Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Poetry Magic at Ireland Wood Primary School

James Nash writes:

On Monday morning, 1st February, I attended two assemblies with Ireland Wood Primary School, but assemblies with a difference.  These were on-line and the bulk of the pupils were in their kitchens or sitting-rooms with just a few in their home classrooms.  It was wonderful, inspiring and emotional.

Together the hundred or so young people and I had been on an adventure, thinking about and writing poetry about the Holocaust, in recognition of  Holocaust Memorial Day last week.

Usually I would work with two Year 6 classes in the school hall but with the sterling help of Year 5 teachers Angie Georgeson and Amy Pliener, and Year 6 teachers Adtienne Amos and Nina Gayton, their classroom assistants and parents somewhere in the background, we were able to involve more children than ever before. 

Lead teacher Mrs. Amos [whom I’ve worked with for eight years now] and I had a long preliminary planning meeting on the phone and daily catch ups to make sure we were on track.

I made a series of short video clips beginning with an introduction to me as a writer, and then another where I talked about my indirect experience of the Holocaust, my father’s soldiering in the Second World War, a close friend’s loss of her grandparent’s families to the concentration camps and my visits to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam and memorials to lost Jewish families in Berlin.  

There were daily clips on how to write a poem, from first inspirations to second and third drafts, how to edit and get the best out of your writing; these were very enjoyable to produce, making me think very carefully about the writing process.

And then there were the emails via teaching staff of poems in progress which stunned me with their quality, and made me look at my own drafts and redrafts much more critically.

So this assembly was the culmination of a week’s intensive activity, and managed to be both a sharing and a celebration of their work, proving that even in these difficult times young people will rise to a challenge particularly if it’s a creative one.  They were, and are, a credit to their school

A good link to the young people’s work Ireland Wood Primary School - Immerse, Inspire, Include

James Nash, 7th February 2021


Below are some of the comments, made by participating staff, parents, pupils and school governor, 

Adrienne Amos in an email to me about one pupil [part of her poem included,

’She has worked her socks off on this - learning from James and also incorporating some things she has learned from reading the Morris Gleitzmann book 'Once'. I am blown away’

The Pit 

In my hut 

My eyes see the frozen windows, 

Solomon is dead, 



The woods envelope us 

Cold air hurts my teeth, 

Machine guns chatter 

Angie Georgeson, Year 5 teacher,

‘We had more work back from the children last week than in any other week of online learning and from a wider range of children too’.

And again at the end of the project

‘James' poetry sessions were the perfect way to engage my Year 5 class with the heavy topic of The Holocaust. James' touch encouraged the children to act appropriately and to really dig deep to empathise with the Jewish children living in fear during WW2. James' daily input and reflection on his own poem made such a difference and had a massive impact on the children. The children produced some brilliant work. Thank you to James Nash and Headingley LitFest for exploring creative writing and poetry with the kids’.


A teacher in school during Lockdown, Darren B

I feel the kids really engaged with the theme. Once they had passed the whole 'I can't do it' attitude they realised they could do it. This has boosted their confidence in themselves with their writing. I feel the whole week has been their best work during this Lockdown. 

Year 6 Teacher Nina Gayton

My class enjoyed working with such a talented poet in such a thorough way. They have learnt how to move from their initial ideas to an accomplished final piece. My class were most proud of their end product, and really enjoyed working alongside James, following his guidance, of how to get to their final piece. They also commented on how the stimulus and discussions enabled them to work on such a poignant topic. They felt very proud and by the end. 

Angie Georgeson Year 5v teacher 

James inspired the children.  He talks to them as equals – revelling in their ideas and contributions. I loved the way that he read the children’s work out; a great confidence boost to the children.

They enjoyed having a ‘real poet’ teaching them and he broke the work down into manageable chunks so that it was very easy to see how you can build up from initial ideas to a final draft.  One thing I particularly liked was the fact that the poem went through various iterations before the final version (and even then he said there may be more versions).  We find it hard to get the children to edit their work and so it was good to be able to show that when a writer does this in real life, that the first draft is never the last.

Adriennne Amos, Year 6 teacher

‘As always, it has been a fantastic experience for the children to experience working alongside James. This year, we didn't think it was going to be possible, due to the Lockdown. But thanks to James' willingness to embrace technology and remote learning, we have spent the past week building and crafting some superb pieces of work. 

The children's work has been the usual high standard we expect from James' workshop sessions and they have really responded with sensitivity to a very tricky theme this year: the Holocaust’

Three parental responses: ‘The poetry work done with James Nash was really well received by my daughter. She has taken a real interest in a difficult subject and enjoyed her learning experience, especially when having a 'real poet' to work with. Following sessions she wanted to continue to learn about poetry so we have done some writing together and we have been able to discuss other difficult subjects in a similar way as a result’


‘First of all I’d like to say how proud myself and my family were with Aaliyah’s poem, it was so descriptive and very emotional. Aaliyah really enjoyed the session and learning all about the holocaust, even though it’s a difficult topic I think its very important to learn about the history of it, especially as my great grandma was Jewish.


I remember when Schindlers List came out and my mum took me to watch it at the cinema and that film has stuck with me! I think this session with stick with Aaliyah although it was a extremely sad time she was very interested in researching it.’


‘The poetry work done with James Nash was really well received by my daughter. She has taken a real interest in a difficult subject and enjoyed her learning experience, especially when having a 'real poet' to work with. Following sessions she wanted to continue to learn about poetry so we have done some writing together and we have been able to discuss other difficult subjects in a similar way as a result’

Some pupil comments from the many:

Maryam  (year 5) said, ‘I enjoyed James poetry session because he taught me how to use my vocabulary and he used drafts to progress his work’.

George said,’I found it surprisingly good’. [This made me smile]

Governor, Di Woods Robinson,  said of one poem, 

‘That is very moving. That a pupil can relate in this way says so much about the week and the teaching of James and all the staff involved. Have shed quite a few tears this week’

Ruby's poem:

Safe Again…?   L J

I’m stuck in a dark, gloomy basement

I would rather be with my sister,

If she was with me not upon a grave,

If only I could have made her safe.

Footsteps above me I start to worry

All go silent

I hope they don’t find us

I hope was escape

I hope we will be safe once again

The door broke down,

They stomped down the stairs viciously

No-one moved

Until they dragged my parents upstairs


That’s when I knew they were gone

All were silent

Now the gun points at me

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