‘My friend thinks the bombs have stopped’

All too soon, it’s my last poetry workshop for Shropshire Council’s imaginative project ‘In The Hands of the Boys’, which focusses on World War I.   This morning I went to Severndale Specialist Academy in Shrewsbury and worked with an enthusiastic and energetic group of students.

I read ‘The Sentry’ with them, and we acted out what happens in the poem – so we all cowered in the Boche dugout, holding just three candles in the darkness, and sent one ‘soldier’ up to be the sentry at the top of the mud-covered steps.  Deafening shelling was going on all the time, we imagined the din in our ears – and then the sentry is blown back by a whizz bang and hurled down the steps into the mud at the bottom of the dugout.  We acted out how we dragged him from the mud, only to discover that he thinks he is blind…

We tackled another poem in much the same way, then gathered in a circle.  I asked everyone to close their eyes.  I did a visualisation exercise with the group, asking them to imagine a cold morning, waiting for breakfast in the muddy trench, knowing they were going over the top into No Man’s Land later on.  Then I encouraged them to contribute words and lines towards a class poem.  The children were hugely focussed on this, and very thoughtful.  We read back the first draft of it, and I promised to edit a second draft and – here it is:

It’s a cold, frosty morning
on 19th January 1918
and the whizz-bangs are flying over.

Over the top it’s dangerous.
No matter what you do out there
you can easily get hit.

I hear a scream and someone
throwing up.
I see killed soldiers in deep mud.

The sky is black as soot. It’s rainy now.
The mud is grey and brown.
Smoke blows towards us.

I feel shattered, I’ve had no sleep.
I’ve been on sentry duty, watching for biplanes.
The rats are eating our food.

There’s frost on the tap, frost
on my mug and on my metal plate.
I see a tank in No Man’s Land.

In my ears the banging and the bombing
are like thunder
but I can hear someone dying.

Later on, I handed out the browned and tattered ‘trench paper’ and they all wrote their own work – and we remembered the fragments of poetry left by Wilfred Owen on his death in action, ninety-nine years ago.  Here’s just some of the work the children produced:

And here’s a sample of their thoughts on the workshop as they headed off for their lunch.  What a lovely group!

Feedback

 

Thank you to Katherine Webb and the classroom assistants for supporting me so well.  ‘In the Hands of the Boys’ 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.

“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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Be as quiet as a sheep in the dark…

Back to my throne in Shrewsbury Museum this morning, for a second day of Spellwrighting with the hordes of young witches and wizards enjoying ‘Museums are Magic’ weekend.  I absolutely love the way they get into writing a spell – I say, “So what kind of water do you think we should put into this spell?”, and they reply, “Definitely running water”.  For example.  And their eyes go round with the magic of what words can do.

Big thanks to the wonderful staff and volunteers at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery who helped manage the queues!

Widen your eyes, tie a knot in your handkerchief

Museums are Magic!  I’m being The Spellwright for two days of wizardry at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.  The Museum lent me the most magnificent chair and table.  There was a Stuffed Owl and goose feather quills…

Everywhere were bright and sparkly kids in Hogwarts cloaks and gowns.  They turned up clutching potions they’d made, and requesting spells -everything from the power to freeze time to a means to summon dragons.

Here’s just a flavour of the spells we wove:

A day being The Spellwright in Herefordshire

“Its fur is soft as pollen” she says, and waves her wand.

I’m writing a spell for a small girl who wants a kitten.  “This may take some time to work”, I warn, mindful of her concerned parent.

I spent today at Courtyard Arts in Hereford at their wonderful Family Festival, packed with dragons, witches and unicorns.  Ledbury Poetry Festival were there in support.  The sun shone in, and hordes of excited children stared around them for signs of magic.  I had a massive queue waiting to write a spell with me.

“What would make your life amazing?” I asked.  “The ability to control time” replied a serious boy.  Right.  We discussed time, and his requirement to be able to travel through it.

“I want to be able to turn a person into a duck”, announced a determined-looking girl.  “Is this by any chance a revenge spell?” I enquired.  It was.  She loved it.

“I need a sleeping spell for him”, said a mother, appearing in front of me with a sweet baby in her arms.  The queue groaned in sympathy.  (They really were all lovely people).  “Poppies”, she said, “Poppies should do it”.  We applied poppies.

The youngest was just two and a half.  He wanted things to put in a cauldron.  “Blue slugs” he insisted.  “And a magpie feather”.  And he was quite clear that the only time of night to stir it with a long bone, would be at midnight.

Here’s a selection of their genius and my inky fingers:

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.

 

 

 

‘The Crow House’ – event in Ludlow

The Crow House_Jean Atkin FRONTcover

This Saturday 13th August, I’ll be doing an Author Event for ‘The Crow House’ in Castle Bookshop on Castle Square in Ludlow, from 2pm to 3.30pm.  Map link here.

‘The Crow House’ is a timeslip children’s thriller set in Wigtown, which happens to be Scotland’s Book Town.  Odd and alarming things begin to happen in No. 71 North Main Street – or ‘The Crow House’ as Holly and Callum discover it was once known.

As they reluctantly begin to trust each other, Holly and Callum find out that The Crow House is old.  It has unsafe secrets and doors that aren’t like other doors.

Oh – and I’m going to take my Crow to Castle Bookshop on Saturday – come and meet him!
CROW 1

Wigtown kirkyard crop bw

Young Writers do Pop Up Poetry

Kay reads

Yesterday a group of talented young writers filled Kidderminster Library with words in a Pop Up Poetry & Zine Exhibition to mark the end of this year of writing with me.  We’re part of Writing West Midlands’ Spark Young Writers Groups and we meet once a month from September to June to explore all the possibilities of creative writing.  There are Spark Young Writers groups right across the West Midlands, each led by a professional writer and supported by an assistant writer, and great fun, and affordable.  More about Spark Young Writers here – sign up now for next year!

It’s been a fantastic year.  Actually, I’ve worked with this group now for two and a half years, and I’m moving to start working with a new group this coming September.  I’m both looking forward to meeting the new group, and already bereft without Kiddi Young Writers…

The quality of the writing, and the effort, focus and creative talent that’s gone into their zines, is remarkable (as several members of the public told us yesterday).  I hope Kay, Abi, John, Toby, Izzy, Aeryn, Lauren, Beth, Ellie and Adam will keep on writing – and I do know they’ll have a brilliant time with poet and writer Roz Goddard, who’s taking over the group in September.

A big thank you to all members, past and present, of Kidderminster Young Writers, to Nicholas Tulloch, assistant writer this year, to Caroline and Paul and all the other staff at Kidderminster Library and especially to staff of Writing West Midlands, who do the most incredible job providing opportunities for writing to the whole community.  Kidderminster Young Writers have been great.  I’m so looking forward to Telford Young Writers in September.

‘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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