Friday, 26 February 2016

Helen Mort with Year 6 at Ireland Wood Primary School

 Richard Wilcocks writes:
Year 6 teacher Adrienne Amos with poet Helen Mort
They must have been nervous, but they did not show it as they sat on chairs in an arc, the whole Year 6 class, not one member of it without a poem to read. Behind them, a beautiful and extensive display on large boards - the final drafts of the same poems, many illustrated. In front of them on the floor, Year 5 watching and listening, knowing that they will be doing the same thing next year, during the LitFest. And sitting beyond Year 5, two rows of parents. The readers were divided into three sections, because it had been decided to concentrate on best beginnings, best middles and best endings. Because the theme was what might happen if you had a superpower - the ability to fly - this became (more or less) taking off, observing the world below and landing.

Before they began, Helen Mort read one of her own poems - Talk of the Town - which deals with her home town of Chesterfield, football and community spirit (try to ignore the background noise as she reads it here in another primary school) for the benefit of the parents and Year 5. She had read it three weeks previously to Year 6, along with Stainless Steven and Made in Derbyshire, two other poems from her recent collection Division Street. The pupil readings followed, and the faces of the listeners, especially those of the parents, changed visibly as the performance progressed, indicating increasing involvement and wonder as the words flowed from the children's mouths. Confidence built up well, so that few of the poems were rushed, most voices were loud enough and telling images were conveyed. It was a great success, a tribute to the work of Helen Mort in the workshop sessions. Class teacher Adrienne Amos praised her to the hilt.

Drafting a poem   Photos by Richard Wilcocks

During the last workshop with the class, when most of the poems were almost complete in draft form, Helen had impressed on the pupils the importance of endings. "Every flight needs a landing," she said. "Finalising a poem is like landing a plane. You've got to get it just right." All of the ten and eleven year-old poets landed well in Ireland Wood Primary School's main hall, with no casualties, and all of them flew superbly. In fact, they did more than merely fly. They soared.

Audience Comments
I really enjoyed listening to the children reading their own poetry. Such imagination was very impressive.

The work the children in Year 6 produced was outstanding. Working with Helen Mort the poet has inspired the children to write some incredible poems.

Absolutely fantastic. I'm amazed with the words/poem my son and the other children wrote.

Lovely to see what the children have been learning. Very enjoyable to watch.

Fantastic event sharing parts of the poems the children have written - really great work.
Whiteboard for a workshop

Really enjoyed the rhymes the children at Ireland Wood Primary School did.

Some fantastic ideas of how the children see Leeds through their own eyes.

My grandaughter read a poem at school, which she wrote. Listening to each child it was great to know that poems are still written and read in school. Keep up the good work!

It was a good event. I liked all the kids' poems.

I enjoyed all the children saying all the poems. Would have liked to hear all of them.

Some very good poems.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Brudenell Primary School - Malika Booker and Year 6

Sheila Chapman writes:
Poet Malika Booker with Headteacher Jo Davies
I was welcomed into Brudenell Primary School hall for the presentation by the enticing smell of coffee, a table full of cake and the cheerful hospitality of the staff. What a wonderful way to start what proved to be a most enriching experience!

The children of Year 6 had written their own original poetry on the theme of ‘Emotions’ and I was there to hear them perform before an audience of parents, teachers and other children from the school. Some of poems were performed by groups of children who tackled themes such as Love and Jealousy – not easy to write about (even adult poets struggle with these large themes) but  Year 6 made a great job of them. I particularly remember the description of Jealousy - burning paper flaming and crackling ... it smells like poisonous gas making it hard to breath.

Individual children had written poems about how they felt about members of their families. After they had finished there was hardly a dry eye in the house! Memorable lines included:

A smile like a golden necklace
Steering wheel encased by his gentle hands
Skin soft as a swan’s feathers
Without her darkness would fall
She clicks her fingers like a machine gun
Her smile is blossom

What lovely poems and fabulous children! Thanks go to Malika Booker who coached the children and to the staff of Brudenell School for making me feel so at home.

Richard Wilcocks writes
Some pupils looked astonished, others a little bemused, when Malika first walked into their classroom to make them feel that they were poets too - alongside herself. Their enthusiasm was awakened soon after she began talking about herself, her work and her interests. Questions came from just about every one of them. After reading a couple of her poems, about her mother and her mother's shopping methods in the food market (back in the Caribbean), she talked in general about what poetry is, the five senses, similes, metaphors and clichés. This led to writing and speaking exercises in groups sitting at tables. She moved on to take a detailed look at two poems - My mother's hands by an anonymous Kurdish refugee, and I remember my father's hands by Palestinian poet Lisa Suhair-Majaj. All of the pupils' observations were written on the whiteboard.
Photos by Richard Wilcocks

After a session on fitting imagery, pupils were asked to focus on the hands of a favourite family member. What had they done and what did they do frequently? The class chose plenty of mothers, but there were plenty of others - like a taxi-driving uncle. What is their voice like? Suggestions included violins and a shrieking parrot. 

We moved on. We had fun with the round-up of repetitive sayings uttered by adults at home. Emotions were named and considered, one by one: anger, joy, jealousy... and what would it be like if you never saw that person again? What would it feel like, smell like, taste like?

By the end of the first session, the pupils had become deeply engaged, shyness and any doubts fading. Poems were improved and lengthened in further sessions with Malika and class teacher Kath Giles, so that when the time for the performance came, they were significantly more confident, able to deliver well-wrought poems and to move a large audience. Transformed by poetry! Read two of them below.
Audience Comments
I would like to thank the poet who spent three weeks helping my daughter and her peers to write their own poems. My daughter’s poem is really an amazing piece of writing and I am proud of her. I wish you can do that again with my son who is in year 4 now

It was deep, beautifully presented. The emotions were brought out through words so beautifully. Children could be themselves and express their emotions.

I worked with the class and, over the three weeks, they improved all the time. Their vocab. + confidence + ability to show/share their emotions was incredible. Brilliant experience.  

It was touching and really tearful. It is so cute and lovely to know what my daughter feels about me. And how much she doesn’t express in everyday life. I love my daughter so much.

Impressed by the power of words. Emotional and compelling words. Great confidence brought out by the facilitator. Good work!

Wonderful emotional event showing the children’s enthusiasm for learning and poetry.

Two poems by ten year-old pupils whose home languages include Arabic, Panjabi and Urdu in addition to English:

Summer’s light

Cobbled street-like hands curl around me.

His voice is as if he is scratching bark,

You can compare it to a cacophony of violins.

On his finger, an eye-watering ring encircles it.

The steering wheel encased by his gentle hands.

His smile like the light of a thunder bolt.

If he left me, I’d cry a river of blood.

This is how I think of my dad.

by Ihsan

My Favourite Person
She gives me presents with her gentle hands.
Her skin is as soft as swans’ feathers.
She swipes her hands like the conductor of an orchestra.
She says ‘Don’t be so LOUD!’
Her hands smell of buns from the baking.
If I never saw her again, I would be a lonely person in a neverending desert.


Monday, 15 February 2016

Enclosed - John Clare, poet - Saturday 12 March

This is one of a series of previews for the LitFest, which begins soon - on Monday 29 February. See the programme here.
Music and Drama from Trio Literati
Trio Literati - Richard Rastall, Jane Oakshott and Maggie Mash
John Clare

John Clare (1793-1864), self-taught poet and lyrical observer of nature, also turned his hand to sharp political satire, bawdy dialogue, verse tales, sketches, and an intermittent journal.

From Helpston village games and gypsy fiddles, to the literary sunshine of London, with its salons and theatres ….then Clare's legendary Walk home from the Asylum,  Trio Literati offer a colourful and unexpected portrait of the man, his work and the vanishing rural England which inspired him.
Eleanor Rastall
With Eleanor Rastall (soprano and quick-change artist), Gina le Faux (fiddle) and Jonathan Drummond (pianoforte).

Trio Literati "full of energy, wit and style" Peter Holman, Opera Restor'd.

"Beautiful poetry reading and a perfect mix of light and shade."  (Audience comment on Censored,  Headingley Lit Fest 2015)

7.30pm  New Headingley Club, St Michael's Road

Friday, 12 February 2016

Shire Oak: Who do you think I am?

Sally Bavage writes:
James Nash                 Photo by Sally Bavage
Intriguing poems set up puzzles to describe animals that you find in Headingley – and the audience of over 200 including 30+ parents/visitors had to guess which animals 30 youngsters from Mr Martin's Class 3 were talking about.

Ears were sharp, flat, pointy, small. Tails were long, bushy, short, beautiful. Eyes were dark, large, mischievous, beady. Teeth were sharp enough to crunch acorns. Homes were in trees, under grass, in holes, in drays, under rocks, in hollow trees. Grass was bitter to the taste.

Other words used by these seven-year-olds include nocturnal, kittenish, forage and scavenger. Yes, seven years old and confident enough with both their writing and their delivery to the whole school. Strong voices reading with such brio - priceless.

The early work on exploration of the worlds of the many animals of Headingley was later taken up by Ms Bennet after Mr Martin took (paternity) leave to be with his own tiny creature. And once again LitFest volunteer Rachel Harkess supported James Nash, local writer and poet, with the work in the classroom.

Headteacher Jane Devane commented: “Working with real writers makes our children understand that their writing is important. They have an audience for it now – and it could even be something they could do as an adult. And the whole school loves working with James!”

Parents' comments included:
Cracking job – works so well with the children.

Fantastic! Really impressed by the children's use of interesting similes. Lots of fantastic descriptive poetry and crystal diction.

Well, you can't say fairer than that, clearly.

Or perhaps you can, as one young girl summed it up in her answer to the question about why it is good to share your work with other children in the school “So you can try and make them feel like writing their own poem.”

And one young man said simply “I was well nervous, but it was great!”

Other audience comments included:

Well done kids, lovely poems.

Excellent work by the children.

Lovely event – fantastic!

It seemed the children really enjoyed the poems and were comfortable sharing their work- a sign that they were proud of what they had done.

Fantastic work by all!

Great! What a fantastic opportunity for the children.

Very good. Well written pieces of work.

It was a lovely event. It gave the children an opportunity to perform to an audience. We had the chance to hear their poems and that of the group. A very good idea.

Excellent poetry read so well by all the pupils.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Four Big Splashes

This is one of a series of previews for the LitFest which begins soon, on 29 February. Printed brochures now available.

Thursday 3 March


Becky Cherriman, Ian Harker, Tom Kelly and Tom Weir
BECKY CHERRIMAN is a commissioned writer, workshop leader and performer based in Leeds.  Published on umbrellas, by MslexiaNew WalkEnvoi, Mother’s Milk, Bloodaxe, Well Versed and in Poets For Corbyn, she was resident poet for Morley Literature Festival in 2013.  Her work has been translated into opera, film, art and into Italian for the socialist magazine Internazionale.  Becky's poetry has won prizes in the Yorkshire Open 2013, The Speakeasy Open 2012 and the Ilkley Literature Open Mic 2011.  Echolocation was published by Mother’s Milk Books in February 2016 and is her first pamphlet.  Her first full collection is due out late in 2016 with Cinnamon Press
IAN HARKER has been shortlisted for the Bridport, Troubadour and Guernsey International poetry prizes, and was Highly Commended for the Bridport Prize in 2015. His work has appeared in a number of magazines, including The North, Stand, Other Poetry, and Agenda. His debut pamphlet The End of the Sky was published in November last year.
TOM KELLY is from Nottingham, but spent the last few years at the University of Leeds researching Amazonian wetlands whilst also assembling his first collection of poetry.
His poems deal with love, loss, grief, and the relationship between people and the natural world – always aiming to bring fresh imagery into the small pocket inhabited by poet and reader. His work has been published in several literary magazines, and has recently been included in The Garden Anthology (Otley Word Feast Press, 2014).
TOM WEIR'S poetry has featured in various magazines and anthologies, including Lung Jazz; Young British Poets for Oxfam, the 2014 National Poetry Competition winners’ anthology, and this year’s Forward Prize anthology. His pamphlet, ‘The Outsider,’ was one of the two winners of the 2014 Templar IOTA shots competition and his first full collection, All That Falling, was brought out by Templar earlier this year, a poem from which was Highly Commended in the 2015 Forward Prize.
Ian Harker, Tom Kelly and Tom Weir are published by Templar Poetry.

7.15pm Headingley Library North Lane Free Event

Becky Cherriman
Ian Harker
Tom Weir
Tom Kelly