Pyramid Poetry for young people who have a disability


Here’s my promised update for my Pyramid Poetry session at Touchstones this morning:

A diverse group of young people arrived at Touchstones, dropped off by parents and careers and greeted by the very able staff from Sun Sports and Link4Life, with even less idea what to expect than this poet. Once everyone was happy, support allocated and introductions made we were all ready for action.

We played a rhyming game, we talked about poems and I shared some poetry from C S Lewis and Spike Milligan (deadly serious stuff obviously) and then we chatted about Egypt with young people telling me about the Nile, Pharaohs, tombs, pyramids the desert, oasis snakes etc.

Then we had a look at the format for Poetry Pyramids and put a few words together as  examples and handed out some sheets of Ancient Egyptian prompts and they were off.

For a frantic hour or so young poets looked for the right words, talked about what they wanted to say and jotting by down lines before adding their words to their poetic pyramids.

I wound up the session reading to the group from their pyramids and the room filled with praise and beaming smiles confirmed the pride in an excellent morning’s work.

Occasionally writers like myself get the chance to do something new and challenging and any such chance should be grabbed with both hands.

So in the morning on Friday 11th August I’ll be at Touchstones in Rochdale with my brand new poetry session.

Photo of ancient Egyptian tablet

Egyptian tablet

In the school holidays Link4Life, Rochdale’s cultural and leisure trust, run a range of activities for young people with a disability. I was delighted to be asked to run a session on poetry, as part of this programme.

As the current exhibition in the Heritage Gallery at Touchstones is “Ancient Egypt: Life along the River Nile” the session will take its inspiration from that exhibition and we’ll be incorporating a range of specific Ancient Egyptian themes into special pyramid poems (my new format specially designed and only to be revealed at this workshop).

Whilst planning the session I’ve spent some time in the exhibit and considering the age of these objects they are truly staggering. The exhibition itself has been well curated and there is plenty of information available including a range of books for young people to dip into and an activity area in the form of a boat sailing down the Nile. Here are a few photos showing some of the artefacts on display:

photo of Small ancient Egyptian statues

Small ancient Egyptian statues

 

Photo of Ancient Egyptian storage jars and utensils

Ancient Egyptian storage jars and crockery

I’ll post more details after the session hopefully with some samples of the work produced by the children.

Another awesome project begins

My use of the word “awesome” in the title above was carefully considered, that consideration is what poets aim for in our writing and hopefully much of the time we achieve it. Occasionally we may be prone to hyperbole but this time I’m confident even though the project has only just started to take shape.

Using a range of storytelling, songwriting, poetry, acting, singing and lots of sharing these young people can make a start on rebuilding confidence and dealing with past issues. Sure, I’ll be working with a great team of professionals, but the awesomeness, that comes from the young people and we are privileged to be a part of that process and to watch them unlock it.

The new project starting in Rochdale this week follows on from a highly successful “Stories we could tell” project in 2017 and will provide valuable support and development opportunities to young people who have experienced real trauma in their lives.

That project brought real benefits to a group of young people including some asylum seekers, some living in care and some living with mental health issues. The benefits were such that some of those young people have developed sufficient confidence and skills that they are returning to mentor other young people. To me that entirely justifies my use of the term awesome.

The team will include Steve Cooke (organising and leading), John Cooke (visual artist), Rebecca Whitehead (singer and songwriter), Sue Devaney (actor, writer and performer) and myself (poet and writer) with the facilities provided through Colin or Vibe Youth Music Project in Rochdale.

Eroica Britannia – editing and practicing

Today I shall be mostly finalising my set for Eroica Britannia, finishing the one poem that isn’t quite done yet, practicing a bit, a bit more editing and so on.

Here’s a picture of a red editing pen, although it doesn’t really work on the computer.

Later on I’ll be getting the Tascam out with the microphone and have a proper listen back. A strangely busy, thoughtful and satisfying day is underway.

Here’s a picture of the set lists for my two previous years at Eroica and the one for next weekend.

Metaphor: the long story – Touchstones Creative Writing Group

Having facilitated two sessions for Touchstones Creative Writing Group in 2016 it was lovely to be invited back to do two more sessions in 2017 for the well established Rochdale group.

For my first, on Thursday 6th April, I decided to go with my brand new workshop “Metaphor: the long story”. The blurb (which of course I’ve written myself) says:

Metaphor can add interest, power and character to writing in any form. This workshop will concentrate on metaphor in poetry giving new and experienced writers the chance to learn about and experiment with new ways of using metaphor to add character and interest to their writing. We’ll look at examples and develop our own knowledge before taking the leap (metaphorically) into creating some brand new work.”

Bringing out a brand new workshop for the first time is always fun and keeps things interesting and in this case with a relatively technical sounding session I hoped that people would not be deterred….

Far from it….

Over 20 participants arrived and after a brief introduction they were ready to go. Within such a large group there will always be a wide range of abilities and experience so we started off with discussion and examples of the use of metaphor and explored the knowledge the group already had.

That introduction was followed by a competitive game, The Metaphors Challenge, where two teams were pitted against each other to score points by coming up with unusual or preferably brand new metaphors.

After some further exploration including the use of extended metaphor it was time to write and if with a bit of imagination we could harness the power of so many pens furiously scratching their ideas and stories (with plentiful use of metaphor) onto paper we could surely reduce our need for both fossil fuels and television.

The end result was over 20 brand new pieces of writing, stories and poetry, and everyone with some new ideas, something new to work on or develop.

Overall a lovely and productive afternoon.

Looking forwards to the next session in September!

 

New writing – who, what, where & why?

In my last post I said that I would talk about some of my new writing; so this post, albeit somewhat later than expected, is built around that idea.

I thought it might be interesting to look at who or what I am writing about, where I write and the most important question which is why. So for a number of my more recently completes poems I’ve set out answers to those questions – I think I may learn more from this than my readers do – it would be really interesting to hear back from readers perhaps with their own answers to some of those questions….

So here goes, some poems I’ve completed recently (there are always a few still in development at any time and in some ways my poems are never really finished):

Mental Stuttering

Who? – This is partly about me but also about anyone reading or performing with an audience.

What? – The poem looks at how whilst being calm and professional on the outside we can still be stuttering and stumbling on the inside.

Where? – I started to make notes on this idea straight after a poetry event and then worked on it at home over a period of time.

Why? – This is always likely to be the hardest question and in this instance it came from watching people reading for their first time and remembering how that felt. Perhaps I wrote is as a reminder to myself that the poem always differs a little every time it is read – because of my own internal mental stuttering.

 

An understanding of cattle

Who? – This is a poem about my Dad and there’s a fair bit of my uncle Dan, one of his brothers, in there too.

What? – The poem talks about the nature of people through the way they can develop an understanding of other animals. The understanding of cattle becomes a metaphor for a much wider understanding of life and the attributes that make that possible.

Where? – I can’t remember when I first started on this poem but it has developed in my notebook for a good few months before becoming a single piece to be edited and formed into a “completed” poem. The work has often been done in quiet moments wherever I happen to be and strangely that matched the theme quite well.

Why? – Something reminded me that most people don’t seem to understand most animals very well and the concept of the poem was there straight away. It quickly became a poem about my Dad and memories of my Uncle Dan also fitted in so it becomes part of a growing collection of writing about family.

 

Swabbed for MRSA

Who? – This one is about my own personal experience.

What? – I wrote this about being in hospital overnight to be checked over for some sort of heart irregularity. It turned out to be a fairly fruitless visit because my heart refused to misbehave while I was there but I wrote about some of the things going on overnight.

Where? – I actually started making notes and putting together a few lines on my mobile phone while I was in the hospital. The development then took place over a year later whilst pausing for a brew or whilst working in my office.

Why? – It started as a record of what it was like to be admitted with an erratic heart beat and it felt significant and topically current that the first thing they did was swab me for MRSA.

 

Video released of “Stories We Can Tell” project

Screen shot from the video

I’ve posted here previously about the really successful young people’s project that we (All Across The Arts) ran in Rochdale culminating with a super event at the Middleton Arena.

Today I’m posting a link to the short video about the project.

Here’s the link:    CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO

The narration is by project organiser Steve Cooke and the video shows the kind of work and benefits we were able to deliver for a very diverse group of young people by giving them the tools and the support they needed to tell their own stories in the best way to suit them.

The gains in confidence and skills by the young people were highly visible as was the development of their social skills. The team members Steve, Rebecca Whitehead, John Cooke, Ray Stearn and myself all found the project inspiring and rewarding and the venue, Vibe Youth Music in Rochdale, enabled all of the work to be carried out in a safe, comfortable environment with studio facilities for discussions, composing, recording etc.

Aside from my role as poet I also surprised myself when asked to produce the video. I’ve recorded video often enough before but recording sound and editing to add still images, subtitles and content from PowerPoint was all new to me. I loaded some suitable video and audio software and set to learning in order to produce the finished work; this was just one of area where the project helped me to develop.

 

Heathfield School, Rishworth – poetry day

 

Monday the week saw a very busy but very rewarding day working with children and staff from Heathfield Primary School at Rishworth in West Yorkshire.

Working outdoors in the school’s own woodland we made lots of autumn and forest themed poetry with every year group in the school from 3 year olds in the Foundation stage through to the 10 year olds in Year 6.

I was really impressed by the enthusiasm and attention of the pupils and the staff and they should all be proud of what they have achieved. For that day we were all poets and I look forward eagerly to seeing the artworks they’ll be developing from their poems.

Here’s what the school tweeted to me after the session and above you can see a recent post on their twitter feed with photos taken by teachers on the day. It is so nice to receive such feedback but even better to hear the brand new work from children and witness their sense of achievement.

A great day, thanks to all at Rishworth, especially Miss Robinson who organised the day.

Image of Tweet from Heathfield Primary School

Tweet from Heathfield Primary School

Guesting at Write Out Loud – Sale – Tues 15th November

I started writing poetry as a result of working with college tutor, and now friend, Eileen Lee a good number of years ago. A year or two later through Rochdale library service and in particular Janice Brown, who helped us to set up a writing group based in the library, I found myself on stage for the first time for a National Poetry Day event.

Picture of myself performing at the Marden Poetry Jam - hosted by Julain Jordan

Reading at Marden Poetry Jam – hosted by Julain Jordan

Developing as a poet involves reading and listening to other poets and in that regard Write Out Loud was the organisation that really got me up and running (CLICK HERE for website) and gave me the confidence to take my work to new platforms. I have attended their events in Middleton, Bolton, Wigan and Marsden both reading my own work and listening to others. Founder Julian Jordan was always, and remains, very supportive and in the early days I was massively impressed by poets like Pete Crompton, Tony Walsh, Gemma Lees and Scott Devon. Seeing and hearing these poets made me want to take my own work further, to develop my own style as they had and to get out there and share the stuff that burns inside of me and has to be written.

I am therefore really delighted to be a guest at Write Out Loud’s session in Sale on Tuesday 15th November. The recently relaunched event takes place at the Sale Waterside Arts Centre at 7.30pm and I’m looking forward to renewing old acquaintances and making new ones….

The Rochdale Fringe at Vibe 2016

Following my brief comments of the Fringe Event for the Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festival at Vibe, Drake Street, Rochdale here are some more of my thoughts and impressions of the event.

Firstly the place was very much busier than it was at last year’s first event and the crowd, as might be expected, added greatly to the atmosphere inside Vibe, assisted by plentiful supplies of biscuits, cakes and confection and of course the range of hot and cold non-alcoholic drinks. Some of the performances on the day included:

 

Falinge Park Hight School: Bilingual Stories – a group of young people from the school had written stories, mainly from personal experience with versions in two languages. Reading for the first time in such an environment is a challenge to many experienced readers and these young people deserve great credit for their confidence and delivery as well as the stories themselves. Powerful and emotive.

Edwin Waugh Society: Lancashire dialect – celebrating the tradition of Ned Waugh and others in Lancashire Dialect the performers gave us a selection of works from well known exponents (including Waugh himself) and some newer work using the same style and language. All were well received by the audience.

Tapestry Road: Song and music – powerful songs with a hint of jazz lifted the late morning and it would be easy to forget that it was Sunday morning rather than Saturday night. Very competent and entertaining with strong vocals from both singers and excellent backing from the drummer and bass player (double bass that is).

Pulling Threads (TCWG): Battles of the Somme and Jutland – The group a subset of the Touchstones Creative Writing Group performed their mix of drama, poetry and song commemorating these famous First World War battles created for the 100th anniversary. I’ve seen this performance before but have to say that it has become slicker and smoother running which has added the the already substantial power of the piece – it is fair to say that there was not a single person in the venue who was not visibly moved by this performance. A great credit to those involved and a real challenge for the next performer on stage – yes that would be me!

Fortunately I was able to tie in some song lyrics and reorder my own set so as to build on and then gently steer the prevailing mood in the room.

Robin Parker: Poetry – Robin has created a series of poems inspired by the artist Vincent Van Gogh and shared a series of seven poems each influenced by a particular painting as the specific paintings were projected for the audience to see. A creative and effective set and a demonstration that inspiration is always there should we just choose to go looking for it.

Becky Langan: Guitar – Becky has developed he own style of playing guitar with lots of percussion on the guitar body, harmonics, hammer ons and bending of notes mixed with finger-style and chords to create something quite unique. A series of  tunes without words created strong emotions and had very much the feel of film soundtrack with wide soundscapes belying the fact they were produced entirely from a single acoustic guitar – inspiring stuff.

Chris Bainbridge: Poetry – Chris shared a selection of his own poems and work from people he has worked with in his work for the Stroke Association – the work really had the power to convey some of the issues and feelings faced by both stroke sufferers and those who care for them – moving and enlightening.

Weaving Words: Poetry and presentation of competition winners – Weaving Words took the stage as the last act of this Fringe event and Jackie Philips, Marian Tonge and Eileen Earnshaw each performed some of their poems. All were very well received by the audience who were amused, provoked, informed and entertained and occasionally challenged by these representatives of a small writing group which nevertheless generates some great work.

Having been one of the judges I was delighted to be invited on stage to announce the winners of the group’s poetry competition and the winners were:

  • Adult – Joint First – Jackie Philips and Gillian Holden
  • Under 18 – First – Ashleigh Haigh

Four hours of poetry, music and drama absolutely flew past and the event is sure to go from strength the strength in the future.

 

 

 

Oldham Library on National Poetry Day

Now as the metaphorical poetic dust settles on National Poetry Day 2016 it is time to look back and reflect on a busy and rewarding day. My day started with an early trip to Pleckgate High School in Blackburn and my morning there is the subject of its own blog post HERE. In the evening after a quick change and a bite to eat I was off to run a session for Oldham Libraries.

Way back in May I had a message from Oldham Library asking if I was available to run an evening poetry session for National Poetry Day in October. A little discussion followed around the nature of the session required, times and fees and the session was duly booked. Some basic biographical information, detail of the workshop and a photo were provided for publicity purposes and all was set with 5 months still to go.

A few days before the event I was contacted by the super-helpful Sam Thornley from the Library to enquire if there was anything I would need for the session and make sure all was in hand. On the day it was Sam who met me as I arrived at the Library, showed me to the performance are and to the dressing room complete with tea and coffee and a key so that I could leave things securely. This this was the first time I’ve been offered a dressing room; I found myself wishing that I’d not get ready before leaving the house.

I started the session by sharing a few of my poems and a couple by Seamus Heaney and Pablo Neruda and followed that up with a brief chat with the participants. It turned out, as it often does, that some people were already fairly accomplished writers with a number coming from various local writing groups, others were keen to refine or develop skills and techniques whilst some others had not yet written any poetry at all.

I based the session on my Power of Poetry workshop (see details of my workshops HERE) and everyone got involved in discussion and creating something brand new. Samples of some lines/thoughts from the participants are shown below:

img_2585

 

As we headed home Sam was already collecting the first feedback from participants so that the next morning he could email me with some feedback including:

  • the audience found the session to be fantastic!
  • We have had many rating the workshop as excellent
  • one lady told us it was “life changing”; many have even requested that we host similar events more often in the future.

I am of course delighted with this feedback and look forward to further opportunities to work with Oldham Library.

 

Poeting for National Poetry Day 2016

workshop-prep-aug-16smallThis Thursday, 6th October, is National Poetry day here in the United Kingdom and there is no shortage of poetry related activity around the country. If your diary isn’t already full

Tonight I’m looking forward to a busy poetry packed day which will see me working with as many as 200 young people in a Lancashire high school in the morning. We’ll discover more about the messages in poetry, head off on an adventure and of course write and share some brand new poetry; all without leaving the library (or learning resource centre as we call them in schools these days).

If your diary isn’t already full then I’ll be off to Oldham where I’ll be running my “The Power of Poetry” workshop in the evening. There are still places available and the event is provided free of charge by Oldham Library but places should be booked online at https://oldham.spydus.co.uk/Events/Events/EventDetail?PgmId=98

Starting at 6.30pm I’ll be sharing some poems, and showing how poetry can convey our stories, ideas and emotions with great power. I’ll guide and inspire new writers (and those with more experience) with handy techniques to create writing full of power and feeling. Everyone will be able to leave with a brand new work to be taken away, to be polished, nurtured and to be proud of.