I had a busy week last week – beside the end-of-semester madness building at Winchester Uni, I also had three other poetry things on from Wednesday to Saturday. It was poetry, poetry, poetry, and I had a great time.
Last Wednesday I was one of the judges for the Hampshire final of Poetry by Heart 2013, watching and listening as six brave pupils, from across the county, recited poems they’d learned by heart. When I first heard about this scheme (before I was asked to judge), I was a little sceptical: it suggested a return to Victorian learning-by-rote, rather than a deep understanding of poetry. But because I am passionate about anything that brings poetry to young people, I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and take part. After all it was set up by Andrew Motion, who did good things during his Laureateship; and the anthology from which pupils had to select their poems was admirably diverse, containing several poems and poets that were new to me.
I was glad I did: all of the competitors showed thoughtful and sometimes deeply-felt engagement with the two poems they recited. I presume they all were interested in poetry already before taking part, but I’ll be very surprised if they haven’t learned a fair bit more about the sounds, syntax and meanings of poetry from working so intensively with these poems.
So well done to Jodie from St Swithun’s School, who won, and will go on to represent Hampshire at the national final in April; but equally well done to all six of you for having the initiative and courage to do it.
Then on Thursday, World Poetry Day, I ran a Writing Hampshire day at Wootey Junior School in Alton. Although I’ve run several of these, this was the first time that I had been scheduled to visit every single class in a school. I was apprehensive beforehand: I find that teaching, like writing, works best when it’s fresh each time, and I knew it would be a challenge to sustain my creativity and energy for seven separate classes in one day.
But I needn’t have worried. Yes, I was going over the same material seven times, but each time I had to make it new for the new class; and my strong desire to capture every group’s interest and enthusiasm made it much easier than I’d thought. Besides, the kids were lovely: keen, interested, willing. I’ve just today been sent some pictures of their finished work, neatly copied out, and I’ll look forward to seeing it on Writing Hampshire soon.
Lastly, on Saturday I switched to adults, for my Poetic Flow day at Winchester Discovery Centre: exploring what water can mean in poetry, and how to write about it. 16 people braved the rain (a good day for it!) and made an enthusiastic group. As usual we had a good mix of writers, from beginners to competition winners, and a National Theatre playwright as well for good measure. With the aid of some excellent work by poets from John Clare to Sharon Olds, we explored how to write about watery places, water in everyday life, water as a symbol, and issues of water co-operation and climate change.
So, I enjoyed it all; but am also very happy to look forward to the Easter weekend and a quieter week after that! Happy Easter everyone – easy on the chocolate…