“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!

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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.)

 

 

I’m a writer. Do I feel inspired?

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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?’

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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.

 

#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/