Tuesday, 29 March 2016

St Chad's Primary School - poetry with James Nash

                 Photo by Sally Bavage
The Listeners 

Gail Alvarez writes:
A small and fortunately short-lived flurry of snow greeted my arrival at St Chad's on Tuesday afternoon, 29 March, to enjoy the poetry showcase assembly with Year 6. The sun soon came out, illuminating the strong line-up of pupils reading their poetry. James Nash, local writer and poet, had worked with them over the past three weeks, assisted once again by Rachel Harkess, a stalwart LitFest volunteer, using the seminal poem by Walter de la Mare that those of us of a certain age can probably remember from our school days. Called The Listeners, it begins:

Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest's ferny floor:

James read this beginning, and a little more, and already the audience had got a sense of unease, of possible menace, of trouble. Watched by the whole of Key Stage Two (years 3, 4 and 5), 30 of them confidently read out lines from their many poems. Nervous, brave, confident, hesitant. Yes. Microphone? No problem; loud and clear voices carried to the back of the hall. We had many scenarios suggested to us, all Intriguing (the theme for the 2016 LitFest), some rather frightening, some sad. But all with the skill of carefully edited original work, expressing the creative writing that free-flowing poetry can produce despite the burdens of preparing for SATs exams shortly after Easter.

'I watch carefully.'

'Alone. A word I know too well; the screaming never leaves me.'

'Small. Don't want to be noticed.'

'I have come from a faraway land and …'

'Now I am in the heart of the forest …'

I have come to see my friend. He was in the war.'

'But now, it's just me.'

'I made a promise, a promise to myself.'

'Eyes contained fear. I don't know where I am. I may be ill, or just a memory.'

'The taste of confusion is driving me insane.'

'Who am I? Sadness. Where did I come from? Darkness. What is it? Hatred.'

There was more, so much more, in the lengthy writings of each child. Powerful and disturbing at the same time.

As Kiran Maan, teaching assistant, said “The work is really good, so strong. And the confidence of the children …!”

Amy Turnbull, class 6 teacher, was so enthusiastic: “Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! Such mature work, and now they have really understood the importance of drafting and redrafting work till you get it how you want. After James' and Rachel's first visit, I said we would go back to the poems in the morning. First thing, they got their poems out as they couldn't wait to get back to them.”

Matthew Brightwell, another senior teaching assistant, noted how one young boy in particular often had to be taken out of class for intervention support as he found the work difficult and 'acted up' to avoid it. Not with this work. He worked hard, wrote lovely poetry and performed with the rest of the class. Wonderful, and amazing. This work has made a real difference to him, his self-esteem and his reputation.”

Feedback from the young people will be worked on collectively after their looming exams; watch this space. Though the smiles of pleasure and achievement shone on their faces and told the story wordlessly.

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