Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Leeds City Academy - poetry with Rommi Smith

                                                  Photo by Sally Bavage
Sally Bavage writes:
Celebrating the e-book launch of 'Achievement': a brand new poetry collection by Leeds City Academy in collaboration with writer Rommi Smith

Before we saw Lulu, it was lovely to meet and celebrate their 'Achievement' with some of the young poets who had worked hard with Rommi Smith and the head of English, Rebecca Capstick (pictured), in after-school workshops to bring together their own book of poems. As Rommi said, “Poems say a lot in a few words or lines,” and cover some very inspiring, special or important personal topics.

As Ms Capstick enthused about the quality of the work - “Absolutely brilliant, with lot of compliments from other members of staff” - she recalled the difference that the poetry workshops had made to some of the young people. “Miss, I need to improve in English” was a moving comment from a young poet who had shifted her attitude towards learning after starting this project. She had “noticed a depth and maturity to the work that was bearing fruit in English lessons.” One young man “who would reluctantly write a couple of sentences now writes a page each lesson.”

And so to Lulu. It is a self-publishing company, and the Leeds City Academy group from year 9, called appropriately LCA9, have provided the poetry in a 42-page e-book of their poems called 'Achievement.' It's already online and available to buy. Rommi typed all the poems, edited them, compiled the collection, with the children forming an editorial team and co-editing with me in the final session of the series, choosing a title and cover of the book.

They were also introduced by Rommi to a variety of digital writing resources new to the school. These include: Lulu, Tagxedo, as well as new forms (to the school) such as mesostics and circle poems. A favourite was Tagxedo, which turned their words into word clouds. Gilson in particular remembered using that as “Great fun.” He also said that writing poetry “Gives me a voice, writing things I don't normally say.” Rivaldo thought the project had been “Really good, I love writing now, writing poetry for the first time.” Marcus thought the best bit had “Actually been writing poetry for the first time.” Sian thought “Writing your thoughts is easier with poetry,” and “I would love to do it again.” Mirela was “Proud of my work ; today was a lovely day.” You can see a theme here. Latisha thought it had been “A good adventure.” As Ms Capstick said, “They know now they have the ability to write, there is no stopping them.”

Over pizzas provided by Leeds City Academy, and the cakes and drinks brought by Rommi from The Real Junk Food Project in Armley where she volunteers (and it was the first one set up in the world; now it has spread to Brazil, South Africa, etc), we enjoyed chatting about the poems in the book before hearing some of them read out. For the first time. The project this year did not have enough time to fully develop performance skills, but the young poets had a go. Despite the nerves and shaking papers, they did well to address the audience which included the new headteacher Jackie Rose and new and deputy headteacher Jo Hill, as well as other staff and members of the LitFest committee.

They were also given some advice by Azalia Anisko, one of the stars of the film made in Leeds, 'We Are Poets, who had popped in specially to join us. “Keep your writing journey going; being a writer is a life journey. Just practise and perform to keep your ideas alive.” Advice Rommi had given her when mentoring her for the 'slam' poetry competition six local poets went to in Washington. DC that is, not county Durham. America. (Did they win? You'll have to watch the film to find out).

Rommi deftly linked the work the young people read out with references in literature, the real world and our own experiences, making each young writer feel their work was valued and valuable. She summed up a lovely celebration with some anecdotes about her own life, including having read out her own poem to commemorate the abolition of the slave trade. In the Houses of Parliament. When she was the Poet in Residence. Doesn't get much more prestigious than that! What a delightful role model for these aspiring writers to have, one that Headingley LitFest feels privileged to have brought to Leeds City Academy.

Just a couple of snippets of the many poems inside the book:

Poem of the Pen
The ink of education
It’s the long stem to revising

Latisha Brazil

Free: you and me
I am the right for people
I am the right for women
I am the right for freedom
I am the right for men
I am the right to love whom you want
I am the right of race


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