Starting LitFest 2013 at Hounsdown School

Last year, I taught a very enjoyable day of poetry at Noadswood school as part of their contribution to the annual Wessex Schools LitFest. This year, I am delighted to be doing three LitFest days at three different schools. Monday was the first of them, at Hounsdown School in Totton, where I was opening the festival for them.

It was a slightly unusual day in that I did three very different kinds of workshop – usually on school visits I do similar things all day. So it was a good time to try out some new ideas.

The first class was a very small bottom set of Year 9s. As I expected, their confidence in themselves was low, so I tried to make them believe they too could write poetry. Building on their recent work on Employability, I helped them construct a poem called ‘CV Me’ – a poetic account of their qualities and strengths. I took them through it gently, from single words to describe themselves, to sentences and then comparisons (they especially liked animal ones), and in the end they all produced at least the first stanza of a poem – since then I’ve been emailed the final versions too. It was an excellent session which once again backed up my belief that poetry is for everyone; it’s certainly not just gifted and talented pupils who get a lot from it.

Then I taught two Year 7 groups, and again I tried a new activity. I’d read winning poems by the Foyle Young Poets 2012 and was particularly taken by ‘The Apple Tree’, by David Carey. It deals with the experience of growing up, using the image of climbing a tree, and I thought Year 7s could connect well with it. We read the poem and thought about how Carey used the central metaphor as a way to dramatise fears and feelings, and how the poem also explores a relationship with a parental figure. Then I helped the kids find a metaphor from their lives that would encapsulate their own experience of the same topic. The resulting poems were often very tender givings-of-thanks to parents; I hope they get shown to the Mums and Dads who inspired them.

Lastly, I ran a Writing Hampshire session for a Gifted and Talented group. We looked at several poems from the Writing Hampshire project, to examine how different poets tackle writing about place; their favourite was ‘Rooted’ by Sue Burkett. Then they picked their own places and, with a bit of guidance from me, made their own poems (or three poems, in one case!). Their work was extremely impressive, and I had no easy task the next day choosing a Hounsdown Poet Laureate from among them.

Overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable day win enthusiastic pupils, welcoming staff, and great poetic results. A fabulous way to start my LitFest tour.