‘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)


A Tramp of Poets for Arvon

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.

view window

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.

‘I felt a pair of pointy smooth ears/ mittens of fur’

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.

Mar 2016 Star Primary Newham (29)

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!

Mar 2016 Star Primary Newham (25)

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.

Thank you Star Primary!

Mar 2016 Star Primary Newham (30)

Mar 2016 Star Primary Newham (1)Mar 2016 Star Primary Newham (22)


Arvon Magic at The Hurst

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!

March 2016 moss hands Hargate at ARVON (16)
‘Moss blankets the tree/ in spring, ready for the/ cold nights ahead.’  Patric
March 2016 Wood Write2 Hargate at ARVON (41)
We wrote about the woods in tiny Origami books. 
March 2016 Wood Write3 Hargate at ARVON (44)
Then went to the Workshop Room and wrote.
March 2016 Hargate at ARVON (60)
I asked the children to create the Museum of Lost Objects

March 2016 Hargate at ARVON (65)March 2016 Hargate at ARVON (63)March 2016 Hargate at ARVON (62)

March 2016 Hargate at ARVON (35)
The brilliant Jonny Zucker leading his session on plotting a story. Observe the fun being had.

Finding Treasure in the Marches

Finding Treasure workshop 2016 (12)
Part of the Nummus Hoard, plough-dragged in its field

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.

Finding Treasure workshop 2016 (1)
On the top floor of Ludlow Library, Peter Reavill makes handaxes new. 

Despite time being as ever too short, the poets produced the beginnings of characterful, muscular work.  Here they all are.

Finding Treasure workshop 2016 (10)
Poets deep in concentration, Peter still using every minute too.

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.

Finding Treasure workshop 2016 (14)
The tyg, in which the Bitterley Hoard was found.  Left, the remains of a kid purse inside it.

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!

Finding Treasure workshop 2016 (17)
Extract: A Charm Against Uncertain Borders, by Jean Atkin


In which #Pen2Mic goes to #NAWE2015

Durham lights
Lumiere at Durham in shiny rain

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!

Here’s how it went:

me leading Pen to Mic
The group at work, writing their poems in response to prompts
Pen2Mic reading to wall
Reading to the Wall, a vital part of the workshop
Pen2Mic reading to wall2
Individual microphone coaching
Pen2Mic performing
And – the performance to audience
Pen2Mic performing 2
The memorable performance of a great poem that ended with a one-word sentence: ‘Damn.’


Poetry In The Museum Vaults – a first taste of what’s to come…

Museum Vaults group locked inFor 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.

Stones and Mammoth Bones

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?

Stuffed, Tagged, Pinned
Stuffed, Tagged, Pinned

You, golden eyed, red burnished like sun on rusty tin, velvet ears pricked.
Magnificent you are.
Thin you are.  

Working Clothes & The Rustle of Silk
Working Clothes & The Rustle of Silk

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.  

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.  

Cow's Hair Suitcases
Hairy Suitcases

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?  

Costume (3)
In the First World War a million uniforms died  

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.  

Dolls House
Dolls House

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.  




With a stuffed crow at Wenlock Poetry Summer School

‘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 SCROW 5chool 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’. The Crow House_Jean Atkin FRONTcover   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.It's the crow I pity this night Last Tuesday she met the crow Crow concertina bk Zena

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!

Solving Poetry Puzzles


‘The Crow House’ at Ludlow Library

I just spent a wonderful morning with ten creative kids and two taxidermied crows.

Crow House Ludlow Library + crows mrWe 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!

Matthew + poem + crow Crow House Ludlow Library crow drawing 5 Ben Crow House Ludlow Library crow drawing 6 Crow House Ludlow Library crow drawing 3 Crow House Ludlow Library crow drawing 2

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑