Wednesday 27 March 2024

The Trashformer - Weetwood Primary School Blog

 Sally Bavage writes:

This term, class 5 at Weetwood primary school have been studying Extreme Earth and considering the range of changes that have, and must, happen if we want a future for our youngsters.  A spring trip to the recycling centre in Leeds was the starting point for some very imaginative and original poetry, coordinated and led by local writer and published poet James Nash.


Working closely with their class teacher Joanne Parker, the pupils aged nine or ten collaborated to share vocabulary, shape and edit ideas, then create original writing about their thoughts and feelings on rubbish that would eventually contribute to the powering of 22,000 homes in Leeds. Many parents were able to hear their children as they read out their favourite lines, or the whole thing, in front of the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Al Garthwaite. If that made them nervous, it didn't show!  They were so engaged in performing their work and keen to display how much they had understood about the need for recycling rubbish and utilising its potential to create energy. 


Many of the pupils took the part of a specific piece of rubbish and traced their fate.  We felt the menace of the approaching doom, heard the noise of the huge metal grab and the thud of landing waste, we smelt the sulphurous smell of sour milk, the honeysuckle scent of decay, we saw the black hole of doom where rubbish is consigned to the flames, empathised with packets taken from their home, but rejoiced in the power such finality gave to the people of Leeds. 


A dreadful journey, launched into a dumper truck

A huge metal octopus ready to snatch!

More and more rejects join me

Left in darkness to await my doom

I see a confetti or rubbish

Dropped into a vast bottomless sinkhole

A chair leg told me our dreadful fate

Swallowed into the burning belly

Stolen from my family, taken from my home

The orange peel shrieks “Farewell world! My time is over”

Me, a Haribo packet and a mattress

I'm just a jacket, I have friends here

Just an old blue jacket in an abyss of waste

I was chucked away, not worthy of being recycled or composted

I am a forgotten teddy and this is my story

Transformed to energy, I have been reborn


There were so many insightful lines and such vocabulary! These youngsters have taken their visit to a recycling plant to the next level indeed and made their learning so real. Real Wow! moments


What did the children themselves think of the project? James Nash gathered the following remarks the day before the final assembly, in addition to a resounding “Yes!” when asked if they had enjoyed their poetry sessions:


‘I’ve got so much more confident in my writing’

‘Thought I’d be shy reading out my poem, but I really enjoyed it’.

‘We had so much help from Mrs Parker and you, it was brilliant to write about our trip to the dump’.

‘Our trip gave us so many ideas’.

‘I learned that even published poets get their work edited and marked by someone else’.


And the parents at the performance gave pretty much the same resounding answer -  “Very excited” - when asked if their children had commented at home. They were keenly looking forward to seeing the children perform too, having had poems recited to them, or been told in no uncertain terms they mustn't miss it, or just been enthused by their child's pride in upcoming performance.


Staff who work with year 5 include Mr Greenwood, teaching assistant, who was simply delighted by one young boy whom he supported to become more confident with his English.  “He asked me to work on it with him during the lunchtime and performed his own work with real confidence for the first time.  Brilliant!”


Deputy headteacher Sara Westlake was just so pleased by the extraordinary way some pupils had performed way above expectations.  “How marvellous it is to get the opportunity to work with a real poet; he has got so much out of our children that will stay with them. They won't forget this!”


After the readings, the Lord Mayor praised the youngsters for their extraordinary insights into the recycling plant that also powers the Civic Hall and her office!  She also gave out an individual Leeds city pin badge to each child and commented on the civic 'bling' she was wearing in response to one of the questions posed by the young people. 


The Lord Mayor has now attended five of the six poetry assemblies in local primary schools to which she was invited (she was previously committed on the sixth occasion) and has commented on how much the youngsters have got out of the poet-led workshops in both writing skills and performance experience. Headingley LitFest was honoured to have her come so often and show such empathy for the development of these young people.








Tuesday 19 March 2024

Pure Gold - Malika Booker at Brudenell Primary School

 Richard Wilcocks writes:

Poet Malika Booker is well-known to staff at Brudenell Primary School. Unsurprising, because she has been treating children to her poetry sessions there since 2016. In fact headteacher Jill Harland joked recently that both Malika and myself can now be allowed to wear the school uniform. Consequently, Malika knows what works with Year 5 classes, and that includes reading out a couple of her poems (from a collection) about part of her childhood which was spent in Brixton, London, then asking questions. Her own mother was unrushed and meticulous, closely examining every egg when shopping in the local market. So who in this class enjoys going shopping with their mother at the weekend? Hands up. 

Malika Booker, LM Al Garthwaite, Richard Wilcocks

The class split fifty-fifty. She followed with a poem about the cat which had to go when she was born. Questions and answers followed about beloved pets. It was all foundation-laying for what was to come in the following sessions – relationships with loved ones. Then came some small surprises.

Q. Have you ever met Maya Angelou?

A. I saw her on stage when I was in the audience.

Q. Which poets have influenced you?

A. Umm… I like William Blake and Sharon Olds.

Soon, it was all about imagery, symbols and metaphors. Class teacher Tom Nutman had been through this before, so it was not completely new. Be original, avoid clichés. Group work was initiated. What is the taste of anger? What is a sign of love?

One girl wrote: Love is robins singing in a field of lilies (near my grandma)



The second session began with some reminders of the previous week’s work and the handing out of a poem by Palestinian-American poet Lisa Suhair Majaj – ‘My Father’s Hands’. We’re going to write a portrait poem and we’re going to do it by writing about hands. The hands of a loved one. Soon , the whole class was drawing round their hands. Each finger was to be filled with poetic information. Choose someone you love. Tell me who you love. Hands up. Mothers, fathers, baby brothers and sisters. Uncles. Pets not allowed.


Some fascinating responses: He puts his hands under his chin when sad… she wipes a tear from her face with one finger…  she clenches hands in disgust… when she cooks, oil on her hands glistens…






The third and final session was dedicated to the actual performance, the finale. Class teacher Tom Nutman had worked extensively with his pupils when we arrived early for the rehearsal. They sat on benches in the school gym, poems in hands. The main issue to be addressed was confidence, or rather lack of it, but it turned out to be a minor one. Malika and Tom watched as each and every poem was read out. Voices became louder, any remaining timidity vanished.

The Lord Mayor of Leeds, local councillor Al Garthwaite, arrived, wearing her chain of office, producing some audible gasps. Is it real gold? The answer was yes, and it dates from 1836. She joined the audience of parents, who were astonished by the performance, which went exactly s planned

Afterwards, Tom congratulated his class once more and Al Garthwaite, who had been taking notes, praised the ensemble and picked out many memorable lines and phrases from the poems which had helped to make the whole thing amazing. She explained the meaning of the sheep depicted on her chain, saying that it represented the industries once in Leeds which made their money from wool. She then handed out the Lord Mayor’s special pin badges to every child.



I am so impressed. Everybody has made so much progress, and you have got so many stories to tell. Some of you could hardly read last year. Poetry is the best thing and you can all do it!   (Headteacher Jill Harland)


It was so nice to see my daughter expressing herself in front of a gathering. She was really great!   Ahmed Ahmed, parent)


I think it was a fantastic opportunity for all the pupils to engage in the joys of poetry.   (Vicky Loulié, Teaching Assistant)


I appreciate the words which we heard on unconditional love, and the team which did this, especially the class teacher and Malika Booker. It was brilliant to see the kids participating like this.   (Mohammed Ishfaq, parent)


I think the staff at this school is helping the kids succeed like superhumans, and the kids are all pure gold.   (Asma Nasim, parent)


A lovely show! The performance was wonderful.   (Jingjing Duan, Parent)


Click to expand







Wednesday 6 March 2024

Book of the Bard: Exploring Shakespeare's First Folio

 Sally Bavage writes:

Heart Centre Saturday 2 March                                                                              

Professor Emma Smith
The apocalyptic rain that greeted our audience members was definitely from the stage directions for The Tempest. It did not dissuade our intrepid speaker, local girl Professor Emma Smith, who braved not just the weather but the train strikes to get to Headingley by a more roundabout route than TrainLine would have suggested.


It was our good fortune to be treated to over an hour of presentation, anecdote and education in answer to our questions that was a tour-de-force. Emma Smith's grasp of the comedies, tragedies and histories that were collected together by Shakespeare's friends and colleagues after his death into the book now known as the First Folio is so extensive – no wonder she is your go-to expert for many TV programmes and international commentators.  Despite such depth of academic knowledge she presented her material in a light and witty way that kept everyone gripped.  ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’, said a certain playwright, and Emma Smith covered the key elements of the making of the first published collection, in 1623, of the majority of Shakespeare's output both briefly and in such entertaining style.


I suspect many of us are familiar with the classic picture of Shakespeare.  As Emma pointed out, it does rather look like a Monty Python version, with the head about to come loose!  That's because printers often illustrated their printed versions with a generalised body in a doublet and just added the relevant head. It wasn't actually very common to print playscripts four hundred years ago – plays were performed perhaps half a dozen times before a new work was put on and the script shelved.   After all, if the script was available to audience members then they might not go to the theatre as frequently as was the case in Elizabethan times. Travelling theatre troupes would put on the same play in town after town, not needing a comprehensive repertoire. Most of the plays written by other playwrights in the late sixteenth century received about half a dozen performances and were then lost to history.


The bulk of Shakespeare's plays were put together and published in what was an unusual and expensive venture which was probably not seen just as an investment but more as a way preserving his extraordinary body of work.  Emma took us through the printing process on the Gutenberg movable-type press, exploring how it would be so expensive in time and labour. This section greatly interested the representative from Waterstones who was there with copies of various of Emma's acclaimed writings (see below) - he had trained as a printer in Portugal on the same type of machine almost four centuries later, and knew that it was based on a traditional wine press


Fascinating to see the inky fingerprints on certain copies, to note that children somehow managed to add their drawings and to read the annotations made by owners over the years. Some had decided certain passages were 'naughty' or in poor Latin, or had added comments of their own. Although copies are now worth millions, it was not until the nineteenth century that the monetary value really shot up. Of perhaps 750 copies originally made, only 235 survive and 51 of those in the UK.  It was Emma Smith who did the research and authenticated the 235th copy discovered in 2016 on the Isle of Bute. Local magnate Benjamin Gott of Armley owned a copy, very pleasing to a scholar who grew up in Gott's own neck of the woods.


We were abuzz with questions afterwards, audience members entranced by Emma's erudition and down-to-earth approach.  Sequels are never as good as the first version, Emma alleged, and asked us to compare the film Legally Blonde with Legally Blonde 2 when considering the worth of Henry IV Parts 1 and 2.  Who else but a consummate master of her craft would do that! 


We splashed out into the tempest together, companionably sharing umbrellas and commiserations on the weather. This wasn't The Merchant of Venice “droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven” but more Twelfth Night “the rain it raineth every day.”


Emma Smith was born and brought up in Leeds. She is Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, Oxford, and the 2023 Sam Wanamaker Fellow at Shakespeare’s Globe.

Her books include The Making of Shakespeare’s First Folio and Shakespeare’s First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book, both with second editions published for the anniversary in 2023. Her This Is Shakespeare was a Sunday Times bestseller. She has broadcast extensively about Shakespeare on BBC radio and television.


International Women's Day: Inspire Inclusion

Sally Bavage writes:

The Shire Oak, used in Headingley as an assembly place until it was brought down by gales close to a century ago, was the name used for the assembly hall in the Heart Centre in Headingley.  We had gales too this morning – gales of laughter as we gathered to celebrate the achievements and advances of women.

The Headingley Creative Writing Group gathered to share their prose, poems and observations of the significance of March 8th, International Women's Day since 1913.  Barbara  Lawton explored the history of the day that has helped to make women's rights and issues become more prominent.  A dedicated website was set up in 2001 to publicise, promote and celebrate what is now a bank holiday in quite a few countries around the world.  Not in the UK.  Yet.

Barbara's poem about the Cradley Heath Chainmakers' strike of 1910 old of women working at home with 'forges flaring in flimsy sheds behind their dirtyard homes.'  Health and safety, eh?  Still, the women beat the chain barons and their victory continued the march towards equality.


Kaz Byrne's poem about sports day  - yes, women do play – reminded me of the recent video clip that went viral of a man explaining to a professional woman golfer how to improve her stroke.  Less amusing is the news item today that women footballers suffer anterior cruciate ligament injuries (dreadful, often career-ending) up to six times more frequently than men and that the research into training techniques and boot technology for women hasn't been done. Kaz also gave a simple rollcall of famous influential women in so many fields of endeavour.  Such a long list was heartening.


Eileen Neil's moving poem on My Grandmother's Hands, which were 'small and square, skin threadbare, veins tracing her years' were the symbol of her hard life in a tiny terrace house caring and catering for her family, rubbing Stork margerine into her pastry.  Now Eileen possesses those hands and wondered what future she was rubbing with them.


Jackie Parsons poem Metamorphosis was a journey along a timeline.  Her second poem – Novelty or Freak Show – was a wry remembrance of her audition for a (male) band as a base player.  In 1974 she was rather a novelty and she lost out in the final two as she had 'no Fender base, no Y chromosome'. Later, playing in an all-women progressive rock band Mother Superior, they wore too many clothes for a record company to understand.


Our privileged audience were then treated to songs from an all-women a capella group called Harissa – yes, spicy and fiery when it comes to defining what women want and deserve.   But one refrain 'I will not hate and I will not fear, In our darkest hour hope lingers here' summed up the determination of women worldwide to taste progress and equality. Ain't No Mountain High Enough and Fernando's Highway with new words were both inspiring and joyful.


Bill Fitzsimons first poem referenced the book by Pat Barker, The Silence of the Girls.  In itself a thought-provoking book, Bill's writing took to task the one man in ten who taint the rest with their sexist entitled behaviours whilst women feel silenced to complain.  And his Hidden Figures noted that three female mathematicians working for NASA in the 1960s were neither featured nor acknowledged.  Houston might have been calling, but only for white-shirted white men.  He celebrated the work of Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan whose computer prowess supported John Glenn and focused on the safety of the mission.


Marie Paule Sheard's Monsoon Mirage was a poem of contrasts. Falling streams of monsoon rain create the silver bars of a cage at the door beyond which a female servant may not go.  She looks out at the light dancing on raindrops like diamonds she can never reach before the clouds return and she returns to her work.


Linda Marshall's poem told us She Couldn't Cook, despite it being expected of every women. Her heroine provided for her children with a balanced diet – bacon-flavoured crisps for breakfast, cheese and onion flavour for lunch and the roast beef variety for supper.  She avoided the sweet desserts – too unhealthy – and went for apple or beetroot crisps for a better diet. Her children clamoured for real food that was crisp-flavoured.


Myrna Moore's Skin was 'Beautiful no more except in the memory' as she reviewed the lives and deaths of Nicole Henry and Biba Smallman, murdered and ignored then defiled.  'Was it your melamine skin?' Her second poem was The Conversation, the words that deny recognition of children and women as part of humanity.  'For a fairer world shouldn't we all be feminists?'


Dru Long's writing Spoonfuls of Sugar had been inspired by the statue of a man who had been involved in the slave trade.  A child stolen, imprisoned, fitted with a metal collar, abused, frightened by the 'Cold wind that makes the sharp canes shiver.' Sugar in coffee, was it worth  it?  Fitting that the news today notes the Church of England has agreed to set up a £100 million fund to start to redress the Archbishop of Canterbury's description of their 'moral sin' in benefiting to the tune of billions from the slave trade.


Maria Sandle, with ukelele and guitar,  and Rob Baker on the melodeon teamed up to present two numbers.  Tear Down the Fences, music and lyrics by Ola Belle Read, a feisty banjo-playing social reformer from the Appalachians, wants to ...


'Tear down the fences that fence us all in

Then we could walk together again.'


Ola turned down a lucrative radio contract because she disapproved of their ethics and was devoted to advancing social justice and civil rights causes via her music.


Maria's own words in praise of Skipper Dora (Dora Walker) were a delightful celebration of the first woman skipper of a fishing boat on the North East coast and she is now memorialised by a wire statue on the cliffs at Whitby. First President of the Ladies Lifeboat Guild, the former WW1 nurse was a strong woman trailblazer indeed.


Malcolm Henshall wrote a bittersweet piece, Is Parking the Only Benefit?, on twins where one is born disabled after a problem birth.  One is ordinary, one is special. The boy walks to school, his sister is taxied.  The boy goes to university, his sister to a 'centre'. The boy will be cared for in old age by his children, his young sister is cared for by old parents.  The boy looks to the future, his sister …?

Only a Woman was a wry look at the failure of a male employee to grasp the woman he worked with was his boss.  His derisory comment to her 'What would you know?' rebounded on him when she did know – all  about sacking.


Jim Mallin wrote a sweet account of Greta Thunberg and her fight for climate change action from such a young age.  School striker to activist to international acknowledgement as a voice to be listened to.  Te men need to listen!


Finally, the group's former tutor, Liz McPherson, whose original work brought the group together, read our final poem I'm Going In!  Whoever cleans the bathroom – yes, normally a women reader of Mrs Hinch -  has to tackle the scum in the bath, the gymsweat grease, the beard hair residue, with fortitude and an array of fearsome chemicals.  A jolly jab at a task more usually done by long-suffering women.  Things have to change.


Harissa closed the show with Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.  Hear hear!








Friday 1 March 2024

Malika Booker makes her debut at Little London

Richard Wilcocks writes:

Rachel Davey and Malika Booker
Little London Academy has joined our Poetry in Schools project! Poet Malika Booker made sure that the first sessions with teacher Rachel Davey's Year 5 class were exciting and productive. Every one of the nine and ten year-old pupils was enthusiastic about what they were about to create from the moment she first walked in, partly due to the groundwork put in by their teacher. She began by asking questions. Do you enjoy shopping with your mother on a Saturday morning? Pushing a supermarket trolley? Most responses were positive, a little surprising because the opposite tends to be the case at the other school where she has become a kind of veteran session-leader, Brudenell Primary, and where she has pursued domestic themes on several occasions before. After the back and forth, she read two of her poems, the first based on her childhood memories of shopping trips with her mother in Brixton Market, London, trips during which every item for sale was examined in minute detail. The second poem was about the cat that had to be given away at her birth. Thinking about close loved ones was being flagged, to be extended later.

The class had covered metaphors before, which became useful when Malika moved on to them. "I'm going to tell you a trick to find a good one, using the five senses," she said. "What are they, who can remind us?" Most hands went up. She stood by sheets of paper on a frame, produced a felt tip to write down as many of the answers and suggestions as possible. Similes flew about, along with emotions. "What is love like? Before I hear your ideas, I am wondering if you know what a cliché is." Some knew, others did not. So love did not necessarily have to be represented by red roses. The felt tip moved fast as original comparisons were aired. Every table was soon busy with group work. Anger hurts like boiling water. It smells like burning plastic. Love tastes of cherries and looks like a floating butterfly. Hate is like bubbling acid.

Writing around the drawing
The second session came soon afterwards - the timescale had been shortened to just a couple of weeks - and intensive work had been done in the intervals by Rachel Davey, which was very apparent when Malika found that the groups had produced poems based on previous work. "You are amazing," she said when the poems were performed. "Now let me tell you more about what are known as list poems." And not just list poems. Anaphora might be a useful form. She supplied the definition: "It's about repeating words or phrases at the beginning of lines of poetry. It goes with list poems. We'll now take a body part to focus on, to express love for a special person in your life like your mother or your baby brother, or anybody you love. Look at the poem I have printed out for you."

The poem was 'I remember my father's hands' by the Palestinian - American poet Lisa Suhair Majaj. After reading it, the class drew round their hands. "Each finger is for something different to write about what that person's hands do, what they look and feel like, how they represent that person's love." Suggestions included fingers clicking on mobiles, washing dishes, scrolling on iPads, playing with baby toys, rubbing eyes, pinching cheeks, preparing favourite foods and stroking pets.

The third session - only a few days further on - began with Malika's advice on presenting the poems to an audience. The class had completed their poems on a loved one's hands and had already practised how they would perform them, in groups and as individuals. They 'rooted' themselves ("That's how you stand") and marked in the places in their poems when they should look at the audience. Malika laughed about stage fright: "I am often nervous. Look, my hand shakes like this when I am holding my poem on the stage." Everyone went down to the main hall. Chairs were arranged. There was a final morale-booster when Malika urged them to chant well-known tongue-twisters as loudly as they could, and yes, they could. She sells sea shells on the sea shore.

Loudly and clearly

Just before eleven o'clock, the audience of parents poured in. It included a couple of remarkably peaceful babies. The groups and the individuals stepped forward in order to deliver what they had written, loudly and clearly. The applause should last for years in those young minds.


Some comments

"I'm so proud of all of you!" Rachel Davey, class teacher.

"This was a great opportunity to express feelings." Dawn Parchment, cover supervisor.

"Excellent! It's the first time I've seen poetry like this." Srikanth Usha, parent.

Some pupil poetry








Once again we are very grateful for the support shown Headingley LitFest by the Inner North West Area Management Committee of Leeds City Council








Friday 26 January 2024

Wild Weather at Spring Bank primary school


 Sally Bavage writes:

As Headingley LitFest's commissioned poet for this project noted in his introduction to the work of Ms Baruah's Year 3 class, “We've had quite a lot of it recently!”  Indeed, following ten named storms this winter – it's not even the end of January yet on an unseasonably mild day – the whole school assembled to hear the original poems that the seven- to eight-year-olds had created.  A good number of parents were there too, as well as special guest the Lord Mayor of Leeds.  Quite an occasion if you are only small. And shy. And nervous.


Acting headteacher Amy Houldsworth introduced James Nash, local poet and writer, and old friend of the school who is now greeted by the pupils with a single name of Jamesnash, as if it was his celebrity name. She explained that the topic was chosen long ago.  Nevertheless lots of the work focussed on the recent wild winds, the strength and power of them, the anxiety and damage they cause.  Apart from the tornadoes and hurricanes we had tsunamis and sand storms, ice blankets and tempests, creating disaster and destruction, demonstrating strength and the power to hurt.


Class 3 teacher Tracey Baruah, the Lord Mayor of Leeds Councillor Al Garthwaite, acting headteacher Amy Houldsworth


The project begins by gathering ideas during a sharing session before the drafting where the youngsters take the standpoint of being the wild weather personified.  James also writes a bespoke poem after that session to read out and model the collaborative nature of the work. Redrafting and further writing goes on before the pupils rehearse their work in preparation for the school assembly.


Yes, a few sheets of paper were shaking like leaves in the winds of which they wrote, but others declaimed with brio and panache.  The creativity, sensitivity and wide range of ideas generated  by this work was just wonderful.  As Tracey Baruah, class 3 teacher, commented “Even children that find writing difficult have their ideas accepted and find the confidence to read out their work. They use vocabulary that surprises and amazes me. They find their voices.”


Teacher Jo Ward, now working with class 6, worked on this project four years ago when they were class 2 – positively tiny and barely at the beginning of their creative writing.  She recalled one young boy who had only recently walked right across Europe as a refugee, spoke barely any English but had been so proud to read out his work.  He still remembered the occasion with great pride, and Jo commented that her class four years later still talked of their work and spoke to her of being poets now. 


And what did Ms Baruah's class 3 speak of this time?  “Working with a 'real' poet was such fun”, they had learned “How to write a better poem” by reworking it from first ideas shared together, they had “Really enjoyed sharing their work in class,” and of course, “We feel much more confident!” Oh, and from this creative approach that they “Had really learnt a lot about the weather.”  Knowledge which is certainly going to stand them in good stead in their futures!


The Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Al Garthwaite, listened attentively to their work, praised them for their imagination and courage and was so pleased, as a former school governor, to be back.  She noted how well the whole school had listened, how hard the teachers worked and how Spring Bank was a real family school. Praise indeed. She spent time with each child afterwards and presented them with an individual Leeds City Owl pin to commemorate the occasion.


Summing up the morning, acting headteacher Amy Houldsworth was absolutely clear that the project was often the start of real self-belief, had value that was priceless for some strugglers and was a milestone in making writing come alive.



Once again we are very grateful for the support shown Headingley LitFest by the Inner North West Area Management Committee of Leeds City Council