Where my heart lies in the darkness of my safe space: creating safe writing spaces in the classroom

Illustration & text by year 9 student, Sophia Rogers

How do we change young people’s perceptions about poetry?

How do we remove the blocks, the clamps that weigh us down, make us so fearful of writing freely?

How can we release the incredible potential of the next generation’s creativity?

These are all issues that I seek to open, challenge and address in my poetry workshops with young people, and as Patron of Writing at Didcot Girls’ School, my workshops with year 9 (students aged 13-14) are now well underway. I’ve been thrilled with how the workshops have been so far: with the creative responses of the young writers; with the quality of what’s been produced during our 1-hour together.

This blog post is really me taking the opportunity to share some of the students’ remarkable, unique and brave writing, as well as a way of demonstrating that the above aims are completely achievable in creative writing workshops.

I’ve entitled the workshops ‘Safe Spaces,’ a title borrowed from Mary Jean Chan’s shining new collection, Fleche (pub by Faber, 2019). In the workshops, we read and digest Chan’s 3 poems in the sequence, using them as a springboard to launch our own recreation of ‘Safe Spaces’. We discuss, question and experiment with form (two of Chan’s poems in the sequence are prose poems), utilising line, the senses, voice and imagery.

Here is a small sample of some of the powerful, original and expressive work created, in under half an hour, by some of the Didcot Girls’ writers:

The range of responses to the prompts is stunning. The drafts are very free but strong, capturing diverse worlds, emotions and voices. My instruction to ‘write in a box,’ wall-to-wall, without paying any thought to line break, frees up language, images and emotions, rather than shutting them down. The writing time is delivered in three stages, the writing box expanding with each burst of writing, until, on the third stage, we widen up the width of the page and try to fill it with long figurative, free lines, expressions of our own ‘safe spaces’ with white space in-between, to let the images breathe.

Here are a couple of their striking responses:

The student feedback from the sessions so far has been illuminating. It also affirms the value of poets delivering workshops in schools. Here’s how some of the writers chose to complete the phrase: ‘The session has changed how I feel about –

“expressiveness!!”

“how to generate ideas for poems”

“Expressing my emotions”

“My safe spaces”

“Poetry, because I felt free but also contained”

“How powerful poetry is”

“What poetry can be”

“my imagination”

“poetry and its adventures”

“poetry because it can be about anything”

I’ll give the last word, to them:

“I always thought poetry was quite simply boring, however, I really enjoyed this workshop and learned about different poetic forms and language”

“I feel a lot more passionate about generally writing the poetry”

“I would like to do more poetry workshops in English lessons”

Published by Elaine Baker

Poet

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