Patron of Writing: Looking forwards. Looking back.

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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:

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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

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‘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.

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Delight

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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…

 

 

 

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

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‘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!

#LetsDoThisKids 12: Destination X

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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):

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‘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.

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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:

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(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.

 

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#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.

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Storm surge of words – DGS writers on the mentoring programme

“So, let’s start with your name. And why you are here.” #LetsDoThisKids – 3

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(When learning something new, you have to start somewhere.)

No. This is not an AA meeting. This was how we kicked off the Writers’ Mentoring Programme at Didcot Girls’ School this week – an initiative that has grown out of the poetry workshops I led last term with around 250 year 9 and 10 students.

As it’s a New Year (and all that) please indulge me in a brief glance back at the sessions that happened at the end of last year. I managed to get a snapshot of the student responses and they were downright FAB-U-LOUS:

Over 95% of the students enjoyed the workshop and said that, in that one hour, they had learned something new – about poetry, about writing, about themselves, the list went on …

It’s worth remembering that these students were not ‘hand-picked’, they were not screened or selected by ability, they did not even choose to opt-in to the workshop.

So yes, I was both staggered and delighted by their feedback. Of course, it’s also a reminder that ALL young people can access poetry and creativity and (even more importantly?) that MOST of them can enjoy the experience!

Mentoring Week 1: The writer’s notebook

The workshops were an important gateway to my Writers’ Mentoring Programme and I was genuinely excited to meet the Young Writers this week. They are adventurous, inquisitive and enthusiastic – and not just about the Jaffa Cakes! It was an absolute pleasure to sit with them and start this journey, and we began (after the essential getting-to-know-you silly stuff) by discussing the source of our ideas as writers: how we find and retain these little gems. We shared the variety of tools that we use to help us record, store and organise raw material, and came up with a useful spidergram of shared ideas (It wouldn’t be a session of mine without a spidergram):

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I threw out some of my old notebooks for them to flick through. Some of the complete nonsense recorded in these brought a few giggles, however, these compact, dog-eared notebooks also made the valuable point that, as writers, we need to switch our FILTER to ‘OFF’ initially.

Just note it down. Keep it for later.

I think this is something that is almost counter-intuitive to a lot of students. They are so indoctrinated into having every word/sentence/paragraph scrutinised, that they are in danger of losing the ability to write freely and just for themselves. This is one barrier that I’m aiming to help them break through during the mentoring process.

Each week we’ll have a focus as well as a ‘writer’s development task’ to work on at home, so please do keep an eye on this blog, where I’ll be sharing these – in case you want to try it with your own students/young writers.

Writer’s Development Task 1:

Get a notebook. Write something every day. Bring it next week!