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!

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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:

Am I growing or am I flying?

I’m celebrating National Poetry Day by adding this post about another marvellous day spent being Poet in Residence for Hargate Primary School in West Bromwich.  I go in usually once a term, sometimes more, and this is our second year of partnership.  I love the way it’s becoming more and more collaborative and creative.

 

It’s really exciting to be among such inspired teachers and lovely children.  This time, I worked with four classes, two from Year 3, a Year 4  and a Year 6 class.  I’d worked with some of these groups before, and one of the loveliest moment in a day rather full of them, was walking into a classroom and hearing the children behind me excitedly whispering “Poet!” “Poet!” to each other.

Here’s some of the work we did.  Some groups I asked to write ‘I Come From’ poems, a great standby for early in the school year – one of the teachers came up afterwards and told me how the exercise had helped her hear so many new things about the children in her care.

I come from happiness and laughter and being surprised…

I come from pancakes and jam and a white plate…

In the Year 6 class I read them a lovely poem called ‘My Cat Mitzi’ by Georgi Gill, suggested for National Poetry Day by the Scottish Poetry Library this year.  It’s all about floating free of gravity.  Great idea for a poem – and the children, as always, did not disappoint.  We talked about words that feel ‘floaty’, and white space around words, then did some visualisation, followed by some drafting and editing.  Enjoy these!

I saw ducks swimming the sun to me…

I was the kite on the wind in the breeze…

Happy National Poetry Day 2017 from me!

Writer/blogger-in-residence this August

This August I’ve been writer/blogger-in-residence at Museum of Cannock Chase, providing an outsider’s eye on all the wonderful and extraordinary things to be found inside the museum – and then flagging it up on a lovely new blog, which you can find here.

Davey the Canary cThe idea of the new blog for Museum of Cannock Chase is to create a place where you can find out more about what goes on behind the scenes, and what it takes to manage a museum, day by day, within their lively and engaged community.  In the short time I’ve been there, we’ve explored aged bicycles, the local mining heritage, pigeon-racing, behind-the-scenes in the Museum Stores, traditional Punch and Judy, which is not to mention the yellow feathers of Davy the Canary.  You can find him – and follow him – @DavyTheCanary…*tweet*  chick emoji

The archaeology of poo was especially memorable – as part of a Horrible Histories day, Penny the archaeologist could be found in a tent in the Museum grounds, encouraging young and old to take a special interest in poo.

“Yes, the photo shows my hand,” she said fearlessly, “holding a 3,000 year old poo”.  One small boy squealed and ran at this point, but others crowded in, agog for poo.

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“Pick a poo!” said Penny.  And explained how archaeologists are never happier than when they’ve found a midden, because poo can tell us such a lot.  If you find seeds in there, you know what the people were eating, at that time, in that place.  If there’s sweetcorn husks, then you’re probably in Mexico, with the Aztecs.  Bits of stone in your chosen poo, and you’re looking at a Viking sample – they ground their wheat in stone querns, and didn’t sieve it for tooth-breaking grit.

I can’t think why this was so popular.

Making ‘Outdoor Magic’

Outdoor Magic is a collaborative project based at Hereford Community Farm, and funded by Ledbury Poetry Festival.  I’m working alongside the wonderful artist Jeanette McCulloch, and with the people who come regularly to the Farm.  Hereford Community Farm provides inclusive therapeutic land based activities and skills training for people who face disadvantage through disability, ill health, social need or any other condition or situation which has an impact on their daily life.  The Farm is a warm and wonderful place.

Jeanette and I are working towards a collaborative exhibition which will be on show during Ledbury Poetry Festival 30 June to 9 July.

Visit 2 HCF (3)

Here are things that are used & things to be fixed
& a garden ringing with snoring pigs.
Tulip & Rosie snore through bristle

 

Visit 2 HCF (8)

His horns are two ink coils of ampersand. 
He hops with rage.  Then comes a moment’s lull.

He reverses smartly, drops his head. 
The charge to butt, the click of skull.

 

reccy visit (7)

All busy lips & ruffled beards
& brindled yard-brush coats
the pygmy goats are nibbling up
one dropped handful of oats.

 

Visit 2 HCF (15)

this is fiddly work
Lisa, but now
you’re talking
in riddles

you say,
it all takes skill

that was a goat
this is a drill

 

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Jane slabs on
smiling
stripes of turf.
Her grass grows high.

And gently Jake
swirls his brush
through
his own blue sky.

 

Visit 4 2

The swallows are back
chattering on the phone wires.
They dive before cumulus
whip through wooden barns.

I love Mondays in Hargate Primary

This week my Monday was a joy, spent in the company of the wonderful children of Hargate Primary School, in sunny West Bromwich.  It was sunny, it was a lovely day.
I first met Hargate Primary when they sent a group of 15 children to The Hurst in Shropshire, for a week on Arvon’s schools programme, at which I was one of the tutors. Since then I’ve become their Poet in Residence, visiting the school every term to celebrate poetry with all ages of children.

On Monday I worked with Years 4, 5 and 6, and we played first at telling what could be a truth, or could be a lie, and I had to guess which was which.  In the process, I get reminded of the children’s names!
Then we all enjoyed Robert Seatter’s well-known poem, ‘I come from’, before writing our own versions.  So many fantastic lines:

 


I come from wanting a hamster and a parrot

I come from a house full of havoc and phones
I come from Sandwell Hospital with fireworks outside
I come from a cup of tea

At lunchtime I took my cup of tea to the library, made poems with visiting children, and we read together. At the end of the day I gave a reading, and fielded lots of questions from bright-eyed children enriched by a great range of languages and cultures.  Hargate is a very special place.  There’s a lot of humanity about.

 

 

 

Making Poetry on a Hillfort

I’m just starting work on a fascinating project focused on Earl’s Hill above Pontesford, just south of Shrewsbury.  It’s called Impressions of the Past – a community arts project celebrating the Iron Age landscape.   A week ago I joined Joe Penfold from Stiperstones & Corndon Hill Country Landscape Partnership Scheme, Hugh Hannaford, Senior Archaeological Advisor at Shropshire Council, and a big group of interested people – and up we went.

Here’s a flavour of the place, and the writing that arose from being there.  The words are those I collected from participants on the walk, as well as my own.

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now we walk in a gaol of ash, its vertical bars/   for here is the cold side of the hill/  this bright world flickers in thin strips

 

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sky is slate & bright/ at once, rain cold

 

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we stand in cold on the swelling edge/ of ramparts that denote/ their status in their number

 

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look up & understand/ the hillforts planted in the sky god’s path/ his race across heaven/  whirled rays of stone/  & bronze/  his little votive wheels

 

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we climb to learn an architecture/  that unmanned/ that put the shield arm/  wrong-sided to the rampart, raised the eyes

 

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Here they used no coin, but cattle, metal/  & a life in the sky god’s upturned hand

 

The whole poem is below:

Earl’s Hill Translated

begins on a low green mound
edged round with oaks
where recent schemes of replica roundhouse
motte & bailey
green burial site
were all seen off
by local buyout, how this hill
still matters in the town

& we take in sheets of images
how LIDAR maps
the earth, what’s on it
trees & soil & houses
in one hit
to every half a metre
translates to
coloured images
of time & shadow, bounces
off tree canopies
& then subtracts them –
makes ground digital

we stand in cold on the swelling edge
of ramparts that denote
their status in their number
look up & understand
the hillforts planted in the sky god’s path
his race across heaven
whirled rays of stone
& bronze
his little votive wheels

sky is slate & bright
at once, rain cold

we pass from hand to hand
a stone that’s more deliberate
than accidental
hold it in your palm & run
your finger down its cutting edge –
a tool

we’re glad to move, get warm
along the Bulldozer Path, just one
of the names not on the map
but passed by mouth
she says she’s been here nine full years
but has a lot to learn

he says he’s been up the hill a thousand
times & once years back
when deer were few, a roe buck sprang
along the slope – a scout he says
& once he found a slow worm on the path

now we walk in a gaol of ash, its vertical bars
for here is the cold side of the hill
the way to The Craft & all
this bright world flickers in thin strips

to where the path turns steeply up
where a Shropshire word again
not on the map is valley under rampart
we crick our necks to see where once
a palisade joined sky & ground
stark against Eastridge & Lordshill

we climb to learn an architecture
that unmanned, that put the shield arm
wrong-sided to the rampart, raised the eyes
& struck reluctant awe

Here they used no coin, but cattle, metal
& a life in the sky god’s upturned hand

& we speak of Lily Chitty, local, polymath,
archaeologist & botanist, who walked this track
& wrote her thoughts down in the thirties

then save our breath & place
our boots in giant’s footsteps
as the children do
we’re nearly there, this is
the top of the world
nothing can stop us

(how every child in Shropshire’s
been lifted
onto the white trig
to be photographed)

& wind bites us in a howl out of the west
sun thins, a rainbow is
a strip of brilliance
against this stony sky
& bracken browns & crisps
dies back
from a fire of toadstools

maps rattle between several hands
wind cuts through Gore-Tex, but
from here the ramparts of The Wrekin
rise two-horned
& we salute the ditches at Wem, at Nesscliff
& Old Oswestry, at Llanymynech
& the Breidden
at Beacon Ring & Callow Hill

 

 

acorns

 

 

 

VERSE TO GO!

Specially for #NationalPoetryDay last week, I sat at a desk in the middle of Ludlow Library with my noisy ancient typewriter and provided VERSE TO GO! to a succession of lovely people of all ages who were curious enough to come and find out what was going on.  We wrote poems together about gorillas, a special place in New Zealand, a cuddly toy called Rabbie, a sea-plane flight in Norway, Peppa Pig’s wellies and bellydancing at Appletree Theatre in Ludlow.  Just a few below:Bellydancing Appletree

Jean Verse To Go Copper Beech poem Olive + poem Olive's poem Peppa Pig

 

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