Sally Bavage writes:
A sunny and bright morning greets the Weetwood Primary School poetry assembly, hastily re-arranged in the intimacy of the classroom after the blight of snow that scuppered earlier plans. Year 5 – some as young as nine, some as 'old' as only ten – have been studying the poem The Listeners by Walter de la Mare. It complements the work on a gothic theme that they have been working on this term – and we certainly got atmosphere dripping from every line. Poets extraordinaire!
Mr Inglesias, headteacher, commented on the project as a whole: “Brilliant! The creative arts have an impact on the whole child, and this work supports a robust curriculum that we offer here to prepare a child for life.” As Joanna Parker, the class teacher in charge of the development of English, echoed: “This work is very valuable. It's an opportunity to work with a published author and discuss the power of language and the writing process. And it was fun!”
James Nash, the poet commissioned by Headingley LitFest to deliver the poetry workshops, assisted by LitFest volunteer Rachel Harkess once again, commented to all: “Drafting and redrafting – it is valuable to learn that losing words may be a gain for the quality of the writing. Sacrificing some, even favourite, bits may mean Less is More”. Yong Waters, teaching assistant also agreed. “The children are loving it, they are bursting with ideas and embracing an understanding of how to write, and write better.”
The modern-day Listeners – parents, school staff and LitFest volunteers – were treated to poetry that was both “Powerful – and creepy!” The work imagined the Listeners in the poem were the ghostly presence in the house upon which door the Traveller knocked.
'The screaming echoes in my ear'
'I am lying at my grave'
'Caught between two worlds, I look back at the graves'
'Scary dark shadows, I see the Traveller, I wish for life'
'My family are died, They died in this house, I saw my family in the shadows'
'I can't breathe, Moonlight smites the door'
'I must listen to the Man, Who must travel in the world of Men, And who looks so like father'
'My family stays in my head, They never leave'
'The light of the cold moon'
'Ghosts, neither dead nor alive'
'I sit on the stairs, listening and watching'
'I am isolated from the rest of humanity'
'The dark creaks'
'I am a phantom, Lurking in my own house'
'I am history'
'They are looking for me … am I dead?'
'It is night, midnight, in the haunted house'
A refrain of 'It got louder, and louder, and louder' makes one poem really sinister
'Leaving me alone in the empty void I call home'
'I have been blinded by the doubts'
'I watch as everything fades … I fall'
… 'There is a smell of rotting flesh, and some of old blood'
'I am trapped between life and death, I hate Humans'
'The Listeners watch me all the time with their black eyes'
'My vision keeps on flickering … between two worlds'
'Owls hoot in the swaying trees'
'The clock in my heart doesn't tick any more, Had I fainted or was I dead?'
As one parent commented afterwards: “This work is crucial for broadening horizons and cherishing the art and importance of language. Poetry is an art for that has so much to offer children and needs to be supported.” Another contributed that “Poetry helps give the children the experience of using words and language to change their environment and engage with the world and society around them.”
Last word to the young people themselves. When asked what had been the best thing about the project:
Writing in poem form
Using our imagination
Getting our brains going
Getting into the world of the story
What will they remember about this project?
Thinking about the best vocabulary
Show you've got talent
Face your fears -the more you do, the better you get
All the creepy stuff!