A sad withdrawal from adult education teaching in colleges

This blog usually concentrates on my work as a poet including running workshops etc. Readers may not be aware that I’m also a teacher and have produced and delivered many successful college courses mainly focusing on photography and electronic imaging.

I love teaching photography as much as I love running writing workshops. The feeling when people learn something new, gain new insights and develop ideas of their own is priceless. Unfortunately the paltry price that colleges put on such teaching is now untenable.

It is with real sorrow that I’ve watched the decline in adult college courses, the appalling lack of funding and of course the loss of teachers from the sector.

So if I’m saddened why is it that I’m no longer teaching photography in colleges?

Well, way back in 1987, 30 years ago, I was able to earn £17 per hour teaching IT skills to adults in evening or weekend classes (I wasn’t even a qualified teacher then). Recently the going rate has been dropping year on year. Now, 30 years on, I’ve received a recruitment email from a Leeds based organisation looking for a photography teacher to run a course for adults for 2 hours a week on Saturdays for 8 weeks. It’s the kind of course I’ve run numerous times but my hat is definitely not in the ring, not for the current going rate of £17.70 per hour!

I write all of my own materials, use my own sample photos and update my previous materials to meet current standards in digital photography and provide specialist equipment for the sessions. Before every session I plan and prepare and when I get home I will review how the session has gone. For this 16 hour course I’d spend at least 12 hours preparing and reviewing. I’d spend 2 hours each session travelling and I’d arrive before and leave after the students. My total time commitment would be 48 hours.

If I take away the cost of petrol (about £50 in this case) and then Tax/NI (another £70) I’ll be left with as little as £3.40 per hour.

Frankly that is really insulting.

I am outraged that it is now considered reasonable to pay experienced professionals who are also qualified teachers so badly. It is even more outrageous when the fees charged to the students are not still at 1987 levels. How outrageous is it then that colleges can value providing useful education so poorly.

I’m not generally one to give up.

I really want colleges to be successful, I really miss the time when colleges provided a truly wide and inspirational training for local people.

So, much as it goes against the grain, in the future my photography training will be delivered privately rather than through colleges!

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.

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!

 

Images and video from Recall project at Falinge

After last weeks session At Falinge Park High school I am delighted to see that the school have now added some video and images to their web site.

Click here for more from Falinge website

Click here for the video

Thanks once again to Simon De Courcey for inviting me to be part of this excellent project and to the young people from Rochdale, Bury, Swinton and North Manchester for their
enthusiasm and hard work during a very busy morning – well done to all!

Hopefully I’ll soon have a couple of audio samples of the work produced by some of the young people and they’ll be posted here shortly.

 

 

 

Brilliant morning with young people at Falinge Park High School

I had  the privilege of working with some great young people at Horse Carrs next door to Falinge Park High School. A group of young people from Falling were joined by students, and staff, from three other schools:

St. Ambrose Barlow, Swinton

Abraham Moss, Manchester North

The Derby High School, Bury

The session was part of the joint “Recall Project” funded by the excellent Ideas Foundation. With the aim of helping to develop learner’s understanding of poetry from the GCSE Anthology they took part in a physical/dance session with CantDanceCan and a creative poetry session with myself.
With a surprise burst of snow in the morning there were travel delays from some schools and the first session was shorter than planned. In spite of this a group of around 20 young people listened to a little poetry and advice about writing before getting stuck in to creating some brand new work the their own with topics ranging from sport to family and the challenging topic of bullying. The short time left a number of the students with unfinished poems and little chance to memorise and perform their work but everyone had the basis of some really interesting writing. The degree of enthusiasm and also the willingness of all of these young people to ask for help, discuss options and then act on them really was inspiring.
It was also a lovely surprise to find the when some of our street-wise young people with all the modern language and mannerisms go off to “chill” in Falinge Park with their mates they chat about stuff that matters to them and they still play cops and robbers like so many generations before them.

While I worked with one group of students the other half worked on physical interpretations of the GCSE poems with CantDanceCan. After a brief break the two groups swapped over and the second workshops began.

The young people from all of the schools were superb and in as little as 75 minutes we had poems produced on topics ranging from travel to the importance of family, discrimination and personal stories of overcoming adversity. Some of the young people were even able to perform their new work from memory while the less confident had the chance to have their work read to the group.

As always working with young people, enabling them to express themselves in new ways, building confidence to think and talk about issues, led to a rewarding and inspirational experience.

Enormous thanks to Falinge Park High School, and Simon De Courcey in particular, for inviting me to run the poetry sessions.

I’ll post further links with images and perhaps some samples of the work created once the school has edited video and images from the morning.

Working with high school students in Rochdale

In a couple of days I’ll be working with high school students in Rochdale running a session that will not only help them to create some brand new work of their own but inspire them and help them with memorising and performing their poems.

During the morning they’ll also be working to create physical interpretations of a couple of poems from the GCSE syllabus so of course I’ll be referencing those poems and activities in my session.

 

I’ll post much more in a review, including revealing which school is involved, after the session.

For now I’m full of anticipation looking forward to what should be a really interesting and inspirational day.

 

 

New page for “Examples, samples etc.”

A photo of some old and new dip-pens

A bunch of pens

Over the last week or so I’ve been busily updating parts of my website to make it easier to find things quickly. One of main changes is this new “Examples, samples etc.” page where you can quickly access some of my work.

I’ve also been adding a few audio recordings of some of my poems taken from recent performances in Rochdale and Oldham and these have been included this new page along with written versions.

Photo of Seamus reading on the radio

Reading on the radio – photo courtesy of Hannah

Other changes to the site include another new page “Events & appearances” where you can easily find out about where I am reading my poetry and running workshops, complete with links to recordings, reports and reviews from the events where available.

 

 

Picture of Seamus reading with a large Union Jack projected in the background

Reading at Eroica 2016

 

A week is a long time in poetry (or is it?)

jam-seamusOr of course it is, and of course it isn’t!

Thats the beauty of poetry, you can make of it what you will.

This stuff is all about words, meanings and how we put things together; for example in the line above “make of it what you will” means to you can interpret something as you desire (“will” understood as the expression of the future tense) but can equally be read as you can make of it the thing you are going to make (“will” this time understood as the expression of an inevitable event).

That’s the thing with poetry, it can be taken in different ways, the writer can decide whether to determine what the reader or listener is likely to hear or the poet can leave the reader to create their own interpretations. Anyway enough of this grammatical chicanery; a week is a long time in poetry.

So is a week a long time in poetry?

Sometimes it can feel that way as an anticipated event draws near and preparation is done at a nice leisurely pace, other times when there is to be too little time to prepare that week can fly by in what seems like an instant.

This week for me involves lots of work on our upgraded kitchen (tiling, electrical sockets and a bit of decorating so far) as well as  3 poetry events and hopefully a bit of time to think and to write something new. The literary content of the week looks a bit like this:

  • This evening we’ll be relaxing in Littleborough at Robin Parker’s open mic event (at the Red Lion from 7.30pm). Last year this was a really pleasant evening with the chance to see and hear some brand new poets and to catch up with a couple I’d not seen for quite a while. This event has the added bonus of being within walking distance from home.
  • Tomorrow I may be delivering a workshop although even at this stage the exact details are still to be confirmed because I’ve been asked to step in as a last minute replacement for the facilitator who has been unable to take part.
  • On Friday I’ll be heading off with my wife to see author Joanne Harris (writer of novels including “Chocolat” with her new book “Different Class”) as part of Rochdale’s Literary and Ideas Festival.
  • Finally on Sunday as part of theFringe events for the 2016 Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festival I will be delivering a 20 minute set at Bar Vibe on Drake Street. The event will kick off at 11.00am with Steve Cooke opening and introducing Norman Warwick, back briefly from his retirement in Lanzarote, and a string of local talent in writing and music. I’ll be taking the stage at 13.10 and expect to bring some new and some old, some happy and some sad and of course I’ll probably change my mind depending on the prevailing mood of the event.

So this week is a busy one poetically and that makes it feel like a relatively short week in poetry after all.

 

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.

 

Pleckgate High School – Blackburn – National Poetry Day

A bright and early start took me over the rather beautiful hills to Blackburn while the sun was coming up and before the roads got too busy. I arrived at school and having signed in I was taken to the library to prepare with coffee and a biscuit kindly provided by librarian Carol Holland.

The programme for the morning was to include two sessions for children from Year 8 and one session for children from Year 7. Then I’d have a little time to relax before lunch and an open floor session for students and teachers. With a bottle of water and flipchart at the ready I was ready to begin.

The first 45 youngsters were ushered in and we were ready to roll. I asked them what they had expected a poet to be like, the answers were great:

  • They have beards
  • They have eyes
  • They can talk
  • They look like anybody
  • They have glasses
  • They are highly educated
  • They have eyes
  • They have a pen
  • They are intelligent

A quick chat about messages (the theme for the day) revealed that text messages and various mobile apps were most popular for this group but they were pretty knowledgable about less mode ways of sending messages too. They knew about carrier pigeons, facial expressions, smoke signals and of course the good old letter sent through the post, one even suggested the letters by types on a typewriter.

Soon we were into the swing with poetry starting with Jabberwocky, followed by one of my own poems and then heading off to create a mini production based around Albert and the Lion.

These young people did themselves, and their school, proud being willing to take part, getting thoroughly involved and having a good time too. There were some very impressive performances from fearsome lions, slightly casual parents and a couple of very evasive zoo managers not to mention a trio of Alberts who managed to be eaten extremely well. They also showed great understanding and a real willingness to discuss issues and give considered responses.

The second and third groups were equally engaged and engaging and the morning was flying by in a blur of poems, discussions and lots of questions.

Thats one of the things about young people aged 11 and 12; they are still comfortable asking questions, they don’t worry too much about what you can and what you cannot ask. During the day I was asked lots of questions and some of the best were:

  • why are you a poet?
  • When did you first start writing poetry?
  • Will you read us your favourite poem?
  • How long does it take to write a poem?
  • How much do poets get paid?

All in all a grand morning sharing my passion for poetry with young people and hopefully igniting a few metaphorical sparks along the way.

Feedback from Weaving Words – 22nd August 2016

Wow! What a great night over at Heywood Library on Monday.

Manchester pens 1Usually for an event in August we can expect low numbers as people are busy childminding, taking holidays and have lots of things to do other than go out and listen to a poet and take part in a writing workshop. Not this time – the room was full to capacity pushing the Edwardian air conditioning (little windows that opened with a pole) to its limits.

After a lovely (and not yet earned) brew and biscuits and a quick reorganisation of the furniture so everyone had somewhere to sit I was introduced by Eileen Earnshaw for the first “performance” part of the session. As I had planned I used mostly more recent poems supplemented by a few from my book and with excellent responses from the audience we all had a good time talking about bike racing, being an outsider, family, money, politics and modern society.

After the half hour “reading” (performance/reading/telling? – that is a discussion for another post) had flown by it was time for the workshop. We talked about what poetry is and I laid out a few simple rules for the session, gave some examples and offered some advice as I steered the group into creating their own poems of 16 lines. As always in workshop situations I was amazed by the way 20 people can put such different slants on a subject and the stunning and varied ways in which words could be combined to add impact.

New poemWe had poems about people, about places, about words and even about motorbikes and as the session went on I spent time supporting each of the participants whether through ideas, phrasing, choice of words, rhymes etc. Every now and then I’d come across something that really grabbed my attention and that was so clever, unique and powerful that with the permission of the writer would share it with the whole group.

We ended with some of the poets reading their work or having me read to the group on their behalf. Several of the attendees had never written poetry before but you really would know from hearing or seeing their words.

I’m grateful to Weaving Words and Eileen Earnshaw for inviting me to run this session, to Rochdale council and Punam Ramchurn for organising the venue and funding, to Heywood Library for their welcome and facilities and of course to to participants who threw themselves into the session and produced work to be very proud of. Thanks all. Below is some of the feedback received at the event:

Responses:

  • Did you enjoy the session   –  Yes:15     No:0
  • Was the session useful   – Yes:16     No:0
  • Would you attend future sessions   –     Yes:14 No:1
Comments:
  • Excellent, Inspiring
  • Very innovative, learning something new every session
  • Very useful for a technique to write in a more interesting and layered way
  • Really enjoyed the session and I nearly wrote my first poem (to be completed). Thank you very much
  • Great workshop, thought provoking
  • Lovely poetry and great workshop
  • Learnt loads, Seamus was great, loved the poetry and was helpful & encouraging during his workshop