Last Thursday, I was delighted to do my bit in Noadswood School”s LitFest: a two-week celebration of books, reading, writing, and authors – definitely A Good Thing. I was the sole poet on the bill, so I was very keen to make poetry possible, enjoyable, and rewarding for everyone involved.
In the morning I worked for an hour each with three groups of Year 9 pupils, on the theme of Poetry About Place. After introducing myself and what I do, I read my postcard poem about Lymington, where I did my best to convey a sense of the town through my choices of language and structure. We had a brief discussion about the techniques I”d used to do that: precision of description, extended comparisons with the sea, matching the poem”s structure to the town”s, and so on. Then I moved them on to thinking about a place they could write about: somewhere they knew well and had strong feelings about, so they could write with detail and conviction. They chose a very wide range of places: many spots in the New Forest, as you might expect; a few writing about Noadswood itself; and some closer to home, writing about their road, home, or even bedroom.
Next I introduced what I believe is the crucial stage at that age: doing some note-making before starting the poem, to make sure that words and thoughts are flowing before trying to work them into a shape. That way there”s much less danger of creative block, and the quality of ideas available for the draft is much higher. (I was asked yesterday how often I go straight into “the poem”; I worked out that it”s about once every 5 years. Otherwise I always start with jottings). I asked them to imagine themselves in the place, then write down some simple thoughts about what they”d see, hear, feel, smell (and perhaps taste) there – not worrying about how “good” it was, just getting words down.
After that I talked a bit about choosing vocabulary to go with Av nyere dato har Betsoft blant annet produsert den suverene gratis spilleautomater Whospunit? som er en intrikat kriminalgate som man skal v?re med pa a lose. those ideas, as well as similes and metaphors for some things: preparing the actual words that might go in the poem. Then I let them get on with it! To help with the shape, I suggested that they pick a refrain or repeated phrase that they could use as structure: to start each new verse perhaps, or simply come back to if they got stuck.
The results were hugely varied, from odes to the proud pupils of Noadswood, to personal, intimate pieces about the meshing of memory and place. Some of my favourites were the simplest ones: about returning to the family home and being shown a scan picture of a new niece; or just 4 or 5 lines describing a road, but managing to capture its mood and look.
In the afternoon, I tackled much the same topics, but with a very different group. Noadswood is keen on getting parents involved with the children”s schooling, so I was running a Learn Together session, where children and parents (and one grandmother!) worked in pairs. I thought this was an excellent idea, so I built partnership into the whole workshop. As a warm up, I got tables working on collaborative poems based on ordinary household objects; building up from simple descriptive words, to creative comparisons, to whole lines of poetry. My favourite was the lonely spoon which turned into a wandering satellite, but lots of other wonderful ideas emerged. When we moved onto making notes, parents and children worked together on the same place: pooling their impressions and thoughts, but also noting where they might have different opinions or memories. Then they wrote – sometimes working together, sometimes writing parallel poems giving related-but-contrasting impressions. The process was fascinating: for example I saw how the shared experience of the place could draw some children closer to their parents, turning a couple of reluctant teen boys into enthusiastic participants by the end. The final reading was marvellous: deep feeling had made its way into the poems, and I felt privileged to be there. If anyone else would like me to do the same sort of session, I”d love to – please drop me a line.
I”d also been asked to choose a Noadswood Laureate, and that was no easy task: so many poems had sparks of real talent, perhaps in original uses of metaphor, creating a strong voice, using rhyme really well, or adding humour. In the end I chose a tender and skilled poem about scattering a family member”s ashes in the Forest: as well as evoking the place, it also conveyed the deep and complicated emotions of the event, and I had no doubt that it deserved to be singled out.
Finally, all the poems will be considered for my Writing Hampshire website when it goes live later this summer.