I spent a great morning with a fantastic Year 6 class and their poetry loving teacher. I performed some of my poems and then got them writing. We kept to the National Poetry Day theme of ‘Light’ (which complemented the work they’d been doing in science).
As their teacher regularly gets them writing poetry I found they needed very little stimulus. I began with a short exercise based on the senses (e.g. If you could taste light what would it taste of? If you could hear it and it spoke to you what would it say? One answer was I’m faster than you!).
I then gave them a few writing options and suggestions to trigger their poems.
Light Bulb Moment – If you had a bright idea what would it be? What might you invent?
Trick Of The Light – I thought it was a…..(table?, tree? )
But it was a….(dog?, ghost?)
Lights Out – When the light goes
What lurks in the shadows?
Before lunch we managed to hear their new poems and fitted in a Q/A session where they asked me about writing and my life as a poet. A very satisfying morning. Thank you Tithe Barn for such a warm welcome. I left feeling quite light-hearted.
On Monday I was happy to be visiting St Wilfred’s CE Primary School only 3 miles from where I live in Manchester. The day began in the hall where I gave a performance of poetry and music (great joining in from everyone) to the whole school. After that I joined Year 1 in their classroom where I played them ‘I Like What I Like.’ We then composed a version based on their likes and performed it together.
By the end of the day I’d spent time with every class in the school (EYFS through to Year 6). Loads of new poems got written – class poems, individual poems, poems written with a partner or in small groups (there was a class poem by Year 3 about a big golden bird – not sure where that came from! – which was performed to my guitar accompaniment).
Thanks to all at St Wilfrid’s for the fun and enthusiasm and for a well organised day that whizzed by. Hope to see you all again sometime.
You know it’s going to be a good day when a member of staff arrives just after you with a homemade cake. And it was good. The day and the cake.
Thanks to everyone at Airy Hill CP School, Whitby, for giving me such a warm welcome on Thursday and for contributing to a very rewarding and creative day. I started off by performing to the whole school and then worked with Yr1 and Yr2 where we did class poems. Each class did their own version of my poem “I Like What I Like“. I visited all classes during the day and we gathered in the hall to hear a selection of new poems before school ended.
The poem photographed below, based on “Stig of the Dump“, was written by Year 4/5W, their teacher and myself. I played some music on guitar and said I needed some words to go with it, and this is what they came up with:
Well I know I have been featuring things that have been planned in Barmouth quite heavily, but I have to report that we’ve had a very stimulating and enjoyable 3 days now that they have all happened. Thanks must be made to Bernard Barnes, whose creative vision made it all happen.
On Monday 18th August the two poetry workshops at St Johns Hall Gallery, kindly funded by National Theatre Wales TEAM, went well and produced good work from some experienced writers and others that had never had a go at poetry before. That was followed by a very warm cosy ‘cakey’ evening in the Aber House cafe, which has relatively recently opened and is a very civilised place to have a refreshment break. Mary Howell read so well and put life into the dialogue with her different accents, from her novel Murielle’s Angel. My selection of poems seemed to go down well and even though an adult audience, I was pleased to get the audience participation to Ref Rap.
Tuesday was going to be a day of rest, but we ended up going up to the Gallery again to offer assistance with last minute preparations for the Open Day on the Wednesday and I found myself ironing on stage (fabric to make the clothes for giant puppets) and helping out with the tidy up. Followed in the evening by Music Night at the Last Inn, hosted so effectively by the talented Barry Lim (who also danced the Chinese Lion the following day).
Then Wednesday saw us tour through the town, in a magical procession and I got to take lots of photos of it.
That was followed by a very varied programme of entertainment, of which I was a part, at the Gallery from 1-6pm (first image) and then a musical evening. All in all a very enjoyable and stimulating few days.
I’m compiling a ‘set list’ mix of old and new poems to perform, some humorous, others thought provoking, and I’m looking forward to meeting a new audience.
I’m reliably informed that there will be Viennese Delights and the very special Tarta Santiago to tempt you (if the literary delights alone are not enough!). So if you’re in the vicinity of Barmouth on 18th August, I do hope you’ll join us.
Address: Aber House, Barmouth, Gwynedd LL42 1DS Map
For anyone who may be in the vicinity of Barmouth on Monday 18th August and wants to come along to either the Family Fun poetry workshop at 11am or the one just for adults at 2pm (for more info see earlier post), here is a video of me talking about what we will be doing.
If you’re in Barmouth on Wednesday 20th August you may see a dancing Chinese lion, giant puppet, bubbles and exploding custard, amongst other things. There’ll be a carnival feel when St Johns Hall Gallery will be holding an Open Day event and procession to celebrate the launch of the Gallery as a not-for-profit Community Interest Company.
Programme for the day:
1-6pm there will be a variety of live music and entertainment, poetry and puppetry, films and performance.
7:30-10pm a free entry evening of eclectic music and poetry.
“I want the Gallery to be a dynamic centre connected with Art in its widest sense, a place that draws the enormous pool of creative and intellectual talent in Barmouth and the surrounding area. A place where all kinds of people can come to be inspired, create, discuss, perform, display and share their ideas.” says Bernard Barnes, artist and curator of the Gallery.
I will be part of this extravaganza, reading and performing a few of my poems for a family audience in the afternoon and for adults in the evening. Barry Lim will be dancing the lion and hosting/performing the music evening. Ian “The Bubbleman” Russell will be making his huge bubbles and exploding custard. Bernard Barnes will be giving a talk in the afternoon about the ideas and themes behind his huge wall painting “The Captives of the Cosmic Web”, 24 paintings on the North wall of the Gallery measuring 20′ high by 28′ wide .
I’m running two poetry workshops on Monday 18th August 2014 at St Johns Hall Gallery, Barmouth, Wales. If you’re in the area I hope you will come along.
Family Fun Poetry Writing 11am to 1pm
This is a session where children and grown-ups can have some fun writing together. I’ll start the session off with a short performance (including guitar) to break the ice and stimulate writing ideas. I’ll then give you ideas, themes and structures based on what you have heard me perform, and then help individual pairs and groups to polish these into poems or songs. To finish off we’ll have a performance of the new poems.
If you’d like to hear some examples of my poems, I have a selection on YouTube, which are on my website here.
The event is FREE thanks to support by National Theatre Wales TEAM. Sorry we cannot have unaccompanied children.
Adult Poetry Writing Workshop 2pm to 4pm
I’ll start this session with a few short writing exercises as a warm up, and then we’ll use photographs and the pictures in the gallery as a stimulus for writing new poems. I regularly write poems to accompany a photograph and will illustrate how to do this and then let you all work on your own with assistance if you get stuck. The group can then read out your poems to each other for the experience of performing and also for feedback (but this is not obligatory).
The event is FREE thanks to support by National Theatre Wales TEAM. Sorry no children for this workshop.
How to book
To help us know how many people to expect, please book a place by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, which session you want to book and how many people will be with you. But if you don’t have chance to book, please do turn up on the day anyway.
What to bring
Just yourselves. We will provide pens and paper. A jumper or cardigan is a good idea if you feel the cold as the hall can be a bit chilly if you are sitting still writing.
How to find the venue
The address is Art on the Hill Gallery, St Johns Hall, St Johns Hill, Barmouth, Gwynedd LL42 1AF.
The gallery is in the centre of Barmouth. There’s a turn off the main road (A496 King Edward Street) opposite the station, up a short hill. You should see a sign at the junction saying “Gallery”. Some parking is available on site. The map below should also help.
I was very fortunate to be one of 120 people in the intimate audience at Hunmanby Community Centre last night for a poetry evening. Carol Ann Duffy, one of the most significant names in contemporary British poetry, read a selection of her older and more recent work, accompanied in a couple by the very entertaining woodwind musician, John Sampson, who also performed in her breaks on an abundant array of older and more recent woodwind instruments.
As I’d had the tickets for some time, in preparation, I had been rereading my Carol Ann Duffy collection, and was pleased to hear her perform some that were already familiar to me. I was enlightened by her introductions, explaining where she drew her inspiration and what references and nuances there were in the words. I particularly like her use of list-like poems and admire her word craft, how she places rhymes in less formal spaces… and her comic timing. I hadn’t realised that “The Counties” (in “The Bees”) was a protest inspired by the Post Office’s campaign to lose the county from postal addresses, because of its distraction from the post code.
But I want to write to the National Poet of Wales at Ceredigion
and I want to write to the Dorset Giant
and I want to write to a widow in Rutland
and to the Inland Revenue in Yorkshire
I’m sure I’ve drunk in a lot of the traditional pubs listed so fluidly in “John Barleycorn”. Carol Ann read quite a few others from her last published anthology (“The Bees” 2011), which has a thread running through of the environmental concerns of the loss of bees. “The Human Bee” (in the title of this post) refers to people in China who have the job of pollinating fruit trees by hand because they have no bees to do it any more.
I became a human bee at twelve,
when they gave me my small wand,
my flask of pollen,
and I walked with the other bees
out to the orchards.
Bringing a writer, poet, illustrator or storyteller into your school is a great way to inspire children and bring reading to life. The Book Trust, who organise Children’s Book Week, which is this week, have some tips on their website with simple steps for planning your event http://www.booktrust.org.uk/programmes/arranging-an-author-visit/
But reading is for every day not just special weeks so the same principles apply for any time of year. Bringing in a guest writer/performer, who can give the kids and teachers a boost of energy and enthusiasm for reading and writing, is well worth the price.
Here’s the sort of day I have when I do a day workshop in a school. Before a workshop I usually perform some of my poems (some with guitar and participation) and then give writing ideas based on what they’ve heard me do. This can result in poems for the page and/or performance.
Some are very simple – I read one, for example, (When To Cut Your Hair) which uses each day of the week and show how that can be used for any subject. For example, using football:
When To Play Football
Play football on Monday Score a goal
Play football on Tuesday Fall down a hole
and so on.
Another I read (they join in with this) is Brilliant, which begins
Today Mum called me brilliant and that’s just how I feel
I’ll run a race I’m bound to win I’ll take up golf Get a hole in one
Because today Mum called me brilliant so that’s what I must be
I give ideas and examples of how they can use this structure, like this:
Today I’m feeling noisy So that’s what I will be
I’ll run up the stairs And stamp on the floor I’ll run back down And slam the door
Because today I’m feeling noisy So that’s what I will be
I use simple choruses and repetition during the performance and show how these can easily be incorporated in their own poems, if they want to write something that is for performance.
I do find, that having heard me, they pick up the ideas very quickly, and those who need less help can use my ideas if they want to, but also have the opportunity to go their own way. And there’s scope for writing funny and serious poems.
If there are any classes where the teacher would prefer to have a go at a class poem, we can do that too. I often use guitar on the class ones and we can usually come up with a finished poem in about 30 minutes.
Usually teachers jot down my examples based on 3 or 4 of my poems and then discuss them back in the classroom.
I hope the advice on the Book Trust website and the ideas I have given here will encourage some schools to book a writer. If you are interested in booking me, please do get in touch.