Poetry and a School Sleepover

I spent two exhilarating days this week with Hargate Primary School in snowy West Bromwich. All bundled up, we set off to walk to Sandwell Valley, a marvellous thing to find between the busy-ness of West Brom and the M6. Actually, Sandwell Valley lies to either side of the M6, so you cross the motorway to explore the other side. And there are woods, and lakes, and a ruined priory. And bird life, winding paths, and squirrels – and always – the more, or less distant howl of traffic.

Every so often we’d strip off a glove from the writing hand, and make Poem Notes of what we could see, what we could hear, touch, feel, and smell. The lakes were icy. I wrote down suggestions for making a Big Poem from all our collaborative words (see below!).

Meantime the swans found us.

And we watched a heron fly into the heronry on an island in the lake. And found a heron that kept still.

And mounds of frosted moss, and a pyramid of frozen fungus.

Thawing out in school we wrote poems based on our Poem Notes, like this one, by Ilias. I worked with Ilias last year when he was in Y5, and when we shared his work, it was retweeted by Ian McMillan, something Ilias remembers to this day!

There is a valley
and woods of wonder.
What is in the woods?
I must ponder.

Layers of ruins.
A monastery of monks.
A dragon breathing.
Flames of wood.
A hall of history.
The world of the past
lies ahead.

We talked about how not rhyming in a poem can offer the poet new opportunities, but then we set to for fun, and wrote a rhyming poem as well. After that the day was ending, and pizza and chips were consumed, before the Sleepover Crew, as we must now call them, played Hide and Seek in the dark – and met a surprised fox – before watching a film and then bedding down for the night.

I was so grateful that the school put me up in a local hotel. I made a cup of tea, then crawled across the carpet in my room, writing up THE BIG POEM.

Next morning, snow was falling on West Brom. We unrolled THE BIG POEM and read it out aloud. Loudly.

Some of the children are holding up their Cost of Living Poetry Notebooks, which the school is knocking up from scrap paper and staples… (We’re doing a Sleepover because there wasn’t enough money in the budget this year to take them on a residential to Edgmond Hall, which is actually owned by Sandwell Council, and run for local schools. Don’t get me started.)

We did a busy morning of workshopping, writing odes after Frank O’Hara – here is Finlay’s:

Oh, chocolate, cake, fruit pastilles!
Oh, how delicious you are!
Jujubes, recorders, trumpets!
All the stuff I talk about.

It’s making a beat on the page!
These things amaze me every day.
Tik Tok, Hip-Hop, Tik Tok, Hip-Hop!

You can see Emilija’s first draft for her ode at the top of this post.

Then we read Charles Simic’s wonderful poem ‘Stone’, and wrote about all the other things you could go into. The children’s poems disappeared into: a seed; a hawthorn tree; a drop of water; a snowflake (naturally); an acorn, and more.

With our time running out, we enjoyed Chrissie Gittin’s poem ‘There’s No Cow on the Ice’, based on a Swedish proverb. Huge fun was had with this, as we pictured stranger and wilder beasts in everyday environments. Here goes Ilias again:

There’s no cow on the ice!
There’s no hamster in the printer!
There’s no panda in the school bell!
There’s no cheetah on the treadmill!

So don’t worry about the cow falling through the ice,
or the hamster jamming the printer
or the panda crawling on the school bell
or the cheetah running on the treadmill!

Lunchtime intervened before we could quite get to the more comforting activities of the creatures that feature in Chrissie’s third stanza, but there was a lot of laughter.

After lunch, we rounded off the two days of Poetry Sleepover with a packed performance and every poet stood up and read, and every poet was clapped till the portacabin trembled.

Thank you to the marvellous staff and head of Hargate Primary! Double thankyous to the brilliant kids!

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