POP goes back to school
Added: 30 October 2019
It was a promising sign. Twenty-six or so kids sitting cross-legged on the floor watching a film of Michael Rosen talking about poetry. They were giggling – but who wouldn’t? If anyone can sell poetry to nine year olds it’s Rosen, with his extraordinary facial expressions and his delight at the sound and rhythm of words.
Rosen is a hard act to follow but performance poet/rapper Danny Pandolfi didn’t look fazed. He was lined up to teach a full day of poetry workshops with Year 5 pupils, at Elmhurst Junior School in Street, Somerset. My old school as it happens which could be a whole blog in itself. Except there weren’t chickens when I was here – or a wonderful Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe installation with a cupboard full of coats you could climb into. With a false back.
But we were here to teach poetry. Not climb through cupboards.
There were excited whispers as we came into the classroom followed by quick fire questions.
‘Are you going to rap?
‘Is that an Apple Mac?’
‘Have you made videos?’
‘Can you send us one?’
‘Pleeesee rap Sir.’
Danny was a bundle of energy, which didn’t flag during a three hour session, bouncing around the room with a poetic rhythm of his own, which held the class’ attention.
Danny and I introduced the POP map – ‘where is Elmhurst?’ then got a volunteer to zoom in on a poem pinpointing by chance some lovely acrostic poems pinned by a school. The kids knew about that. And alliteration. Catherine Greenwood, their literacy teacher, has ensured they have an excellent grounding in poetic devices.
Danny then showed a video, ‘This is The Place’ - Tony Walsh’s love poem to Manchester - to give them a sense of what a poem of place could be. Turns out they know about suffragettes too. And for those who cared more about football than poetry – they were thrilled to learn the poem was up on the walls of Manchester City Football club.
Then for the hard bit. Getting them to write some words down and turn them into a poem
‘Pick a place you know. It could be anywhere – a field, a hill, school, home, a museum, a pool.’
‘What can you see?’
‘Does it have to rhyme?’
‘Can it be a rap?’
There was lots of squirming, rolling of eyes, pencil tapping and staring at their sheets.
Except one girl had her poem written in twenty minutes – a sort of Somerset This is the Place. She kept editing as the class progressed, not willing to give it up so we could pin it to the map (obviously a true poet in the making).
One boy slumped in his seat – a moody expression on his face. Page still blank 15 minutes in.
‘Where do you go after school or at the weekend?
‘Not to the shops?’
‘To the park?’
Do you visit family?
‘I don’t like going anywhere.’
‘So you don’t do anything except come to school?’
Then…’I play rugby.’
‘And where do you play rugby?’
‘In a field.’
‘And what’s that like?’
And his face brightened when he realised he had a place he loved that he could write about. Head down he started scribbling away.
This doesn’t begin to cover all that Danny included. We talked about history. Myths. Tor Hill. Shoes. You can’t get away from shoes in Street. ‘What’s the Tor?’ asked Danny who seemed to have missed the hill visible from a 25 mile radius on the bus ride over from Bristol.
I typed up a short acrostic poem and pinned it to the map to demonstrate the process. Catherine said she would get the class to add the rest of the poems during the week.
Then it was lunch time.
And in the afternoon we did it all over again with a new class, Danny still exuding energy as if he hadn’t had a dawn start.
First question as we went in.
‘Is Danny going to rap?’
This was all a part of a wider school programme where, over the last six months, poets have gone into schools around the country encouraging pupils to reflect on where they live, what makes it special, how they connect to that place and then turn those thoughts and ideas into a poem. Our partners the Poetry Society organised much of it – this month sending poets into schools from Wolverhampton to Exeter including: Lyndhurst Primary School, London, Windsor High School and Sixth Form, Halesowen, Rodborough School, Godalming, Wrenn School, Wellingborough, Hayesbrook School, Tonbridge, St. Sidwell’s CE Primary School and Nursery, Exeter, Joseph Leckie Academy, Walsall, Elmhurst Junior School, Street and Thomas Alleyne Academy, Stevenage.
Other schools involved include: Launceston College, Launceston, Ely St Mary’s, Lantern Community Primary School, Ely, Ysgol Uwchradd Caergybi, Holyhead, Byker Primary School and St Lawrence’s RC Primary School both on the Byker estate in Newcastle.
What we really love is when schools do it off their own backs, taking inspiration from the map and using our writing toolkits for ideas (which anyone can download from our website for free). https://www.placesofpoetry.org.uk/Resources/ It’s a great feeling at the end of the day when a bunch of new poems turns up on the map over a school. Hats off to teachers and pupils at Wilsthorpe Community School in Long Eaton, Potley Hill Primary School in Yateley, Edward Worlledge Ormiston Academy, Great Yarmouth and Powick CofE Primary School, Worcester – if there are others out there do let us know – not all the poems come with a school tag attached.