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.
I’m just back from a gift of a week, staying at The Hurst for the inaugural Poetry with Walking Retreat, led by David Morley.
Sixteen pairs of walking boots littered the hall, and it was very interesting, going for group walks and yet being alert to the possibilities for poetry. It worked, slightly to my surprise. (I’d planned to disappear on my own now and then if it didn’t). But the group was lovely, and rapidly bonded to become a very supportive and creative community. Helped on by the truly marvellous food…
I’d met David at various events, but hadn’t experienced the high tide of energy, irrepressible curiosity and sheer knowledge before. He did a lot more than he needed to, including providing one to one sessions for us (mine was exciting and challenging and fruitful). He filled the workshop room with books and handouts and bits of bone and feather, took us out with a bat detector and a great device that you can point at a tree to hear birdsong several times louder than life. He trained us all how to call owls. He made us see asemic writing in the woods. Here’s some:
The steady rhythm of walking is good, I think, for writing. I scribbled constantly and illegibly in my scruffy small notebook as we put in the miles through coppice, hillside and river paths in the mornings, and then wrote all afternoon. There is something magical about The Hurst – a mellow, thinking house. Steve Ely was our guest poet, rolling up in an ex Forestry Commission van with a lamping light on top. He was great.
Early in the week David provided us all with a photocopy of Clun dialect words and meanings, and loosed us on the village with the resulting short dialect poems. I have to say I enjoyed this a lot. Not great art, but great fun. I hid mine in a shop. And it was such fun to walk with poets – they look around themselves so much. They are so nosy.
On Tuesday I woke up in a Docklands Travelodge then made my way on the DLR to Star Primary School in Newham for a fantastic day in Year 5 and 6.
The kids were focused and lovely, just brimming with ideas. We made whole class poems called ‘Keeping the Creature’. The only rule was we could not name the creature!
Three different classes created three very different poems. The children worked in pairs to provide a line each, which their lovely class teacher typed onto the IWB. Then we worked together to edit what we had. This led to detailed and challenging conversations around the classroom about line endings, verb tense, choice of words, finding the last line, finding the first line, beat and rhythm – and more.
I’ve just got home from a week tutoring for Arvon at The Hurst, in Shropshire. My co-tutor was the fantastic Jonny Zucker, and we worked with 16 bright, funny, extraordinary-ordinary children from Year 5 and Year 6 at Hargate Primary in West Bromwich. The week could not have been what it was without Hargate’s wonderful headteacher Andrew Orgill, and Year 5 class teacher Kirsty Cross, not to mention the warm, skilled support that every one of the staff at The Hurst provided for us.
Rising to the demands of such an intensive week, the children were so focused that they grew as writers and poets almost by the hour. Jonny and I also made good use of the 26 acres of woodland around The Hurst, which inspired some great writing. We wrote stories, we wrote poems. I took my Crow. We wrote a group poem for Leap Year’s Day ‘On a Day that Shouldn’t Exist’. You can get the idea, I think, from the pics that follow.
I had the best time. Arvon rocks. Thank you everyone!
This morning 12 poets joined me and Peter Reavill, our regional Finds Liaison Officer, in a workshop exploring just some of the treasure trove of the Welsh Marches. Peter blew us away with a mix of archaeological precision and rich storytelling – the hedge under which someone, in 1645, buried the Bitterley Hoard; the river ford where someone wrenched the Dinham Pommel from a sword, then hurled it into the waters of the Teme; the rhythmic, hour-after-hour sound of someone dressing a cutting-stone in the Paleolithic.
Despite time being as ever too short, the poets produced the beginnings of characterful, muscular work. Here they all are.
And here’s the tyg, a 17th century loving cup. On a night in 1645, the tyg’s owner drained his eggy, clovey, honeyed posset, then stacked it with his stash of coins, some of which dated back to Elizabethan shillings. Perhaps the Royalists were going door-to-door in search of contributions to the cause. Our man was having none of that. He buried it. But never dug it up.
I am so thrilled that in a mere two and a half hours the group came up with such exciting starts to poems. More #FindingTreasure events are planned! We’ll be publishing the poems that result!
Just home from this year’s NAWE Conference in Durham, a whirlwind of exciting ideas and interesting people passionate about writing, education and imagination. Returning on the train last night I agreed with Liz Hyder (@LondonBessie) that it could not have taken only three days. More like a week.
This year Liz and I took our new workshop Pen To Mic, up to Durham for the Conference. The point of Pen To Mic is that workshoppers write a new poem, edit it, prepare it for performance, learn microphone skills, and then perform their work to the rest of the group, so they all become each other’s audience. All in 90 minutes. We think 2 hours would work better!
Pen To Mic was scheduled for 9am on Sunday morning (which took a fair bit of coffee to counteract) and we were expecting a diminished band of sleepy workshoppers. Imagine our surprise when 22 people arrived.
What made it work of course, was that we had such a skilled group, who knew what they were doing, and really took part with generosity and gusto. Thank you everyone for your lovely feedback!
For almost six weeks I’ve been working with a marvellous group of people In The Museum Vaults at Ludlow Museum Resources Centre. Each week a curator locks us into a different vault, where we make notes, take photos, and then I help along the writing, applying coffee and chocolate biscuits as you do.
We – and Ludlow Museum Resources Centre – hope this will become an exhibition of creative writing and artefacts next year.
Meantime, here’s a taster of some of the exciting new writing that’s emerging. And some photographs, that I took, and that don’t match. But hopefully you’ll get the idea.
was it a terrified marmoset or a rock python a giant toad – a bufo marinus – mid-croak or an eagle-headed griffin… that made you stare? Miriam
You, golden eyed, red burnished like sun on rusty tin, velvet ears pricked. Magnificent you are. Thin you are. Polly
It was such a plain dress; no frills or flounces, bows or lace, silk or taffeta. Somehow I could just picture you wearing it, your tall frame filling it as you walked down the summer lanes. Polly
Ladies, ladies, how fortunate you are! Goddesses bathing in a sylvan landscape, Your ample figures quite acceptable. Today you would be hurried from the scene, And sternly offered diet sheets. Catherine
Who named these things? Wulfenite, marcosite, topaz and tourmaline, olivine, garnet and aquamarine? Was there a Miss or Mr Hach who named the Hatchbetine or a mad professor who named Ogygiocarella debuchi from the Ordovician sea of Llandeilo, where sheep now graze? Polly
In the First World War a million uniforms died Gordon
I visited an archive full of clothes hung high to the ceiling in double rows and there were boxes and boxes of caps, shawls and scarves, christening robes, aprons, bonnets and shoes. A red cross uniform from the First World War, a single Tudor sandal, ice-skates and stoles. Each item had a number and I relished the democracy of it all. Lizzie
During making iron, dross is skimmed off the molten metal, in order to pour good metal into moulds.
But what do we do with the quirky dross of un-fileable museum items Hide them behind the door. Gordon
‘I saw his eye gleam./ I saw a trance fall/ on the park’
My new Crow (for The Crow House, natch) and I spent yesterday with Wenlock Books Poetry Summer School and 13 enthusiastically cawing children.
I explained to the group the strange tale of the crows that lived in the tall trees, right in the middle of a small town by the sea in southern Scotland, and read out an extract from ‘The Crow House’. Then we shared everything we knew about crows, all the goriest bits, and they wrote copious drafts. I love discussing the drafting of poetry with young children – we talked about line-endings, the verb tense they had chosen to write in, whether the poem would work better in the first person, or would be more freeing for them if written in the second or third person, when you do, and when you don’t, need that adjective… From the drafts, the children made and illustrated concertina books for their poems.
Later we played poetry puzzles – Emily Wilkinson (who’s running the Poetry Summer School for Wenlock Books this week) and I were rapt, eavesdropping on the discussions, as the children pieced together a poem. What a treat of a day. My thanks to Wenlock Books and its creator Anna Dreda!
I just spent a wonderful morning with ten creative kids and two taxidermied crows.
We read extracts from ‘The Crow House’, invented ways for household objects to transport innocents to other times and places, told stories, inspected the lovely dangerous crows, drew them and wrote about them. Thank you Iran Morris and Ludlow Library!