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

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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.

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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

 

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(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.

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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

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© 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.

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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:

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© Copyright to Thomas King 2019
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© 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 –

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© Copyright to Elena Ignatyeva 2019

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The Universe and Us

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(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’

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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.)

 

 

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.

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/