And though she be but little, she is fierce

Last week I spent an extremely hot, but very satisfying day with the children and staff of Rushbury Primary School.  It’s one of the smallest schools I’ve worked in, with only 46 on roll, and so I spent the morning with KS2, and then the afternoon with KS1.

In KS2 the children have all been studying Shakespeare, and life under the Tudors.  So we started off by reading a broad selection of famous quotes, choosing the one each child liked the best, and talking together about why.  Then I set them to do some freewriting inspired by the quote, emphasising that the link could be as close or as tenuous as they liked.  So I got some enthusiastic pony-lovers responding to ‘My horse, my horse! My kingdom for a horse!’.  Then from the freewriting the children worked up a first draft.

Here’s a marvellous development from ‘And though she be but little, she is fierce’.

On the left is the writer’s first draft, only partially photographed (oh dear!) which I borrowed from her to write onto the smartboard so we could all talk about line endings, and how to decide where to put them.

Here’s her revised first draft:

DSCF8093

Here’s a mature, thoughtful first draft (arriving almost complete) in response to ‘All that glisters is not gold’.

DSCF8095

And I worked with this student on a response to ‘The empty vessel makes the loudest sound’, asking her for similes which she provided readily, and wonderfully, for me to write down –

DSCF8092

By the afternoon KS1 had already been out to a sports event, and the thermometer in their classroom measured 30 degrees.  We gratefully went and sat under a big tree in the corner of the playground, read lots of poems, joined in and made up actions.  They were lovely, and on discovering a little boy who kept bees (and knew everything) we made up a whole group poem called ‘Nine Ways to Look at Bees’, and performed it to KS2 just before home time.

Thank you for having me, Rushbury, and thank you to Wenlock Poetry Festival who provided the funding for this day.

Advertisements

“I’m going to be a poem”

I’m back from a fantastic day in Hargate Primary School.  The joy of being their Poet in Residence just grows with every visit!  This time, a tiny little girl stopped me in the corridor at break, looked up and said, “I’m going to be a poem”.  She smiled broadly, and skipped away, and it all made me so happy.

Today I was mostly in Year 4, who are learning about Africa.  The great range of nationalities in Hargate meant there were children who had relatives in African countries, and who’d been there, so they told us stories.  We read African poetry, one of which had a fierce storm in it, which gave me the chance to demonstrate my Thunder Tube* to fabulous effect, and then we employed the Elfje form (eleven words, in a set pattern, Dutch!) to write about the brilliant colours of Africa.

*Thunder Tube!

 

Here’s some more elfje poems.

And then we had huge fun performing them later!

In the darkness/ a bird makes its nest

Recently I spent two wonderful days at Hellens Manor, in Herefordshire, providing poetry workshops to local primary schools for Ledbury Poetry Festival.  Ledbury PF have an acclaimed community and schools outreach programme, and Hellens Manor is a marvellous place.  Chloe Garner, artistic director of Ledbury Poetry Festival, did a wonderful job welcoming and enthusing the children – a real effort aimed at demonstrating that poetry really was for them.  We hope to see some of them at the Festival, which this year is 29 June to 8 July.

Then it was time for the first workshop.  The children exclaimed in excitement as we walked on snowy cobbles under an arch, and I asked them to help carry in firewood.  Our room was down a maze of flagged passages hung with iron breastplates, and once we’d arrived, on that first snowy Monday morning, everyone could see the point of lighting a fire.

tw Hellens fire

Once we’d warmed up, we talked about nests.  What they are, how they are, what they mean.  We handled nests I’d brought in with me.  And a very tiny, blown hen’s egg.

DSCF7136

Then we played with cut up poems borrowed from Tom Pow’s beautiful pamphlet ‘Nest’, from Roncadora Press.

And then we wrote poems.  Here are some of them.

For me, it was a very rewarding two days, and fantastic to be working alongside superb practitioners Sara Hirsch, Val Bloom and Matt Black.  We had a lot of fun.

 

Shy Snowdrops & Trees Upon Trees

I’m just back from a most inspiring and exciting week at The Hurst, tutoring a band of marvellous young poets from Hargate Primary School. My co-tutor, Wajid Hussain, was just great to work with, and he has a lovely manner with the children.  The staff from Hargate are just exceptional, and they worked their socks off encouraging and supporting the children, who are only 10 and 11 years old (there was the occasional bout of homesickness).  Hargate Primary School, from West Bromwich, is the school where I’ve been poet in residence for the last three years, so it’s a special pleasure.   All week, the house and grounds at The Hurst provided these urban children with an extraordinary and inspiring place in which to live and work: I could see it changing them by the hour.

Snowdrops come from winter.
Why so many?

Leah J

The first night, we all went out for a Night Walk, under a huge full moon.  Once the children’s eyes had adapted, they were staggered by the brightness of the sky.  I showed them their moon shadows, and we watched the snowdrops gleaming in moonlight.  Back inside, Wajid and I collected oral descriptions of what the kids had just seen and experienced.  So at 11pm I was scribing a twelve foot poem onto a roll of lining paper, using only their words, but editing them into order.  Next morning I rolled it out on the breakfast table.  Lovely to see the kids creeping along it, reading.

blog10

Later, we explored the woods, making poem notes on a small folded booklet.

We wrote about magical objects found in the wood, and we searched out doors and portals to write about changing spaces and new surprises.  We looked closely at bark, and discovered storm-torn trees with fragrant heartwood newly exposed.  We listened to the birds and stared into the pond.

A mixture of leaves and mud
turned into a bowl of soup.

We walked and there I found
my magical object.
If you throw it, it comes back.
It is made out of wood.
Do you know what it is?

Simran

Here’s the Crow workshop – my Crow is about to be lifted out of his cardboard box to ooohs and ahhs.  We swopped crow lore and stories, then I gave the children tiny stapled books to write their crow poem into.

On Thursday we wrote about nests, inspired by Tom Pow’s pamphlet from Roncadora Press.  The children held the nests very delicately, and wrote inventive poems.

When the nest came to me
it was very fragile.
The smell of nature
coming into my body
soothed my mind.
The little egg contained inside
was the smallest egg I’ve ever seen
and it made the tiniest of rattles.

Alfie

On the last morning, I admitted that I am also the Spellwright, and encouraged the children to write a Spell for the Making of Poetry for themselves.  They took the very fabric of The Hurst as their inspiration, and investigated fireplaces, doorways, sinks and old glass.  Then I dripped hot sealing wax onto their spells, and they applied the brass Seal which makes the spell work.

Take – 

the soot from the chimney
the spines from the books
and a mile of stripes from John Osborne’s scarf…

And here is the feedback sheet gathered in by Hurst Director, Natasha (while Wajid and I had a much needed coffee).

IMG_20180202_111522

Truly, it was a marvellous week.  I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to work at The Hurst again, and especially with Hargate Primary School.

‘My friend thinks the bombs have stopped’

All too soon, it’s my last poetry workshop for Shropshire Council’s imaginative project ‘In The Hands of the Boys’, which focusses on World War I.   This morning I went to Severndale Specialist Academy in Shrewsbury and worked with an enthusiastic and energetic group of students.

I read ‘The Sentry’ with them, and we acted out what happens in the poem – so we all cowered in the Boche dugout, holding just three candles in the darkness, and sent one ‘soldier’ up to be the sentry at the top of the mud-covered steps.  Deafening shelling was going on all the time, we imagined the din in our ears – and then the sentry is blown back by a whizz bang and hurled down the steps into the mud at the bottom of the dugout.  We acted out how we dragged him from the mud, only to discover that he thinks he is blind…

We tackled another poem in much the same way, then gathered in a circle.  I asked everyone to close their eyes.  I did a visualisation exercise with the group, asking them to imagine a cold morning, waiting for breakfast in the muddy trench, knowing they were going over the top into No Man’s Land later on.  Then I encouraged them to contribute words and lines towards a class poem.  The children were hugely focussed on this, and very thoughtful.  We read back the first draft of it, and I promised to edit a second draft and – here it is:

It’s a cold, frosty morning
on 19th January 1918
and the whizz-bangs are flying over.

Over the top it’s dangerous.
No matter what you do out there
you can easily get hit.

I hear a scream and someone
throwing up.
I see killed soldiers in deep mud.

The sky is black as soot. It’s rainy now.
The mud is grey and brown.
Smoke blows towards us.

I feel shattered, I’ve had no sleep.
I’ve been on sentry duty, watching for biplanes.
The rats are eating our food.

There’s frost on the tap, frost
on my mug and on my metal plate.
I see a tank in No Man’s Land.

In my ears the banging and the bombing
are like thunder
but I can hear someone dying.

Later on, I handed out the browned and tattered ‘trench paper’ and they all wrote their own work – and we remembered the fragments of poetry left by Wilfred Owen on his death in action, ninety-nine years ago.  Here’s just some of the work the children produced:

And here’s a sample of their thoughts on the workshop as they headed off for their lunch.  What a lovely group!

Feedback

 

Thank you to Katherine Webb and the classroom assistants for supporting me so well.  ‘In the Hands of the Boys’ uses dance, poetry and photography to explore and share stories about Shropshire’s involvement in the war.  Young people aged 7 to 14 are working as researchers, creative interpreters and performers.

“In The Hands of the Boys” has been funded by a National Lottery grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Then and Now’ programme (commemorating the centenary of the First World War), Shropshire Council and participating schools.

Rifle fire rattles like a ball bearing in a can

I arrived at St Mary’s Primary School in Shawbury this morning, all ready for our Wilfred Owen workshop, part of Shropshire Council’s imaginative project ‘In The Hands of the Boys’, which focusses on World War I. The project uses dance, poetry and photography to explore and share stories about Shropshire’s involvement in the war.  Young people aged 7 to 14 are working as researchers, creative interpreters and performers.

This was a great class to work with.  They listened really well to each other, and most attentively to Wilfred Owen’s work.  Here’s just a sample of their responses, written up on battered fragments of aged ‘trench’ paper, reminiscent of the fragments of poetry left by Wilfred Owen on his death in action, ninety-nine years ago.

It was great reading through the poems with class teacher Janet Turner afterwards.  Then I took down the post-it evaluations the children had stuck speedily to the classroom door as they went out to lunch.  Here’s a few.  What a mercy I was quite kind.

“In The Hands of the Boys” has been funded by a National Lottery grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Then and Now’ programme (commemorating the centenary of the First World War), Shropshire Council and participating schools.

‘I am the bearer of stretchers’

I helped set up our working space in the stage area of the main auditorium at The Edge today, shifting tables and chairs with the students of William Brookes School in Much Wenlock. William Brookes is the only mainstream secondary school involved in Shropshire Council’s imaginative project ‘In The Hands of the Boys’, which focusses on World War I.  This was a group of young people from different year groups, and included the group of boys involved in the dance element of the project.

We shared knowledge about the war, and I tried to learn names, before reading some of Wilfred Owen’s poetry together.  There were some sharp-eyed readings of his work, with students commenting on the impact of particular lines, and talking about why it affected them.  Later, we did some free-writing and drafting.  Here’s some samples of finished work, written on ‘fragments’ to recall the fragments left by Wilfred Owen on his death, just a week before the Armistice.

I asked the group to put their evaluation up on the black wall of the theatre.  I did rather like the one that just said, ‘Twas good’.

DSCF5918

“In The Hands of the Boys” has been funded by a National Lottery grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Then and Now’ programme (commemorating the centenary of the First World War), Shropshire Council and participating schools.

‘What am I going to do with the noises I hear?’

In pouring rain I arrived at St George’s Primary in Clun this afternoon, all ready for our Wilfred Owen workshop, part of Shropshire Council’s imaginative project ‘In The Hands of the Boys’, which focusses on World War I. The project uses dance, poetry and photography to explore and share stories about Shropshire’s involvement in the war.  Young people aged 7 to 14 are working as researchers, creative interpreters and performers.

We all got introduced, and then we read poems written by Wilfred Owen, and talked about the experience of the young men who went to fight in the trenches.  We talked about the war memorial in Clun, and how every town and village has one.  We talked about how the bodies of the fallen remained in France, buried in long fields filled with white gravestones.

Then we did some visualisation, some free writing, and began drafting short poems, written up on ‘trench paper’ (aged and battered artistically by yours truly).  Here’s just a sample of some wonderful work.

It was wonderful sitting with lovely teacher Claire Burke afterwards, reading slowly through the poems.  Then I took down the post-it evaluations the children had stuck speedily to the classroom door as they went home.

“In The Hands of the Boys” has been funded by a National Lottery grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Then and Now’ programme (commemorating the centenary of the First World War), Shropshire Council and participating schools.

‘Close the curtains for me’

It’s Tuesday, so it must be Cheswardine Primary, and my second day with Shropshire Council’s imaginative project ‘In The Hands of the Boys’, which focusses on World War I. The project uses dance, poetry and photography to explore and share stories about Shropshire’s involvement in the war.  Young people aged 7 to 14 are working 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.

This morning, in Cheswardine Primary, set among the green fields and woods of Shropshire, the trenches of northern France felt all of a century away.  But the children really rose to the occasion, writing sensitive and imaginative work in fragments, recalling the fragments of poems left after Wilfred Owen’s death.  Here’s a sample:

And some of their evaluation after the workshop.  I do love the one about professionalism.

‘In The Hands of the Boys’ has been funded by a National Lottery grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Then and Now’ programme (commemorating the centenary of the First World War); Shropshire Council and participating schools.

The portrait of Wilfred Owen at the top of this post is by artist Anthony Brown, unveiled at the Wilfred Owen Story in Birkenhead in 2011.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑