And though she be but little, she is fierce

Last week I spent an extremely hot, but very satisfying day with the children and staff of Rushbury Primary School.  It’s one of the smallest schools I’ve worked in, with only 46 on roll, and so I spent the morning with KS2, and then the afternoon with KS1.

In KS2 the children have all been studying Shakespeare, and life under the Tudors.  So we started off by reading a broad selection of famous quotes, choosing the one each child liked the best, and talking together about why.  Then I set them to do some freewriting inspired by the quote, emphasising that the link could be as close or as tenuous as they liked.  So I got some enthusiastic pony-lovers responding to ‘My horse, my horse! My kingdom for a horse!’.  Then from the freewriting the children worked up a first draft.

Here’s a marvellous development from ‘And though she be but little, she is fierce’.

On the left is the writer’s first draft, only partially photographed (oh dear!) which I borrowed from her to write onto the smartboard so we could all talk about line endings, and how to decide where to put them.

Here’s her revised first draft:

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Here’s a mature, thoughtful first draft (arriving almost complete) in response to ‘All that glisters is not gold’.

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And I worked with this student on a response to ‘The empty vessel makes the loudest sound’, asking her for similes which she provided readily, and wonderfully, for me to write down –

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By the afternoon KS1 had already been out to a sports event, and the thermometer in their classroom measured 30 degrees.  We gratefully went and sat under a big tree in the corner of the playground, read lots of poems, joined in and made up actions.  They were lovely, and on discovering a little boy who kept bees (and knew everything) we made up a whole group poem called ‘Nine Ways to Look at Bees’, and performed it to KS2 just before home time.

Thank you for having me, Rushbury, and thank you to Wenlock Poetry Festival who provided the funding for this day.

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‘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!

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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.

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’.

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“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.

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.

 

 

 

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