Richard Wilcocks writes:
Under the banner of Headingley LitFest, I have now been taking Malika Booker to Brudenell Primary School annually since 2016, with 2020 missed out because of a certain pandemic. In previous years, her sessions were spread over three weeks, with a performance to the whole school in the third, but this year there were a few complications, and her three sessions had to be in the same week. In addition, the class teacher who had been such a great help in 2019, Tom Nutman, was on compassionate leave due to a bereavement. Even so, everything has been a roaring success. Help and encouragement came with Emma Hargreaves, a trainee teacher just about to qualify who is destined to go far. The class is Year 5, which means it is made up of nine and ten-year-olds.
|Malika Booker and Emma Hargreaves Photo by Richard Wilcocks|
Malika began by reading a couple of her own poems, one about a little boy lost in a maze (she was once poet in residence at Hampton Court) and one about a cat that had to be dismissed from a household. ‘How long does it take to write a poem?’ asked a boy afterwards.
‘I always draft and redraft a poem until I think it’s finished,’ Malika told him. ‘That could take a week. One of my poems took eleven years. We’ll soon be doing lots of redrafting.’
‘A poem is made up of truth, with a little bit of lie and some exaggeration, like in a story.’ She mentioned the story she is currently writing for under-fives, ‘Mangolina’, about a girl who finds her lost carnival wings.
More inspiration came in the form of ‘The River’, a poem by Caribbean poet Valerie Bloom, which begins:
The River’s a wanderer,
A nomad, a tramp,
He never chooses one place
To set up his camp.
This was read aloud, then, after asking a few questions, Malika finished with, 'We’ll write list poems. I’ll come to that tomorrow.’
‘Let’s have some good similes. What does your water do?’ Almost all hands shot up, imaginations fermenting quickly, responses including ‘my water bellows like a red deer’ and ‘the water is like a train, fast and furious’.
‘What about doing words, verbs? What does water do?’ It dances, leaps, trickles, attacks, manoeuvres amongst the suggestions. ‘And if we’re thinking about personification (remember yesterday?) what else can it do?’ It might whisper, or talk, or sing, or spit, or scream, or all of those.
‘Let’s have more nouns, names of things connected with your river.’ An alligator, a magical creature, a ghost, a falcon, a cheetah, a sloth, pebbles, seaweed and an assassin were some of the items to select from the ingredients list.
Moods? Anger was popular. ‘So what does anger feel like? Is it feathers brushing against your forehead? Or is it red hot coals burning in your eyes?’
Writing the drafts of the poem began. It had to be a list, with each item a couple of lines long, beginning with ‘The river is…’
Day ThreeMost of the session was spent writing, with Malika circulating amongst the tables, sometimes issuing reminders of what had been done during the previous two days. Towards the end, she spent time creating a background soundscape to go with a future performance, with each table allocated a watery sound (shhhh, fizzzz, plop for example) to practise. This would be a background against which each poem would be read.
Sadly, the performance in an assembly can only take place in a couple of weeks’ time, but Emma Hargreaves will pick up from this point and act as the producer. Some selected lines from the finished poems will be added soon, probably within the next fortnight.
My river screams
like it is being
My river growls
like it hasn’t eaten
My river is a king cobra
that slithers through land -
if you get too close
it might bite.
My river is a fearless boy -
nothing can hurt him - he crashes
into trees - shakes and falls -
try hurt him and you will be
My river slithers like a snake
sneaky and stealthy
but then comes to a burst
like a bear
with an enormous thirst
If you are as quiet as an ant
you can feel the red eyes of the
captain’s bird staring at you from the
bottom of the river.
The water bellows like a red deer
And echoes for the world to hear.
My river is a haunted little girl
Who is lonely in the playground.
My river is a classical singer and dancer.
She is a teenager.
When she sings the waterfall falls down.