‘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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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.

‘I am the bearer of stretchers’

I helped set up our working space in the stage area of the main auditorium at The Edge today, shifting tables and chairs with the students of William Brookes School in Much Wenlock. William Brookes is the only mainstream secondary school involved in Shropshire Council’s imaginative project ‘In The Hands of the Boys’, which focusses on World War I.  This was a group of young people from different year groups, and included the group of boys involved in the dance element of the project.

We shared knowledge about the war, and I tried to learn names, before reading some of Wilfred Owen’s poetry together.  There were some sharp-eyed readings of his work, with students commenting on the impact of particular lines, and talking about why it affected them.  Later, we did some free-writing and drafting.  Here’s some samples of finished work, written on ‘fragments’ to recall the fragments left by Wilfred Owen on his death, just a week before the Armistice.

I asked the group to put their evaluation up on the black wall of the theatre.  I did rather like the one that just said, ‘Twas good’.

DSCF5918

“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.

‘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.

‘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!

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.

 

 

 

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