Friday, 22 October 2021

Poet James Nash at Ireland Wood Primary School

Sally Bavage writes:

War comes to Ireland Wood

Well, it does when published poet and author James Nash comes.  James was commissioned by Headingley LitFest to run a series of poetry workshops on the WW1 theme with both year 6 classes at Ireland Wood primary school, culminating in a performance assembly in the school hall.  After last year's valiant work totally via Zoom this is so much more real.  Real emotions, real pride in performance, even some real tears.

Covid precautions are still in place and the young people's performances are videoed so that parents, governors and others can see the finale.  We were treated to sixty readings both recorded (compilations of best or favourite lines chosen by the writers themselves) as well as live, nerves soon banished by the supportive atmosphere from all the staff and pupils present. Additionally, classroom assistants put original poems and artwork on display screens for the assembly hall and technical support helped with the slide show and music as well.  As James said ”I never thought in the past that one could work with SO many children so successfully, but the school gives such strong support and the staff are so talented.”  And James doesn't normally use such strong descriptions in his prose – only his poetry!

 James took as his theme a battered trumpet, likening it to a soldier on the field of battle. Empathising with the fallen instrument, the youngsters could write of sorrow and waste, of courage and commitment without becoming maudlin.  Ghosts of dead soldiers were conjured up, you could hear the mournful notes of the trumpet somehow capturing the mood of the troops, yet there was a steady pride in using new vocabulary and producing original work that has somehow entered the souls of the soldiers.

 The year 5 classes came to watch and were extraordinarily attentive and absorbed in the simply excellent quality of the performances – using a mike to talk to 120+ at age ten is never less than daunting.  They were also bursting with contributions to what they had learnt from watching; a forest of hands went up and all agreed they had picked up some really good tips for their forthcoming poetry work.  So four classes altogether got real joy from the work.

 And what about the performed original poems, researched, drafted, re-drafted and crafted by year 6?   Two words.  Wow!  Impressive!   Actually, three - add very.  The year 6 teachers felt that this year, by working over an extended block of time concentrated into less than two weeks, it had made the immersion into poetry even more profound. And by working in the autumn term it would add more depth and understanding to other explorations of poetry in the following terms.  So many wins.

 It would be invidious to single out much individual work because you would be hard pressed to leave any of the sixty finished poems out.  When asked in the assembly what they felt they had gained from the work, again so many contributions directly from the children involved spoke of how poetry moves your emotions around, that different poems (which needn't rhyme, they had been pleased to find) used very different writing styles and that the poems left imagery in your head long afterwards.  Poetry isn't a story but it tells one and can cover years in ten seconds.  Wow. They also appreciated how they had gained experience of performing in front of an audience. As one child declared to Adrienne Amos, year 6 teacher: “So you’ve worked with James Nash for nine years, aren’t you a lucky lady?”

 And the school staff?  Simply blown away by some of the writing and performances shining out from unsuspected hidden depths. So proud of what the young people had achieved.  So pleased to see the development in confidence and self-belief.  This work just keeps on giving.

I wish that I was a human,

To touch my surroundings,

To consume the energy of daylight and dawn,

To be able to feel my soul.

Feel tears, feel joy,

To be able to see.

To have a heart

To be able to be who I want to be.

But without love, there is no rhythm to life.


Headingley LitFest is most grateful to the Inner North West Community Committee, whose strong support and funding for this work is so much appreciated.

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Poet James Nash at Spring Bank Primary School

Spring Bank find their inspiration

James Nash writes:

I’m working with Year 3 at Spring Bank Primary School, and they are looking at me as if I’m a rare and exotic specimen. I might be the first writer they have actually met. I introduce myself and see them begin to relax a little as I talk about my work as a writer, showing them copies of the newspapers and magazines I have written for and the stories and the collections of poetry I have had published over the years.  I talk about inspiration and imagination and the importance of observation for the writer.

And then I introduce the object shrouded in a cotton bag which they are going to write about, something which I hope will pique their imagination and lead to them being inspired to write a poem.  The battered old trumpet [pictured] has proved itself over the years as a great starting point for writers of every age.

We write down our observations in response to a series of loose and open-ended questions I ask them, stressing that as we are unable to pass it around as we might have done in the past, we have to call on out imaginations even more to describe what it looks, sounds, feels, smells and tastes like; using our five senses in fact.  We think about what its story might be too.

Throughout this first session the young people have opportunities to stand and read their responses to the rest of the class and it is good to see how many of them are feeling brave enough to do this.

On my next visit class teacher Luke Wrankmore has used the image of the trumpet and my questions to get the children to become even more engaged in the writing.  I talk about the importance of editing and redrafting and show them my first and final drafts of my trumpet poem, and talk about the questions I often ask myself when I am rewriting.

‘What am I trying to say?

Have I started in the right place?

Have I used the best words and phrases I can?’

Again we share our writing, reading to each other, and the emerging poems are brilliant. 

The final session where we make a filmed performance of our pieces sadly has to be postponed [due to a positive Covid test result] until next week, but I am confident that they will be complete stars.

Let me end with some words from Sarah Hawes, the headteacher of Spring Bank Primary School.

‘It has been wonderful to be able to welcome James back into Spring Bank to work with our Year 3 children.  The poetry work he does with them is so invaluable and their level of engagement and enthusiasm for poetry is very evident in the work they produce; this lasts well beyond James’ visit. As a head it’s wonderful to see how engaged our children are with James and his poetry and the worlds of language that this opens up for them.  This is especially important given our current situation and the pressures the children have been under – the ability to express their feelings through poetry feels ever more important.

Thank you, James for enabling them to explore, enjoy, engage and love poetry’.

And from Jo Ward, Literacy Coordinator

"It's so valuable, and even more so in these unusual times, for children to actually meet and talk to a published, working writer and to have the opportunity to work with one. It's always wonderful to see children make that connection, realise that their own words are just as precious and to be able to then have the confidence to say they are writers too!"

And from me,

‘Year 3, under the able leadership of Luke Wrankmore, once again worked with enthusiasm and creativity.  The writing exercise was sophisticated and subtle and they rose to the occasion, sharing their work with each other at every step of the way, performing brilliantly as they grew in confidence’.

 29 June 2021

Year 3 at Spring Bank Primary School were in performing mode this morning, taking their chairs and poems into the school yard to give an inspiring reading. As they read class teacher Luke Wrankmore took photographs of them to be used later as a series of Tweets from the school. It was the perfect culmination of their superb writing efforts.

7 July 2021

Funded by your councillors of the Inner North West Community Committee: 

Headingley & Hyde Park, Little London & Woodhouse, Weetwood 

Friday, 25 June 2021

Poet James Nash at Quarry Mount Primary School

 Quarry Mount Pupils Write Ballads

James Nash writes:

We are in the world of the Arabian Nights, eight young writers from Year 5 at Quarry Mount Primary School and me.  It is a complicated world where the story of a Chinese boy, originally written down in Arabic, has been retold by the redoubtable children’s writer Philip Pullman. It is a story of enchantment, and magic is what we are seeking to write about.

We have fascinating conversations about what our talisman would be in the 21st Century, where Aladdin had a magic lamp and an iron ring we might choose  a more modern object to summon up the genie. And what would we wish for and might the wish go wrong?

 I had written the beginning of a poem about magic rings [based around a ring I actually wear] and genies [mine was a mermaid] and I had made my poem rhyme which led on to us discussing whether poems have to rhyme or not.  They don’t, but clearly members of my group like rhymes in poems.

 And then they get writing and their imaginations and story-telling skills come into play and the fun begins.  We hear their work and two of them share their first drafts with the rest of the class to great acclaim.

 For our next session we look at what we’ve written [including some great poems that some of them had written at home after our first workshop] and start to edit and redraft, and to take the story on a bit further.  Great lines stand out in everyone’s pieces, I’m particularly fond of,

‘Be wise with your wish

It’s a once in a lifetime,

Think about it.

Don’t rush or be quick’,


‘Option, options, ideas too,

We’ve got ideas so what will we do’.

As before two of the eight share their work with their classmates in Year 5; their confidence in performing their poems is growing and they read very well. 

In our final session all eight poets read their ballads in a virtual assembly with Years 2 to Year 6.  They read brilliantly into the laptop camera to great applause. Later their class teacher Rachel Clarkson will film their performances for a more permanent record,

My fine young writers are brimming with enthusiasm for our work together. One participant said, ’I was nervous at first but then I got more confident and wrote a masterpiece’ and another. ‘an over all great experience about learning about writing poetry’. 

Class teacher Rachel Clarkson said about the project, ’Year 5 have thoroughly enjoyed working with James Nash.  They have all been engaged and inspired by the activities and have even started to write their own poems at home which they have enjoyed sharing with the class’.

Perhaps the last comment might go to the receptionist on my way out of school, because word had clearly spread

‘The children have all thoroughly enjoyed it, James’.

Rachel Clarkson with James Nash

Funded by your councillors of the Inner North West Community Committee: 

Headingley & Hyde Park, Little London & Woodhouse, Weetwood  

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Poetry Workshops at Ralph Thoresby School


It was the Best of Times, it was the Worst of Times …

Sally Bavage writes:

Never was Dickens more accurate. It's been a tough year to try and organise an after-school group of would-be poets and creative writers, so great credit to Kate Wolstenholme for doggedly persisting despite Covid and all the uncertainties and disruptions.  Just as the work was scheduled to begin, the school was closed to most pupils in the new year.  Learning transferred online; then social distancing and support bubbles interfered with more normal working.  Frequent interruptions for self-isolation led to a disrupted series of interactions with commissioned artist poet Kirsty Taylor.  However, the school has worked with her before and knew that, if anyone could, she would be able to not only cope but encourage and inspire young people to find their inner writer.  She did.  Bravo.

The first two sessions were in January and February, thanks to Zoom.  Which we found was not an ideal way to share personal and emotional ideas using poetry starting from a base considering modern Gods.  We waited for the school to re-open and resumed with workshops in person with Kirsty at the end of March.

Altogether Kirsty led five more after-school sessions where all felt more comfortable and the output was both more confident and the sharing deeper.  Some of the work was very moving; these small group sessions of around ten students provided an opportunity for young people to explore some of the fears, difficulties and resentments they were experiencing but were trying to subdue both in class and at home. 

The work continued after Kirsty completed her work, led by Kate Wolstenholme and supporting staff.  They have put together a video of the youngsters reading out their best pieces of work as well as a group piece.  Kirsty collaborated with another artist, Martha Kean, a musician with excellent video skills and they are producing a finished version that has appropriate music to accompany the words.  It will form a lasting memory of a strange year.  No end-of-term performance is possible, but the video will be uploaded to the school website for future young people to be able to see what can be possible.

As Kirsty herself commented:

It's always a great pleasure working with Ralph Thoresby students. Their commitment to the extra curricular sessions was admirable, particularly considering the challenges of online access and the pandemic! 

We used Kate Tempest's 'Brand New Ancients' as a stimulus for our writing, transporting their infamous 'Gods' poem to the context of 2021 in post-pandemic Britain. This generated some great discussions about politics and social inequalities, which students were able to express powerfully in their writing.  I love the contrast and diversity of style and voice in the group, and really look forward to seeing how they develop their writing and performances in their unique, individual way.”

 And Kate Wolstenholme, the teacher who inspired and managed all the workshops entirely in her own time, also commented:

The pupils have grown in their confidence throughout. They have mixed outside their comfort zones and found a voice in a strange time. They have all risen in potentially difficult situations – reading aloud and talking into a mic, expressing their thoughts.

What has come out of it is brilliant – I and they were very proud of the final group piece, as well as their individual pieces. We have had a wider range of pupils in terms of background – some Pupil Premium pupils for example (those that are disadvantaged in some way). Pupils have come from Years 7 to 10.

This really is my favourite part of my job – there is real freedom in the extra-curricular activities – especially with your support!

We are most grateful for the encouragement from the Outer North West management committee whose support enabled us to work with not one but two professional artists.  Thank you!

Funded by your councillors of the Inner North West Community Committee: 

Headingley & Hyde Park, Little London & Woodhouse, Weetwood