I set off on Monday morning for the roadtrip down to Tunbridge Wells, where I would be working for the National Education Trust the following day, with Able Writers: this is teaching year 5 and 6 able children from six different schools how to write poetry, sharing tips and stimulating them, making it fun, fast and thrilling. I had spent a long time tweaking my lesson plan for the day and it went down really well.
I arrived at the host school at 9 am the next day and was immediately made to feel welcome. The teacher in charge of the pupils at the host school was a Yorkshireman and a poet, so it was like greeting an old friend – we talked the same language at any rate. I am from Cheshire, as you know (and originally Lancashire before they moved my home town across the border), but I have lots of Yorkshire friends, love Yorkshire and my oldest lass lives in Leeds.
As the kids started to arrive, I started making friends with them and soon the room was full of excited kids, their helpers and one very buzzed-up poet. I was overwhelmed by the kids’ enthusiasm and the quality of their writing as they learned about Kennings, structure, drafting, imagery and its different types, and tried things out for themselves. They were all up for sharing as well. I had started the day with a 10 minute performance of my children’s poems from The New Generation and was delighted that the children were keen to purchase signed copies and were immediately reading them over lunch. I will be doing a lot more work with Able Writers, as I am now formally on their books. Thanks to Jan Dean for suggesting I contact them, and Brian Moses for accepting me on the strength of the few poems he has seen of mine and been kind enough to anthologise.
Next booking with them is Eastbourne. Lovely way to see England, wearing poetry shoes.
Wednesday saw me driving over to Denton Library. I was two hours early and we needed every second to set up for my Titanic drama. I was delighted to have a range of people, many of them elders, to share this experience, and few of them were writers, so I like to think this workshop reached people who would not have come to a more conventional workshop.
In this drama, everyone takes on at least one role. I play Captain Smith so I can lead the drama from within. I use a few simple props and role cards which have a few details of the real life person, so the participants can build their characters. People really got into it and the two hours went by in a flash. Chris Smith emailed me some of the comments from the evaluation sheets:
An emotional experience, beautiful
Amazing, historical, fun
Thanks for organising such events – they make life more interesting
It was nice to do something together (mother and daughter)
This was an event for Pages Ago, and I am hoping some of the people who came will use their notes and responses to write a story for the Flashback Fiction competition.
I finished tidying up with the library staff by 8.30, then drove straight down to Lichfield ready for the next day. I was stopping at my nephew’s Steve Lightfoot, so it was wonderful to hang out with him and his beautiful wife and walk the kids to school the next day before setting off to Lichfield Literature Festival offices. Soon we were whizzing over to Brownhills West Primary, where I was given a glass of water and led into a hall. 100 kids were filing in, all smart in their school uniforms and ready to spend an hour listening to and joining in with poetry. This is the first long reading I have done with this book, as it only came out in August and September is a quiet month for schools bookings. I loved it, they loved it and the teachers enjoyed it as well. AND some books were sold. The lovely Litfest people had ordered them from my publisher so I didn’t have to do a thing except enjoy it.
Back to the George Hotel for a cuppa and a welcome pastry (I had forgotten to have any breakfast), then into a talk with Precious Williams, whose memoir has just come out, about her strange childhood in which her Nigerian mother farmed her out to a white woman whose own children had grown up. I am putting this book on my Christmas list! She is a wonderful speaker.
Lunch was followed by another school reading, in a school a little bit further out. Again the children were adorable and well behaved, enraptured by the poems and all very keen to put their hands up when I asked questions. I had a long queue of children to sign books for, and the school asked me to sign one they were buying for a school in China – what an honour for me.
Switching on my blackberry after the stint was over, I found emails from Andy Jackson about the Socttish Patchwork poem on the theme of Home, using lines from lots of poems. He had used mine as the title, and he copied an email reply to me:
Hi Andy ! On my way to Glasgow now so am sending from my magical whizzy new
> phone! Some technology I really do like. Meant to say I also love the poem
> title. It is Walt Whitman isn’t it?
It sounds like it could be, but it was the title of Angela Topping’s submission, which was too good not to use, even though she had already used it on a poem of her own (which is, in its own original guise, a thing of great beauty).
I was bowled over! What a lovely thing to say.
I also got an email from Saul Townsend to tell me ‘I Sing of Bricks’ had been selected to be on their website, ‘The Poetry of Construction’ initiative which celebrates National Poetry Day. (www.construction-manager.co.uk)
This thrilling day was rounded off by having tea with my favourite little family in Lichfield before driving home to my cosy house and lovely family, who by now were wondering who the hell I was!
Friday was the first night of my WEA writing course. If it is going to run we need more people, so spread the word. It is at Hartford Village Hall from 7-9 on the second Friday of the month and the next one is 12th November. We need to double our numbers by then. It is only £36, you’d pay more than that for a couple of hours on other courses, and this is 12 hours in all culminating in a book and a reading.
National Poetry Day gave me a wonderful week, and it really did feel like the whole country was reading poetry, or listening to it.
Now, this week is Wirral Bookfest – so soon I will be on the road again.