All Alone – art and place

I’ve just completed four days working for Meadow Arts in a lovely Herefordshire primary school. The idea was to enable the children to work closely with the ‘All Alone’ installations in Fishpond Valley at the National Trust’s Croft Castle.

Last Monday I met the Y5/Y6 class at Croft Castle on a beautiful autumn day. We talked a bit about the ideas around ‘aloneness’ then walked into the woods to find the installations. I provided Poem Notes booklets and throughout the visit the children were encouraged to write down thoughts, observations and phrases for use in making poems later. The children were fascinated by ‘The Weight of Things’ and the Grotto. Then we walked up to find one of Edie Jo Murray’s glorious chairs, and turns were taken to sit on it, and consider the views, and why it was where it was. We then walked uphill into the beech hanger to find Simon Roberts’ huge, veiled photographs. These caused a different kind of response, a sort of awe at their strangeness. I asked the children to choose a spot within sight, but separated from each other, and we spent ten minutes up in the woods, near the installation, all alone. They were encouraged to jot down observations in their Poem Notes booklet. The wood stayed very quiet. There was occasional birdsong. Now and then a squirrel ran along a bough. A child silently pointed out a stumbling black beetle in the leaf mould.

When I called them back, many came reluctantly, and told me how they’d enjoyed those moments of quiet contemplation.

The following day, I worked with Y5/Y6 in school. We used the Poem Notes to write poems, then edited them down to fit into tiny books that go into small brown envelopes.

Later we wrote more poems, editing again and turning them into collaged poetry postcards.

Next day I was in with Y3/Y4, who had not been able to visit Fishpond Valley. To make up for this, I spent time doing some visualisation work with them, and showing them photographs of the installations. I asked them to close their eyes, and then ‘walked’ them past the hovering rock, and into the grotto. I talked about being alone, the wood very still. They followed me all the way, and then we made a whole class collaborative poem about ideas of aloneness, first thinking about a ‘line’ on which you might feel lonely at one side of the classroom – but feel the need for solitude at the other. The children were very inventive in their suggestions for our poem, and then enjoyed a whole class performance of it.

Then these very young children, 7 and 8 years old, made their own poems, and created tiny books with them. There was some wonderful writing:

Above the water
a rock floats
not minding the moss
not minding the gulls
that perch on its back


Later on, and inspired by Edie Jo Murray’s chairs, I went outside with the Y3/Y4 class so they could decorate chairs with ribbon and coloured tape that I’d brought with me. The following morning, we took the decorated chairs out, and the children, in small groups, took decisions about where to ‘install’ their chairs within the school grounds, and then explained their choices to the rest of the class.

On the last afternoon, I set up my mic and amp in the school hall, and we ran a Poetry Reading and Art Display event, to which the whole school and staff were invited. All the children who’d been involved in the writing and making had the chance to perform their work to an appreciative audience, to lots of clapping. Then we all enjoyed a big display of the books and postcards and beribboned chairs.

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