‘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.

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‘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.

‘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!

‘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.

‘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!

Writer/blogger-in-residence this August

This August I’ve been writer/blogger-in-residence at Museum of Cannock Chase, providing an outsider’s eye on all the wonderful and extraordinary things to be found inside the museum – and then flagging it up on a lovely new blog, which you can find here.

Davey the Canary cThe idea of the new blog for Museum of Cannock Chase is to create a place where you can find out more about what goes on behind the scenes, and what it takes to manage a museum, day by day, within their lively and engaged community.  In the short time I’ve been there, we’ve explored aged bicycles, the local mining heritage, pigeon-racing, behind-the-scenes in the Museum Stores, traditional Punch and Judy, which is not to mention the yellow feathers of Davy the Canary.  You can find him – and follow him – @DavyTheCanary…*tweet*  chick emoji

The archaeology of poo was especially memorable – as part of a Horrible Histories day, Penny the archaeologist could be found in a tent in the Museum grounds, encouraging young and old to take a special interest in poo.

“Yes, the photo shows my hand,” she said fearlessly, “holding a 3,000 year old poo”.  One small boy squealed and ran at this point, but others crowded in, agog for poo.

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“Pick a poo!” said Penny.  And explained how archaeologists are never happier than when they’ve found a midden, because poo can tell us such a lot.  If you find seeds in there, you know what the people were eating, at that time, in that place.  If there’s sweetcorn husks, then you’re probably in Mexico, with the Aztecs.  Bits of stone in your chosen poo, and you’re looking at a Viking sample – they ground their wheat in stone querns, and didn’t sieve it for tooth-breaking grit.

I can’t think why this was so popular.

Celebration Day for Impressions of the Past

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At last this wonderful project has come to its end.  To celebrate the months of workshops, walks and community, we held a celebration party at Poles Coppice, the site of the Oak Palisade and the Poetry Bench.

Around 55 people turned out to share food, fun, stare over at the Iron Age ramparts on Earl’s Hill, find the clay roundels they’d designed, and the words they wrote.  We read a few poems, and crowded round the installations.

Over 150 people contributed to ‘Impressions of the Past’ – thank you to each and every one, and special thanks from Ruth and me to Huw, Mike, Betul, Bob Gibson, Jim Sadler, Nigel McDonald and Joe Penfold.

A Spell for Haymaking

Today I was The Spellwright for the Hay Meadow Festival in a cool and beautiful field below The Stiperstones in Shropshire.  Whenever I looked up I saw people scything meadow grasses, tossing haybales over a high bar with a pitchfork, making flowers, drinking beer, listening to a spot of jazz and swing.  All very lovely.

Meantime, I wrote spell after spell, for people of all ages, requesting everything from help to catch a Shetland pony to spells for invisibility, for wings, for a tree house, for Silliness… Here’s a small selection.

Words on the Water & Newport Canal

I’ve started work on a new project.  It’s called ‘Words on the Water’ and it’s a course of creative writing inspired by Newport Canal.  Funding for this project has come through Public Health at Telford & Wrekin Council, in support of social prescribing through GP surgeries.  Every week our group of friendly people come along to Cosy Hall on Water Lane and we set off down the towpath to observe, talk and make notes about what we see.

So the place is the same, but each day’s different.  As someone wrote last week:
Distances are short
but thought is long.

Here’s a flavour of what we’ve created so far:

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here’s willow branches dipping
kissing the canal

frog
I saw a frog, he was playing dead
a lovely green body and a shapely head

Week#1 Words on the Water (7)
at the black gate we’re locked out
behind the black gate, the black dog


yellow lollipops
lilies stand up like yellow lollipops
& children’s voices shrill out

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