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.

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‘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.

 

I love Mondays in Hargate Primary

This week my Monday was a joy, spent in the company of the wonderful children of Hargate Primary School, in sunny West Bromwich.  It was sunny, it was a lovely day.
I first met Hargate Primary when they sent a group of 15 children to The Hurst in Shropshire, for a week on Arvon’s schools programme, at which I was one of the tutors. Since then I’ve become their Poet in Residence, visiting the school every term to celebrate poetry with all ages of children.

On Monday I worked with Years 4, 5 and 6, and we played first at telling what could be a truth, or could be a lie, and I had to guess which was which.  In the process, I get reminded of the children’s names!
Then we all enjoyed Robert Seatter’s well-known poem, ‘I come from’, before writing our own versions.  So many fantastic lines:

 


I come from wanting a hamster and a parrot

I come from a house full of havoc and phones
I come from Sandwell Hospital with fireworks outside
I come from a cup of tea

At lunchtime I took my cup of tea to the library, made poems with visiting children, and we read together. At the end of the day I gave a reading, and fielded lots of questions from bright-eyed children enriched by a great range of languages and cultures.  Hargate is a very special place.  There’s a lot of humanity about.

 

 

 

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)

 

RH Wshop3 5VK (10)

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.  Everyone set off to explore 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

Grand Finale Night for ‘In woods we forget things’

A stream of excited children and smiley adults poured into Ludlow Assembly Rooms yesterday evening for the Grand Finale of In woods we forget things, at the wood edge we tell stories.

I laid on cakes (made in Ludlow, and not by me) in vast quantities.  There was also tea, coffee and juice – and once everyone had been refreshed, I was thrilled to bits to find over 70 people sitting down to see photographs, live performances and short films of the project.

‘The wood is as rough as a black bear’

Last week, on a day with a distinct October nip in the air, I walked back to the woods with Bucknell Primary’s Key Stage 2 class, as part of my project ‘In woods we forget things, at the wood edge we tell stories’.  We carried laminated copies of the children’s poems, and cameras to film their performances under the trees they chose to write for.bucknell-visit3-inwoodsproject-jean-atkin-11

Once we were in the wood, the children scattered to find their trees.  No-one had any trouble remembering exactly the right place.  Indeed more than one pair showed me the precise knot or bulge or bark pattern that had inspired a particular line or phrase.

Everybody practised, and then we all trooped round the wood, alternately being the performers, and the audience.  The performances were moving and joyful, and the quality of the listening was just as good.

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We left the laminated poems tied onto the trees for Toni and Ru to find later.  (And we also left a poem for the Composting Toilet).

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This project is funded by Shropshire Hills AONB and Shropshire Housing Group.  More on the project blog here.

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