Poetry Assembly at Ireland Wood Primary School
Thursday 29 November 2018
The wind blew most of the audience in – from a wild and blustery day to a calm and purposeful assembly. The strains of Glen Miller's 'In the Mood' welcomed us as two classes from year 6 filed in respectfully quiet and ready to perform to the two year 4 classes, a couple of dozen parents and ten school staff. An ensemble recitation of 'In Flanders Fields' by John McCrae set the scene.
The theme was the Great War, and James Nash – the professional writer and poet commissioned by Headingley LitFest to work with the children – had taken in a battered trumpet as a stimulus to the imagination of the youngsters.? What had it seen? Where had it been? What had caused the dints and cracks to its once-shiny surface?
Many of the sixty youngsters stood up as an audiotape played some first draft lines that conveyed their 'gut reaction' ideas. They followed on with others standing up as their more polished work, carefully redrafted and edited in the workshops that James co-ordinated was also played. This meant everyone in the room could hear the perception, the emotion and the careful crafting that had gone into all their works. And they stood like soldiers, quite moving and their idea just before the performance began.
A few students also were confident enough to read out sections of their work using the microphone. Interspersed with explanations from both James and Adrienne Amos, the year 6 teacher who had co-ordinated the work. Which was extensive – preparation, development of the ideas between the workshop sessions and a magnificent display of each of sixty poems taking up one whole wall in the hall.
What had the young people learned about writing poetry from all this?
“That it doesn't have to rhyme.”
“Don't have to do it all at once; look at it with fresh eyes.”
“It can be about anything your imagination extends to.”
“Doesn't have to make sense at first; you work to make it mean more as you go.”
“Making poetry together is fun.”
What had the teachers learned from the work and enthusiasm shown by the children?
“That their vocabulary improves astonishingly. Who thought they would use words liked humbled, bereft or smothered so eloquently in their work? Such a brilliant opportunity to extend their vocabulary, nowadays such an important skill.” Mrs Amos
“That working with a 'proper poet' had produced an incredible standard of teamwork, polished performance and confidence across the whole group.” Mrs Green, deputy headteacher.
“That the children always comment in the end-of-year review that the poetry workshops and their pride in what they achieve is a highlight of their year.” Mr Blackburn, Headteacher.
And some last lines from the children
If you play me you will hear my pain.
My mouthpiece tastes like blood.
This trumpet gives me courage.
Crushed by a tottering warhorse.
Dark, scratched and isolated.
It has a story, like you and me.
Its owner loved it like a mum
As he played his song, he tasted a bit of home.
It is a dented and broken body, left abandoned ...
… and I was reminded of the recent news story that the German bugle war poet Wilfred Owen
had found on the battlefield in 1917 and kept with him until his death just a week before the end of the war was played for the first time in public over his grave in France just three weeks ago. He too had loved the poignancy that a lone instrument inspires.
Thanks to the Inner North West community Committee, especially local councillors from the Weetwood area, who support this work.