Blog

Open the door

backlit-black-and-white-dark-792032

‘I open the door and then

I see a lonely man

as lonely as I was when I got taken away

I went up to him and said

Do you need a friend

and the wind started to blow

I was cold

he was cold

but there was nothing there…’

(Text © of the author, 2018)

This was written in one of my poetry workshops at DGS this week. You might think it’s good. But not exceptional.

Until I tell you that this writer was a 13 year old student from set 10 (the smallest English class with students who have multiple additional barriers to learning, for whom writing is not just hard, it’s an ordeal). This was a first draft. She wrote it just like this, first time (the only differences are the spellings, some of which I’ve corrected for publishing on this blog).

For me, this is a beautiful example of the fact that opportunities for creative writing MUST be open to all, regardless of background or ability, and that writing HAS to be for all. We can work through things when we write. Express things that we had not even known were there. We can test boundaries, explore and pursue new concepts and structures. We can experience freedom of thought.

This writer read her work aloud in front of the group. At the end of the session, I think she left the room a whole foot taller.

Let’s open the door for all young people, regardless of age/identity/background/gender/ability, to write freely in our schools. Please.

IMG_3567

 

 

 

Delight

cheerful-close-up-coffee-208165

I’m at the end of my first week of poetry workshops with Year 9 at Didcot Girls’ School and just couldn’t be happier. The responses to the sessions have been absolutely glowing!

So before I take the weekend off, and get some R&R in preparation for week two, I thought I’d share some of the students’ feedback so far –

The session has changed how I feel about:

the unreal

drafting

Poetry. Because I thought it was restricted.

expressing my ideas through writing

the real side of poetry

poetry and English

writing about anything and everything

How I can use imagination to express how I feel

I find it free

I didn’t like poetry until this session

My imagination is let free

I was able to write down all of my thoughts without any limits holding me back

I might write poetry now and again

I thought poetry had certain rules and was really hard but it changed my mind about that

….

(and this is just a small sample of some of the positive comments made!)

I’ll be sharing some fragments of the students’ original, startling and expressive writing written during my workshops on the blog soon. So please check back.

But for now – I’m off for a bit of a RELAX…

 

 

 

Introducing: The DGS Poets Laureate!

I was mightily proud of Kat Richards (Year 11) and Nina Winstone (Year 8), who captivated the 1000+ strong student and staff audiences at Didcot Girls’ School this morning with their poems, on the theme of ‘Freedom’.

And what better way to introduce these poets to the world than through their poems?

‘Butterfly’ by Nina Winstone

IMG_3464

‘Freedom Isn’t Free’ by Kat Richards

IMG_3465

© All poems copyright of authors

I fell really privileged to be mentoring them over the course of this year –  more to come from them soon!

 

Patron of Writing Update #PoW: Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads

animal-butterfly-close-up-45863

‘Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads’ –  Poet Marianne Moore

I love that DGS promotes the Arts in its community, not just through having a Patron of Writing like me, and a Patron of Reading like the wonderful author Jo Cotterill, but also through all these things: its Artist in Residence visits, dance/art collaborations, drama and dance performances, thriving musical opportunities (is Ukulele Club still running, Mr Dingley?!) and the superb Freeborn Gallery in Sherwood which provides an interface where everyone walking around the school community meets art every single day.

At DGS my job is to shine a spotlight on creative writing (and in particular, poetry) in this community.

Today I did this by meeting our 2018-19 student Poet Laureates (one Lower and one Upper school), who are pretty delighted to be a part of this Arts scene too!

What to tell you about them? Nina Winstone (year 8) and Kat Richards (year 11) are curious, open and excited by language and what it can do. This year they’ll be flexing their poetic muscles, making some memorable ‘art’ over the course of the year for everyone at DGS to access and enjoy, and I’m thrilled to be able to mentor them on their journey into writing commissioned poetry for sharing in as many ways as possible … (Keep an eye and an ear out for their first poems, coming soon!)

I also want to give a shout out to all the students who applied for these Poet Laureate jobs. I read all your poems and got fascinating insights into your colourful and varied interpretations on the theme of ‘freedom’, with many of you engaging in the social and political landscapes around us. I commend you all on your brilliant writing and am only sorry that I could only select one of you from each category. My message to you is this:

Don’t let it be the last poem you write this year. Let it be the first.

Finally, a quick message to Year 9: Poetry is coming to a classroom near you VERY soon. I can’t wait to take over every English class for one-hour after half term, exploring, developing and celebrating your creativity through writing; making some imaginary gardens with real toads

See you soon!

Forget January – September’s where it’s at!

background-board-book-733854Bit odd?

Well, for me September brings the start of a new year working with young writers, at Didcot Girls’ and elsewhere. And I get excited about the new students that I’ll meet. The new writing that they’ll make. The new ground that we’ll ‘break’ together, on our mentoring journey.

My head also gets busy with ideas: what am I gong to bring to Year 9 in our precious poetry hour together? Which aspects of poetry do I want them to experience and experiment with? Which mind blowing poets do I need to introduce them to?

(At this point there’s usually an avalanche of poets/poems/techniques/techniques that I’d like to bring to the workshop table…aaarrrggghhh TOO MUCH CHOICE!)

I will eventually decide. And I will savour the planning and selecting process.

In the meantime, here’s a throwback to summer 2018, when 3 of my talented mentee poets won awards at this years Oxford Poetry Live competition –

 

#LetsDoThisKids 12: Destination X

adventure-ahead-arrow-66100

All good things come to an end.

But as I told my brilliant young writers at Didcot Girls, this is not the end of their writing journey, it’s just the start.

Last week we met for our last mentoring session and we were ending on a high, with our really inspiring launch event still fresh in our heads, and the writers still glowing from overcoming the challenge of reading their poetry in public, with great success.

But there is one last challenge before the end: keep on writing!

Every writer knows that the going can get tough. It’s easy to give up when you have a string of rejections of your work; when you get writers’ block and feel as if you’ll never write again; when you produce work but keep sinking into a subjective sense of ‘it’s never good enough’.

So I wanted to pass on some last advice, tips, tools and experience, to support these brilliant young people, as we disperse as a group and go our separate writing ways.

And I thought I’d share it with you, too.

So here’s our final take home task. And in the words of the entirely lovable Dory the blue-tang fish (yes, it’s a Finding Nemo reference, folks, it was an inevitability):

Finding-nemo-dory-squishy

‘just keep swim-ming, swim-ming, swim-ming…What do we do? We swim, swim, swim…’

 

Last Take Away Task: Stay connected and get your work out there!

Read, read READ! Whatever you LOVE! Amazing free sites where you can read (& hear) poetry:

https://www.poetryarchive.org/ SO GOOD!

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/

https://www.poemhunter.com/

Of course, check out poetry on YOUTUBE as well, e.g. Academy of American Poets.

  • Do writing challenges online that you can send in. This will prompt you to write new work and give you a deadline for completion as well as providing an opportunity for your work to be published and read by others.
  • Make it a regular challenge. Set a diary reminder/task on your phone (e.g. for one Saturday in each month). Make that writing challenge day.
  • Set up a writing group of your own, with a couple of friends who also want to keep writing. Decide what you want it to look like (face-to-face? Online?), how often you will meet, what you will aim to do each time.

Some examples: it could be a workshop feedback group, a place to share writing opportunities that you’ve found online, somewhere to chat about your writers’ block and ways to overcome it etc…

  • Join online writing communities (see below)

Twitter has thriving writing communities. Just remember that if you have a public profile, don’t share personal info. If you’re not sure how to use it, ask a fellow user.

  • With writing competitions and magazines/publishers: Always read and stick to submissions guidelines.

Recommended online sites for young writers:

https://ypn.poetrysociety.org.uk/  Young Poets Network. THIS IS GREAT! See the ‘Poetry Opportunities’ tab.

https://www.newwritingsouth.com/jw-home ‘Just words’ is a free online platform for sharing work and receiving feedback. Also they have competitions and workshop groups.

Places to submit/send your work to:

https://www.thestudentwordsmith.com

http://www.cuckoowriters.com  submissions from writers aged 15-21

https://manuscriptionmag.wordpress.com/submit/

 

 

 

#LetsDoThisKids 11: Proof

I can’t believe I’m nearly at the end of my 20 week mentoring journey with the wonderful young writers at Didcot Girls’ School!

But it ain’t over till it’s over, and today’s session may be one of our best …why?

…because today the writers will hold in their hands and feast their eyes on their published anthology, for the first time.

IMG_2450

Holding your crafted words in physical form, in hard copy, in ink on paper, is a moment of almost indescribable emotion for any writer. It can often become a landmark moment that changes the course of the future for that one writer. And that is the reason why I wanted to publish these talented writers’ work, at the end of this mentoring programme.

And the proof, as they say, is in the pudding, so here’s a taster:

IMG_2453IMG_2456 (1)

 

(Please note, poems are copyright of Halle Kennedy, 2018 ©)

There are moments in reading this when the world stands still.

We are all justifiably proud of this anthology. It offers up powerful and compelling voices throughout, captured in provocative and original form.

As well as being their publishing debut, it’s my debut as Editor, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to work one-to-one with the writers in editing. When it came to putting all the work together I was a bit like that kid in the sweet-shop. The work is strong and holds its own on every page but it was exciting to see new threads emerge as I started to put poems side-to-side and back-to-back.

Excitement is mounting for our anthology launch event, taking place next week, on June 13th. I know that the experience of reading their work aloud, in front of people closest to them, who most likely have never heard ANY of their writing before, is a huge challenge.

Another emotional leap. Another first.

So in today’s session we start our launch preparation with some of my top tips for performing your poetry. Much of this has been gleaned from my 25+ years’ experience of performance, so I think it will come in handy for our young poets, many of whom will be first-time performers.

Here are my ‘top tips’ for performance. I hope they are useful for you, too.

Take away Task/ Elaine’s Top Tips for Performance

 Prepare:

At home, rehearse out loud. Use the copy you’ll read from on the day. Do this once a day every day before the event. Know those lines.

Before you read:

Bring a water bottle

Go to the toilet (!)

Breathe

When it’s your turn to read:

Accept your nerves. They are there to help your body perform to its best.

When you get to the front, take a moment. This is your time. Establish your presence. Feel the earth under you.

Breathe

Throw your voice. Aim to hit the back wall.

Always introduce yourself by saying your name before you read.

Read slowly. You can’t read poetry too slowly.

Respect your line breaks & stanza breaks. Give them pause.

Look up at the audience frequently, by skimming the tops of their heads with your eyes. You don’t have to look them in the eye. This will help them to connect with you and your words.

Read from the heart, feeling your words. Then the audience will feel them too.

Enjoy it. This is YOUR MOMENT and you’ve earned it.

 

***

 

#LetsDoThisKids 10 – What’s in a Name?

daytime-funny-garden-1076583

I’ve spent the last few weeks with my Editor hat firmly on, as I’ve been close reading all the poems that my Young Writers have been submitting for our first Anthology.

Eeek. How EXCITING!

It’s been a delight experiencing their work, which is fresh, multi-faceted and original. I’m very much looking forward to presenting our pamphlet to new readers, and to being able to share some of their work on this blog.

Please do keep checking back for updates!

I relished the task of naming our anthology, which will be called:

IMG_2402

and I deliberately chose this title as it not only reflects some of the subjects the writers have written about (an exploration of some of the voices that have been influential in their lives) but also because this is THEIR creative work. They are the authors and they can take genuine pride in their ownership.

Our project, in its entire 20 week glory, has been all about using voices and crafting language to express our worlds, our concerns, our delights.

The writers have had freedom to pull away from others’ expectations, from targeted outcomes and marking criteria. They have had freedom to play with language, imagination and self-expression. And the results are impressive.

They have gloried in this freedom and it’s been a privilege to nurture and guide them through the process.

We are ending this term in a flurry of last feedback, last edits and last submissions, and I have the task of selecting which of their poems will go into our anthology. Some tough choices ahead!

We’re also all getting excited about inviting close friends and family to our anthology launch, which is coming up on June 13th

2018-bright-celebrate-769525

We can’t wait!

#LetsDoThisKids 9 – Deadlines. Well, yes. Except that our lines LIVE.

accessory-antique-assorted-859895

Having to use the word ‘deadline’ at Mentoring this week did inevitably provoke some groans. Some ‘oh nos.’ But being a writer (published or unpublished) inevitably involves creating and finishing work in a certain time-frame. Even if it’s a wide one!

My mentees are experiencing what in the world of I.T. they call ‘the full life cycle’ this year. We started at being, watching, free writing and rough drafting; we’re now approaching editing for potential publication in our anthology. And so much has gone on in the glorious weeks in-between!

At the moment I’m enjoying seeing the emergence of an ‘internal editor’ within them:

When during one-to-one feedback I suggest a word they’ve used may be a cliché, they chime in with ‘Yeah, I was wondering that…’ If I ask them to defend a line-break or indentation, they are unsurprised and sound as if they had already been asking themselves the same question.

And I know, from experience, that once it’s arrived, the internal editor will stay with them long after I’ve gone.

The young writers are at a point where we’ve shared ‘the nod’ – the ‘I think it’s finished. Yep, so do I’  nod, so I’m delighted to say it won’t be long before I can share some of their work with you.

In the meantime, here are some of them, combining three of their favourite things:

Time. Sunshine (well, shade). And writing.

 

#LetsDoThisKids 8 – Here’s to ‘expanding the mind’

air-airship-art-237779At the half-way mark in my mentoring programme at Didcot Girls’ School (where I am Patron of Writing), I want to share some of the young writers’ highlights so far.

Let’s hear it in their own words:

‘From the one-to-one feedback, I get a professional and honest view’

‘I have really liked having suggestions on what to add/ take away from my poem’

‘You’ve taught me to add more details’

‘It’s expanding my mind on poetry’

‘You’ve taught me to have confidence in my writing and my ability.’

I was humbled, encouraged and delighted by their responses.

Thanks so much for following this project – lots more to follow in the next 10 weeks, including showcasing of the writers’ exciting new work.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_1908
Storm surge of words – DGS writers on the mentoring programme