A Schoolday of Poetry and Staring at Things

1 Sibford w hagstone mrLast week I enjoyed a wonderful day making poems with just over 80 young people at Sibford School in Oxfordshire.  An independent Quaker school, Sibford was so welcoming, and so supportive, that I came away exhilarated (before falling suddenly asleep on a sofa mid-evening…)

A stripe with no explanation
A splash of colour.
A ride for many different creatures.
A centre like gold.
The place bees worship.

Looking through a frame at a tulip in flower sparked this vivid short poem from Eloise Upton, Y7.

I borrowed Les Murray’s words ‘Poetry is a zoo in which you keep demons and angels’ to create a workshop for one set of older students, while with another we explored Gillian Clarke’s moving poem ‘Oradour’, alongside Jacob Polley’s new translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem, ‘The Ruin’.

With Y7 and Y9 groups we went outside with my hagstone and a set of cardboard ‘cameras’ and old picture frames.  Using these to ‘frame’ what we saw, we took time to stare at the immediate environs of the school building, which included mature trees, stumps, a flower bed and the tulips.  The students were hugely inventive and enthusiastic, and achieved some really good work, given that there was only an hour with each group.

3 Sibford J & student editing mrFrom Y9 Julia Beaumont told her teacher later:
‘It was fun going outside, looking through the hagstone. Jean Atkin gave us good tips on how to write a poem and I’m very grateful. I’m very pleased with the second draft of my poem.’
And so she should be.  I worked very briefly with her, showing her how to keep her thought while playing with the syntax, and she made some really good decisions.

Julia – 1st draft:

Textured wood very uneven
Weathered dimples like skin
Strung up branches like puppets
A story hidden in every nook and cranny
Everything has an expression saying something
Even nature

Julia – 2nd draft:

Uneven textured wood
Dimples weathered like skin
Branches strung like puppets
A story hidden
In every nook and cranny
Everything is saying something

 I was looked after most wonderfully all day by school librarian Frances King, and as I was leaving she passed on the words of a teacher she’d just spoken with :
‘‘The Y11s were all talking about the poetry afterwards.  One group stopped me to read me their work – not bad for 16 year old boys!’
Which really made my day.  Thank you Sibford!


A project revisited: ‘Viewpoint Voices’ gets published

Just over a year ago I completed a long project in Dumfries and Galloway called ‘Viewpoint Voices’, in association with the National Scenic Areas (NSAs) of the Solway Firth.  I worked with NSA officer Anna Johnson to locate many different groups of people, of all ages and backgrounds.  Then we took them out to the six NSA viewpoints along this gloriously beautiful coast.
The youngest was 8, the eldest folk in their 80s.  We created cinquains, a short poetry form, based on syllables, not unlike a haiku.  But a bit longer.

We recorded each poet reading their cinquain and made them into into video-clips set over images of the coast.  The short film clips were then uploaded to YouTube and onto community websites. I was really pleased to receive copies of ‘Tidelines’, the glossy newsletter of the Solway Firth Partnership, featuring a new double spread about the project (just click to enlarge).
VVoices published Tidelines 2014 VVoices2 published Tidelines 2014








Here’s the Viewpoint Voices video-clip created by this group of Advanced Higher English students at the Iron Age hillfort of Ward Law:

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