I had a talk recently with Colin Dardis, Lagan Online about the work that I do when I visit a classroom. With thanks to Colin, Mary Fitzpatrick of the Verbal Arts Centre, Poetry Ireland, the teachers and students
Verbal brings Poetry Ireland Writers in Schools scheme to Derry
email@example.com 16/05/2017 0 Comments
Poetry Ireland’s Writers in Schools scheme part-funds visits by writers and storytellers to primary and post-primary schools throughout Ireland. In partnership with Verbal Arts Centre, poet and short story writer Denise Blake recently worked with Oakgrove Integrated College, Sacred Heart Primary School and St Joseph’s Boys’ School in Londonderry.
The scheme allows schools to avail of visits from a wide range of writers and storytellers. Poetry Ireland states that the ‘creative energy sparked by these first-hand encounters with writers can trigger an appreciation of the emotional and intellectual power of language that lasts a lifetime.’
Denise Blake received an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, and has published two collections with Summer Palace Press: Take a Deep Breath and How to Spin Without Getting Dizzy. She is highly regarded for her facilitation work in schools and with adult groups, and has worked with all ages from 1st class to 5th year students. We spoke to Denise about her teaching experience.
“Today is my first creative writing session with Oakgrove, so what I’m trying to do is give the impression that this is only fun; it’s not serious, so you can’t be wrong. It’s very much about everyone in the room taking part, not just the best, writing something, reading it out loud, and enjoying it.
“I find working with children, they like to be read to. There is a certain length of a poem they are willing to listen to. The Delight Song of Tsoi-Talee (by Navarre Scott Momaday) is a beautiful poem, with lots of images. It gives them the chance to settle into the poem and to hear it, because they are giddy at the start. Billy Collins talks about ‘crucifying the poem’: it’s just a chance to listen and be read to.
“The second poem, The Unwritten by WS Merwin, is just about the poem, to hold a pencil and say “there is magic in this, you can create magic”. And yet, it’s trying to teach them to be different: not to be coming up with the right answer, the good answer. We’re not working with marble, you can’t make a mistake, you can change.
“I find interestingly that girls want to be right. If I’m going around the room, and someone today came up with A Mermaid’s Tale, and I say “very good”, well then suddenly there are three mermaid’s tales on the table. Boys are more willing to jump into things than girls, so you’re having to try to draw it out of them in a different type of way to boys.
“I’ve been doing the Writers In Schools Scheme for quite a few years, in Donegal mostly, from national school right up to secondary school. It started, oh, a lifetime ago! My three sons were in primary school in Letterkenny, and to give something back to the school, I started to go in to my youngest son’s classroom to try and get them to do creative writing. The teachers responded well to it, and I love it, the gift of being able to go into a classroom. It happened today – a teacher said, see such and such a child, he’s actually very weak, he’s actually after writing, he’s actually after reading out – I love that. You’re trying to give them the gift of writing in the future. I’ve had pupils come up to me since and say, “you were in my class; I’ve been writing since.”
“I didn’t write until I was in my thirties. I didn’t have a good experience in school for many reasons, and it is a loss not to have done it earlier. I was very, very lucky, I tried to do a foundation studies course, of which English was a part. The lecturer produced the poem The Docker by Seamus Heaney. It was the first poem that I ever understood – I could see the imagery, and something happened in that moment that brought me on a different journey.
“I think in the moments when I lose confidence in myself, the classroom teaching and sessions fulfil me, if I think ‘what am I doing?!’, and you get rejections. I went to catering college, I did Hotel and Catering Supervision. I worked as a domestic supervisor in a hospital, where I had to go around and make sure the wards were clean. Now, if you saw my house, I really don’t care about tidiness! Now I’m in the extraordinary position where I go into a class, I come out, and I just feel good in myself. That’s a gift.”
To find out more about the Writers in Schools scheme and how your school can apply, visit Poetry Ireland’s website.