Words from the Vaults

This spring I’ve been working with a great group of people who’ve been attending ‘Creative Writing in the Museum Vaults’.  Ludlow houses the county’s precious and extraordinary Museum Resources, and this series of workshops allowed us access to the ‘Vaults’ and the wonders they contain.  Throughout all of this we were expertly supported by Ludlow Curator Abigail Cox, and by Fay Bailey at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.

During April everyone can come to Ludlow Library and Museum Resources Centre, and read wonderful new poems inspired by some of the artefacts we met in the ‘Vaults’.  And next week, there’s a special, one-off reading – open to the public.  There will be cake.

Final reading poster #3

Here’s a glimpse (too many reflections) of just some of the work on display in the foyer of Ludlow Library and Museum Resources Centre.

And meet the handsome Dr Hickman, and Lizzie Prudence’s delicious words…

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What a treat
warm intelligence lighting
strong brown eyes
shining out among the dull
bewhiskered dignitaries.

If Jane had seen you
dancing across the
Assembly Rooms floor
she might have chosen
you for Darcy.

 

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

The impact of a distinguisher at a vaseboard

Cafe Writing is once again under way in lovely Ludlow Kitchen at the Food Centre, Bromfield.  I run these workshops for people who wish to write poetry or prose while enjoying a good coffee, and sometimes a pastry too.  This morning a dozen ingenious minds created a Dicsaurus.

I had asked everyone to invent a new word using two words handily hanging around the beautiful conservatory in which we’re working in Ludlow Kitchen.  So – a vaseboard derives from a cupboard.  And a vase.

Then all new words were passed to the left (or right, or somewhere, this bit was creatively chaotic) and a definition invented for the new word.  Which we then shared, through raucous laughter, fine coffee and cake.

The word Dicsaurus was duly invented to explain what we’d done.  Here it is:

CW Dicsaurus

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)

 

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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.

Out of an owl’s eye

My involvement in the Impressions of the Past project continues!  A big, varied group of families and individuals from the local community converged to meet ceramicist Ruth Gibson and I in Pontesbury a couple of weeks ago.  We all walked up through the green lanes and footpaths to Poles Coppice.  Ruth got everyone making clay impressions, and I handed out Poem Notes booklets.  We set off to walk and write and make.

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out of an owl’s eye/ the different/ views of winter

(part of a poem I put together using words the participants gave me up at Poles Coppice – you can read it here).

At lunchtime, we all headed back down to Pontesbury Public Hall, where archaeologists Mike and Teri gave a talk and slide show.  Seriously channelling the Iron Age now, everyone set to and created new poems –

and I wrote one based on words I’d collected from the participants during the walk.

Make Variations poem

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!

 

 

‘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.

 

 

 

‘Around the Crow the weather’

It rained on Welshpool Poetry Festival, but didn’t dampen this great little celebration of words in Mid Wales.  I read with Gillian Clarke on the final evening, and am now wallowing in the delights of her new Picador Selected Poems.

But before that I ran a workshop for children.  Here’s a few pics and some very promising lines from a group of focused and inventive young poets.

Welshpool Crow wshop Jun2016 (3)

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