High time, then, for a quick update on my work mentoring young poets in schools…
My Didcot Girls’ Young Writers’ Group on zoom has been an absolute delight and a safe, creative haven for our talented students. Our Poet Laureates have also been going from strength to strength. I believe with assurance that these testing times have produced some of the best writing I’ve ever seen from young writers, in my four years to date, in my role as Patron of Writing.
“You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.”
– Mary Tyler Moore
There’s so much truth in this! Adversity is hard to experience, hard to overcome, but it can build us into who we are, and, for those of us who have writing at our core, writing our way through adversity brings hope, stamina and some light. Making something beautiful out of something dire is pretty motivational!
So at this point, I’m going to demonstrate the above, by letting the young writers do the talking. Here are some brief snippets of a few of their draft poems, written over the past three months. And I think they prove my point!
‘Contact’ was the last commission given to Ianto Carter and Elliott World, this year’s Poet Laureates at St Birinus School. It feels like a relevant and timely theme to reflect on, as England continues in national lockdown. It continues to be a struggle to maintain enough contact with others. And how much social contact is ‘enough’? I think this varies enormously, from individual to individual.
Times are tough but writing is something we can hide ourselves in, play and discover in. The Poet Laureates can use these commissions to express where they are at now and how they see the future.
I think Elliott and Ianto learned a lot through this last commission. They expressed how editing has become more real to them – the concept of ‘weigh every word’ in our poems was pointedly demonstrated during one of our mentoring discussions, which went along the lines of,
“Should the ‘yet’ be cut? What happens if we lose it?”
In the end ‘yet’ became ‘so’ and the whole poem shifted on this axis!
Discussions like these are fruitful and we love them. I’m particularly thankful for Zoom technology, which means I can continue to mentor these poets in a personal way.
Here are their new poems. Please share and enjoy!
Watch Elliott read his poem here (featuring Lily Knutton):
It might be lockdown here in the UK, but the writing goes on, and we need it, more than ever!
I’m delighted today to share with you the new commissioned poems from our Didcot Girls’ School Poet Laureates, who have been reflecting on the theme of ‘contact.’ Writing these poems has given Myfanwy and Larika a unique opportunity to express some of the isolation and disconnect that so many young people are experiencing, around the UK, right now.
As you’ll know if you’ve been following my blog, I’ve been busy since September 2020, searching for new Poet Laureates in the schools, as part of my Patron of Writing role, then finding new ways to work with them online.
I’ve also been leading poetry workshops with year 9 and I’ve been lucky enough to work with around 250 thirteen and fourteen year olds, this autumn. Poetry workshops are vital as they inspire students to write creatively, for fun, skill development and self-expression.
You can read some of the great student and teacher workshop feedback, on my Poet in Schools page.
I’ve genuinely loved every minute of the workshops, even though I’ve had to adapt my approach and resources and deliver them remotely, via Zoom. I’m always struck by the students’ confidence in creating and in experimenting with words, ideas and imagination. It’s a complete buzz to witness this magic.
Taking a little time out to write for ourselves, whatever our age or experience, is just so important, especially right now.
Since September, I’ve been delivering poetry workshops to year 9 students at Didcot Girls’ School. (I get this joy because I’m lucky enough to be the school’s Patron of Writing. And I genuinely love it.)
A lot has been going on, in the first 8 weeks or with the embellishment of hand gel, face masks and the classroom line on the floor – ‘DO NOT CROSS!’ More recently, with the added complications of having my face displayed live on the classroom whiteboard, with my voice guiding the students in their imaginative writing via a remote mic and webcam.
I am learning and we are adapting, very successfully. I miss the buzz of the more natural classroom interactions but, when writing like this pops up in my email inbox straight after my sessions, I still get a glow of creative satisfaction and pride in these talented young writers.
Here’s a brief taste – thanks to Amy, year 9, for allowing me to share.
…to the fabulous two young writers who have been selected as Poet Laureate at Didcot Girls’ School, for 2020-21! I get the opportunity to mentor them this year and I’m pretty happy about that.
I reckon the best way for you to start to get to know them, is to hear what they have to say, through their very first poems. So here they are.
Writing is such a vital tool for so many of us, to express where we are in place and time, what we’re dreaming of and what we’re believing in. In these first poems from Larika and Myfanwy, we can feel the impact of history, social pressure, the current global pandemic and the ripples from Black Lives Matter.
Watch our DGS Poet Laureates reading their new poems, here:
It’s a bit of a sigh of relief, to know that schools are OPEN after such a long, difficult period for so many families. I can’t wait to get back into some classrooms at Didcot Girls’ School really soon, to get all of year 9 writing poetry. It’s always a highlight of my Patron of Writing role, to be able to actively change the majority of a year group’s minds, about poetry and writing, for the better.
I’ll check back into the blog, with more on this, soon.
In the meantime, please don’t forget, DGS & SBS (Saint Birinus School) students, that we are seeking two new Poet Laureates for both schools. They get to write commissioned poems for the school, during the year ahead. They also get 1-to-1 mentoring and guidance from me, throughout the process, and to have their poems published online. Here’s a quick reminder of what you have to do, to bag this golden opportunity …
Get those poems sent in pronto! I look forward to working with you soon!
‘Expect the unexpected.’ That’s been proven to be so true for me, this year! Covid-19 has brought extreme challenges for many of us but I can definitely see how my work has grown, through it.
As I was no longer able to meet face-to-face with our DGS Young Writers group after March this year, we grew into an online group. Many of the year 9 and 10 writers have been working with me, and keeping up with each other ‘virtually’ and working with them has been a genuine joy! Thank you to all of them, for their resilience, mutual support and encouragement, during lockdown.
I’m immensely proud of them and their writing, and we launched our Lockdown Poetry Anthology on June 30th. If you haven’t read it yet, then please go and check it out, here.
It’s also been fantastic to keep mentoring our school Poet Laureates, remotely. Iris and Keira have written some deeply thought-provoking, feeling poems this year – well done to them both and I’d like to wish Iris good luck as she moves on into Year 12.
In terms of my own writing, I reached a milestone in June, completing another long narrative poetry sequence. It’s satisfying when you get some thing to the point of pre-publication completion! More on that next year. My poetry book ‘Winter with Eva’ is still available to buy direct from V Press, or I’d be delighted to personally send you a signed copy! Just get in touch.
I’d like to end the year with a poem from our Lockdown Anthology, which opens up for us what school can be like, and how vital home can be. It’s by young poet Claire Hague, in Year 9.