Blog

“I Give You Permission” – latest update from my Young Writers’ Mentoring at Didcot Girls’ School

background-book-bright-1930381

Within 3 minutes of settling down they are writing.

2 minutes later, I have a plethora of raised hands to choose from – all keen to share aloud the words they’ve just written. An observer would be impressed. And that’s just the warm up.

At this halfway stage (week 10) in the mentoring programme, looking around the room, there’s a genuine sense of community here among the 17 year 9 & 10 writers. Their responses to my invitation to share aloud are proof of their developed skill and self-belief in what they write, as well as a manifestation of the trust they put in each other, and in me.

We move on to look at today’s poem: ‘Jaguar Girl’ by Pascale Petit, from her shattering, stunning collection Mama Amazonica. You could hear a pin drop as I read it to them and they follow with their eyes on the page. They respond to what they’ve read/heard in an open, democratic round table discussion. We deconstruct the layers of metaphor within the poem’s worlds.

The students always amaze me with the depth of their perceptive responses to the poems I bring and today’s no exception. Petit’s poem is an uncomfortable, visceral, complex one, but, when I invite any and all responses to the poem (and everything IS allowed), no-one says ‘I don’t get it.’ Guided by their responses, I build a diagrammatic response to the poem’s imagery on the classroom whiteboard. The concentric circles of metaphor spill out across the space.

(I note that this reminds us that things are messy, in our heads sometimes; in the world, often.)

One student who has recently experienced a trauma, has sent me some writing in the week, in between our school sessions. I receive a lot of work from the students by e-mail, in between times, and it thrills me to read what they have been working on in their own time. Whilst the rest are writing away, exploring their own real/unreal places, I sit with her and we sift her draft poem, me explaining my thoughts and suggestions for improvements, her eagerly listening and quietly taking it all in. No, she hadn’t been aware that she had written an elegiac poem. No, she wasn’t aware of her intuitive sense of rhyme, that has surfaced in the piece. When we’re done, she walks away from this feedback conversation a whole foot taller. It’s evident that she is starting to process her trauma through writing.

When our hour has rushed by, as I’m tidying up my things, getting ready to leave, one student lags behind to speak to me. She tells me quietly, and a little awkwardly, that she has something in her mind that she wants to write. It keeps coming back but she can’t write it. After a brief conversation, it’s clear to me that the only obstacle in her way is permission. I ask her if she’s afraid of failing, worried that after she’s finally committed the ideas to paper, she’ll re-read them, and they won’t be any good? She thinks that’s it, that’s the problem. I tell her, one writer to another, that we all feel like this sometimes. I tell her to write it imagining that she’ll immediately throw it in the bin. I tell her that it won’t matter. I give her permission. She smiles and walks away.

590f9f5c5b381

Read more about poet Pascale Petit and her award-winning collection Mama Amazonica here. Find out about her publisher, the formidable Bloodaxe Books, here. Follow Pascale on Twitter @pascalepoet.

‘Empowerment’ – by our Poets Laureate

 

anchor-belt-close-up-1564149 (1)

(Photo by Chelsi Peter from Pexels)

I’m proud to be able to publish today the Didcot Girls’ Poets Laureate new commissioned poems.

Nina, Kat and I met 6 weeks or so ago to look over their final drafts of these recent poems. Out lunchtime sessions are brief but wonderfully rich times when we chat about many things, including how the writing process is going. Editing can be a messy, even fussy, business, but they’ve learned a lot about how to ‘grow’ a poem, from first conception to final polished piece. On these meetings, when we’re at last base with a commission, I always get the poets to read the work aloud. Then we dig in with our thoughtful feedback and final suggestions for tweaks.

These two new poems, ‘Scars’ and ‘Acceptance’ have been nurtured over time. Patience plays a part in poetry. The poems take us below surface levels, deep into what is felt and experienced.

IMG_4058

It’s a privilege for me to work with these two poets and is really exciting to see the poems on the walls at Didcot Girls’ School, in the hall of fame alongside the names of other successful writers. We are all proud of them. They are two names to watch for in the future!

IMG_4064© Kat Richards, 2019

IMG_4062

© Nina Winstone, 2019

Showcase of the Short

My young writers at Didcot Girls’ School have made it to the half term breather, which seems like a good opportunity for me to take stock. We are six weeks in to the mentoring programme, and the poets have responded to my first call for submissions of work for this blog.

So here they are, in a mini showcase; a taster of some of their work so far.

red-wheelbarrow

The following two poems came out of our ‘Imagist’ workshop, where we read/examined/re-lived the brevity of William Carlos Williams ‘the red wheelbarrow’ (read the poem here).

Enjoy these takes on the lived moment, by Elizabeth Cairns and Thomas King:

IMG_3984

© Copyright to Thomas King 2019
IMG_3985
© Copyright to Elizabeth Cairns 2019

I absolutely love the way they have created poems that orbit round a core image with simplicity and utter brevity – all much harder to achieve than you’d imagine!

I’m delighted to have two Graduate Poets on the programme this year (they completed the programme with me last year, and return to continue to develop as poets as well as to lead and contribute to our writers’ community). I’m excited to be able to share some current work by one of our Graduates, Elena Ignatyeva (year 10). It’s a privilege to continue mentor and support such talented poets. I think you’ll see what I mean, when you take a look at her new work –

IMG_3986

© Copyright to Elena Ignatyeva 2019

attraction-basilica-church-33539

 

The Universe and Us

atmosphere-blue-sky-cloud-216630
(Photo by icon0.com from Pexels)

What is it to be free? What does it look like, for you?

This week with my young writers, we had freedom in mind. We talked about personal freedoms. We discussed free verse and poetic form. We read a poem that’s overflowing with freedom in its use of language, music and powerful self-expression. We did some free writing. We felt free.

I’ve cheekily borrowed the title of this blog entry from that poem I’ve just been referring to: Toria Garbutt‘s joyful reminiscent song that celebrates the downtime of her past schooldays, ‘That inbetween space/ after school/ before tea/… just t’sunshine/ and t’tele/ and t’settee/ and me’

img_3844-e1549125349942.jpeg

It’s such a punchy poem: wild and free. In our free writing time, when we let all ideas come, writing down everything (always applying our mantra: #nofilter), we borrowed Garbutt’s lines, using them as a point to launch from. We explored our own ‘inbetween spaces’, celebrating the moments when we’re released from timetables, revision, expectations, worries, responsibilities… The list goes on.

I’m so proud of the fact that this Young Writers’ mentoring programme at DGS opens up a window of freedom for these brilliant students. A chance to step back and just BE. From this place, they can produce stunning writing.

But it’s not just about the writing.

Being free to be creative, to fulfill our creative potential, is an essential part of our lives. I recently ‘listened again’ to the important episode of BBC Radio4s Front Row, ‘Arts Education in Schools’. There were so many  views presented from a range of relevant viewpoints, on the devastating decline of the arts subjects in England’s secondary schools, the reasons for it (EBacc, League Tables, Gove, to name a few) and the damaging impact this is likely to have on the next generation of Artists (of all kinds) in our country. It was an unmissable debate, please catch it up if you can.

Most importantly, the discussions in the programme highlighted the unlimited benefits of creativity for our young people. The debate was an essential reminder that being creative isn’t only good for the individual, it’s good for society as a whole. WE NEED CREATIVES, now and in the future, to bring their blue sky thinking, their innovation and wide-ranging problem-solving, to our industries – both creative and otherwise. We need ‘that inbetween space/ before bed/ after tea/ …just t’sunset/ n t’moonlight/ n t’universe/ n me.’

(You can read ‘The Universe And Me’ in Toria Garbutt’s amazing collection of the same name, published by the stonking indie publisher, Wrecking Ball Press.)

 

 

I’m a writer. Do I feel inspired?

abstract-art-berlin-6739

We’re now on week 3 of our Young Writers’ Mentoring programme 2018/19,

which I run as part of my Patron of Writing role at Didcot Girls’ School, so it’s high time I posted an update, methinks!

I guess what impressed me most at first about my new cohort of 23 year 9 and 10 students, was their openness to inspiration as writers. 

I think it’s true to say that ALL writers (poets, novelists, bloggers, life writers etc) have periods of writer’s block, when the ideas go quiet and all moments of inspiration dry up. In that situation, it’s hard not to wobble and question yourself (‘I know I wrote that great thing ONCE, but what if I’m a one-trick pony? A fake?) Out of necessity, to combat these periods, we have to develop strategies for managing these crises. Prevention is generally better than cure; for this reason I start at the beginning with my mentees, challenging them on where and how they find their ideas, as well as how, where and why they ‘store’ them.

The refreshing news is that, during our week 1 discussion on this, the group contributed a wide range of places/events/stimuli where they find inspiration, as well as a broad spectrum of methods/technology they use for storing and retaining these ideas (as and when they encounter them!) Here are a handful of their ideas, as captured in my messy whiteboard notation, around the central question: ‘where do we get our ideas?’

img_3767

img_3769

My particular favourites here are: memes; ideologies and role play! It was also really refreshing that ‘stuff you read’ came up; this sparked another conversation later about how necessary and significant it is for writers to read.

The discussion proved to me that young writers are more alert and open to stimuli than more mature writers. As ‘adult’ writers, somehow we have to work harder at finding and retaining fresh ideas and material. I have to admit I’m a bit jealous.

Ultimately, it’s amazing to have these discussions, and I know that increasing their awareness of their own creative process will enhance their range and productivity even further. Which is pretty exciting.

 

Patron of Writing: Looking forwards. Looking back.

2018-4th-of-july-bright-769525

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad from Pexels

I have the best job in the world.

I spent three weeks in November feeling right at home at DGS – huge thanks to the English team, who made me feel so welcome, and a special INCREDIBLY BIG thank you to the Year 9 students (all 270 of them), who opened their eyes, ears, hearts and minds to my poetry workshops. The work they produced in under one hour was stupendous! They made getting out of bed on a grotty winter’s morning entirely worth it.

Another shining facet of my work this term in school has been working with the two Poet Laureates: Nina Winstone (Year 8) and Kat Richards (Year 11). Behind the scenes, these two poets have been writing away, fulfilling their role by writing in response to commissions. It’s been delightful to guide and support them on their journeys so far. They’re performing their latest poems in the end of term school assemblies but of course you can also follow their writing journeys and read their finished pieces on this blog.

Aside from my work with DGS, my own writing continues at its own unpredictable rate behind the scenes. I’m currently working on my second poetry collection, a new narrative sequence, and absolutely love diving in and out, as the drafting process continues. I have also enjoyed giving poetry readings in some inspiring places over the last few months – I think Oxford’s Natural History Museum gets the prize for most atmospheric venue!

I hope the New Year brings you optimism, creativity and contentment. I’m launching a poetry evening course for adults in the New Year, so am very excited about that. 2019 also brings me a fresh group of avid Year 9 & 10 writers on my Young Writers’ Mentoring Programme at DGS. Having already met them, I can’t wait to start working with them all.

Have a wonderful Christmas, and don’t forget you can keep track of my latest events, progress and general reflections on poetry and life, if you so wish, on Twitter @kitespotter.

‘those so-called/ exams’

This blog is a platform for sharing many things, one of the most vital of these things being: excellent writing created by some of the talented students I work with in my role as Patron of Writing at Didcot Girls’ School.

And here’s a poem by one of those talented students, Seth Gay (Year 9). Here they use their work to reflect, in a personal manner, on the extent to which schools have become ‘exam factories’ and pressure cookers, as a result of the Key Stage 3 and 4 curriculum changes in recent years:

IMG_3631

Poem copyright Seth Gay 2018 ©

Thanks Seth for allowing me to publish this startling poem. And get those poems to me, students at Didcot Girls!

Ask a Creative

ask-blackboard-356079I’ve reached the end of my poetry writing workshops with Year 9 students at Didcot Girls’ School. It looked a bit like this:

3 weeks

270 teenagers

a storm of unique voices

dozens of mind-freeing doodles

a symphonic display of ideas & imagery

hundreds of doors opened

AND

a flurry of post-it note questions posed.

One aim of these sessions has been to give young writers an insight into being a professional poet/writer/artist (a career they might have dismissed as not having ‘career status’.) So I encouraged them all to ASK QUESTIONS!

Here are some of the many and varied things that they were curious to find out about:

QUESTIONS

  • Why do you write poetry?
  • How many poems have you written?
  • What’s your new book called?
  • Are you a famous poet?
  • Did you go to school at DGS when you were younger?
  • Is the subject of your new book real or imagined?
  • Do you get paid as an author?
  • Is being a writer fun – would you recommend it?
  • What’s your favourite part about writing poems?
  • How much do you earn?
  • What inspired you to become a writer?
  • Why did you decide to become a poet?
  • Do you find it easy to title your poems?
  • Do you have a main topic that you write about a lot?
  • What’s your favourite genre of poetry?
  • What’s your favourite poem (that you haven’t written)?
  • Would you give up poetry if you could get another dream job?

 

It’s been a privilege DGS – THANK YOU! And as I continue the year as your Patron of Writing (with more creative opportunities to come), let’s keep this dialogue going…

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