilfred Owen’s poetry together.  There were some sharp-eyed readings of his work, with students commenting on the impact of particular lines, and talking about why it affected them.  Later, we did some free-writing and drafting.  Here’s some samples of finished work, written on ‘fragments’ to recall the fragments left by Wilfred Owen on his death, just a week before the Armistice.

I asked the group to put their evaluation up on the black wall of the theatre.  I did rather like the one that just said, ‘Twas good’.

DSCF5918

“In The Hands of the Boys” has been funded by a National Lottery grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Then and Now’ programme (commemorating the centenary of the First World War), Shropshire Council and participating schools.

‘What am I going to do with the noises I hear?’

In pouring rain I arrived at St George’s Primary in Clun this afternoon, all ready for our Wilfred Owen workshop, part of Shropshire Council’s imaginative project ‘In The Hands of the Boys’, which focusses on World War I. The project uses dance, poetry and photography to explore and share stories about Shropshire’s involvement in the war.  Young people aged 7 to 14 are working as researchers, creative interpreters and performers.

We all got introduced, and then we read poems written by Wilfred Owen, and talked about the experience of the young men who went to fight in the trenches.  We talked about the war memorial in Clun, and how every town and village has one.  We talked about how the bodies of the fallen remained in France, buried in long fields filled with white gravestones.

Then we did some visualisation, some free writing, and began drafting short poems, written up on ‘trench paper’ (aged and battered artistically by yours truly).  Here’s just a sample of some wonderful work.

It was wonderful sitting with lovely teacher Claire Burke afterwards, reading slowly through the poems.  Then I took down the post-it evaluations the children had stuck speedily to the classroom door as they went home.

“In The Hands of the Boys” has been funded by a National Lottery grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Then and Now’ programme (commemorating the centenary of the First World War), Shropshire Council and participating schools.

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