‘Hours upon days of waiting…’

Today I started work with Shropshire Council’s imaginative project ‘In The Hands of the Boys’, which focusses on World War I, and uses dance, poetry and photography to explore and share stories about Shropshire’s involvement in the war.  The project involves young people aged 7 to 14 as researchers, creative interpreters and performers.

100 boys and young men from 6 schools across Shropshire are working with creative practitioners, heritage specialists and museums and archives. A piece of contemporary dance is being choreographed and (this is the bit I’m delivering) poems written in response to the work of Wilfred Owen, who was born in Oswestry.

There will be a performance at Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury at the end of the project.  It’s a very exciting project to be involved in.

This morning, under the strange red sun of Storm Ophelia, I worked with a lively class and their teachers in Whixall Primary, talking together about the war, reading and discussing two poems by Wilfred Owen.  Then the children wrote their own, working from free-writing, through drafts, and into short poems.

We wrote the poems up as ‘fragments’, as at Wilfred Owen’s death, just a week before Armistice Day, he’d left many poem fragments uncompleted.

Here are some of ours (I ‘aged’ the paper to mark the passage of a hundred years) :

And here’s some of the feedback at the end of the workshop!

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‘And threw a spade to own a space’

 

Today I went to Meadows Primary School in Ketley to help bring poetry into Heritage studies.  I had a brilliant day with the talented staff and two classes of 8 year old children, who are making something very special from their detailed and practical studies of local history.  We went for a good long walk in a cold wind, exploring Ketley’s industrial past – the Inclined Plane which once hauled tugboats from one canal to the other; Ketley Hall, home of William Reynolds who owned the town ironworks; Ketley Paddock Mound, a man-made tump created out of clay and ironstone spoil from the mines –  and the Squatters’ Cottage (below) built in a night on common land.  Your garden ground around your cottage was determined by how far you could throw a spade or an axe.
Someone made smoke rise
from an overnight chimney
and threw a spade to own a space

Meadows Primary Heritage Oct17 (4)

We made Poem Notes, and later created whole class collaborative poems as well as a really exciting set of poems from individuals.

Some poems were written as cinquains, so much counting on fingers went on.  Others were written as six line poems split into two, or three stanzas.  Naturally, some young poets scrapped the rules and made up their own, with great success!  I particularly liked a subtle poem based on the word ‘not’.

 

 

 

And here are the two class collaborative poems, based on oral suggestions made by the children after two minutes of silent ‘free-writing’.  Just a delight.

 

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!

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.

 

 

 

Two Sides of the Severn 2

With four rather marvellous collaborative class poems completed by Much Wenlock Primary School (South of the Severn) and Redhill Primary School (North of the Severn), I went back in to work with the children on creating individual poems.  We did this by using their original Poem Notes, made outdoors, plus prompted writing I’d done with them after their trips – and then we developed these ideas to create tankas.  Some drafts below:

Meantime, when they weren’t working on their tankas, the children were making huge poetry collages with artist Emily Wilkinson.

MW Workshop4 + art (10)

 

RH Wshop3 5VK (10)

and then we wrote up the tankas onto postcards, and shared them –

Two Sides of the Severn has been developed and supported by Clore Poetry  and Literature Awards, the Arts Council and the Trustees of Wenlock Poetry Festival.

Two Sides of the Severn 1

Since Christmas I’ve been working on Two Sides of the Severn, a project funded and managed by Wenlock Poetry Festival to help primary school children enjoy, access and create poetry.  The project will also assist the established poetry festival in Shropshire to develop and encourage young audiences, and it’s funded through a Clore Poetry and Literature Award.

mw-y5-trip-13feb-9The power plant was far, at night, red-eyed
like a robot when you were small.

During Two Sides of the Severn I’ve introduced children from two primary schools to the work of A E Housman, Mary Webb and my own poems about Shropshire, before setting off outdoors for the children to create their own poetry by responding to place.

The schools are in Much Wenlock (south of the Severn) and in Telford New Town (north of it).  The schools are governed by different local authorities, and wouldn’t normally work together, so it’s been an innovative collaboration with new experiences for the children, their teachers and the Poetry Festival.

With the children and their teachers, I walked in woods on both sides of the Severn, and they wrote their Poem Notes, which we used for writing once we were back in the classroom.

It’s been a real joy going outside in the winter with the children, who really rose to the occasion and created marvellous collaborative poems.  Here’s a few glimpses of what we’ve been doing so far.  The words below the photos are taken from the children’s collaborative poems.

rh-trip-16feb17-10-cropTrees flickered like candles on my birthday.

 

dscf3735A scarlet elfin cup grows on a branch of pure love.

 

rh-trip-16feb17-13Later that day I saw blue wellingtons that smelt like violets.

 

rh-trip-16feb17-12What wasn’t there to see was the River Severn.
What wasn’t there to see was foxes, but I could smell them.

Now we’re moving on to writing individual short poems, and then we’ll be working on ways to perform the collaborative poems to an audience – one school to the other.  And then finally there’ll be a proper, full-on performance with a big audience, lights and raked seating!

 

 

Grand Finale Night for ‘In woods we forget things’

A stream of excited children and smiley adults poured into Ludlow Assembly Rooms yesterday evening for the Grand Finale of In woods we forget things, at the wood edge we tell stories.

I laid on cakes (made in Ludlow, and not by me) in vast quantities.  There was also tea, coffee and juice – and once everyone had been refreshed, I was thrilled to bits to find over 70 people sitting down to see photographs, live performances and short films of the project.

‘The wood is as rough as a black bear’

Last week, on a day with a distinct October nip in the air, I walked back to the woods with Bucknell Primary’s Key Stage 2 class, as part of my project ‘In woods we forget things, at the wood edge we tell stories’.  We carried laminated copies of the children’s poems, and cameras to film their performances under the trees they chose to write for.bucknell-visit3-inwoodsproject-jean-atkin-11

Once we were in the wood, the children scattered to find their trees.  No-one had any trouble remembering exactly the right place.  Indeed more than one pair showed me the precise knot or bulge or bark pattern that had inspired a particular line or phrase.

Everybody practised, and then we all trooped round the wood, alternately being the performers, and the audience.  The performances were moving and joyful, and the quality of the listening was just as good.

bucknell-visit3-inwoodsproject-jean-atkin-24

We left the laminated poems tied onto the trees for Toni and Ru to find later.  (And we also left a poem for the Composting Toilet).

bucknell-visit3-inwoodsproject-jean-atkin-5

This project is funded by Shropshire Hills AONB and Shropshire Housing Group.  More on the project blog here.

‘In woods we forget things, at the wood edge we tell stories’

Print screen blog cropI’m very excited to say I’ve got funding for a new project, which will take place this autumn.  It’s called ‘In woods we forget things, at the wood edge we tell stories‘ – click for a blog which will document our progress.  The project is funded by Shropshire Hills AONB and Shropshire Housing Group, and many many thanks to them.

The project will provide opportunities for three different groups from the community in south Shropshire to spend time in native woodlands, learn real, useful conservation skills, respond to place through poetry, and perform their own new site-specific work.

The three groups involved are from:

  • Bishop’s Castle Primary School
  • St Mary’s CE Primary School, Bucknell
  • The Working Together Group – a Ludlow-based registered charity who provide a focus for people with learning disabilities and their families

These groups are matched, respectively, with woodlands at:

  • Brook Vessons, Stiperstones
  • Tru Wood, Bucknell
  • Brineddin Wood, Chapel Lawn

I’m really looking forward to starting work on this.

 

 

 

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