Beowulf, Blood and Brutality at Quarry Mount by Sally Bavage
“Good afternoon, everyone” said James Nash, the local poet commissioned by Headingley LitFest to work at Quarry Mount primary school with Ms Aspin's year 5 class.
“Good afternoon Mr Nash” chorused the whole class immediately – a clear sign of just how polite they are and how seriously they took the occasion.
James had taken the tale of Beowulf from a very old tome he uses as a stimulus and used it with these nine-year-olds to get them to listen to poetry, take in the story and write some lines of their own that reflected what they had absorbed of the ancient saga. A heck of a lot!
|Class 5 teacher Rachel Aspin with James Nash|
The young readers used a music stand as a lectern and the rhythms of their language played out over the audience listening with rapt attention. Beowulf the hero and Grendel the monster do various kinds of bloodstained battle, with a wide range of appropriate language that took the story back to the first millennium rather than echo the X-box vocabulary more normal today. We had carnage, revenge, gruesome encounters and old-fashioned victory despite the odds. Beowulf “ripped his arm off like a piece of paper” rather stays in the mind. How good to acquire the art of reading with confidence, animation and verve in public at this young age – something a good few adults could do with brushing up!
One young lady used the rhetorical question form very deftly to pose and then answer questions about Beowulf's progress. It was heartening to see how the youngsters had learned to read out clearly and deliver bravura performances despite earlier nerves.
|Maryam reads out her Beowulf tale|
As Kay Hendley, headteacher, said: “The poems were crafted carefully, read out with confidence and shared with the audience with great enthusiasm. It was an absolute pleasure to be with these young writers. Children here have fewer opportunities than some for this kind of experience of literature so this is a marvellous chance for them.”
Ms Gough, teaching assistant with year 5, added: “Quite a few of the children did not really know what poetry was or how to write a poem before James came. They have worked so hard on their own writing and they have obviously really enjoyed it.”
“A great event allowing the children an opportunity to experiene poetry as an art form. Working with these children I know how challenging it was for them to speak in front of an audience” -
Ruth Curtis, school staff.
Class teacher Rachel Aspin: “The youngsters were so looking forward to performing their work; it has definitely changed the behaviour of some of them. One young boy, normally very reluctant, sat down so diligently to write it was wonderful to see. And the confidence of the whole group has just soared.”
Best thing about this project? Working with James and Rachel. Learning how to write a poem. Learning how to be brave when reading out a poem.
What have you learned with James? To make poem lines shorter. Poems don't have to rhyme. Practice makes perfect. Editing and redrafting.
Why is it good to share your work? So you can get over the fear. And so others might want to make their poems. So you can maybe inspire your friend or parents.
What will you remember about this project? Every single thing!
Final word to Alisha, when asked to sum up in one sentence what the class had got from the exposure to reading and writing poetry: “Inspiration and happiness.”
Tales of Beowulf are to be scanned for the school website then put on display. A lovely legacy for the future readers of Quarry Mount. Thanks once again to the Inner North West area management committee for granting us the funding for this project. Thanks, too, to Rachel Harkess of Headingley LitFest who helped out with the workshops.