First we shared favourite words and listened to the chance collisions of sound and meaning: fuddle, squiggle, bubble, crescendo, hyena, facetious, kybosh, tickle, frizz-bombs … Writing is too often seen and not heard in classrooms. Yet developing a habit of sharing aloud helps to extend vocabulary. It leads to both an appreciation of the echoes, intonations and rhythms of poetry, as well as an engagement with the origins and patterns of language.
Next we used the springboard phrase ‘If I were …’ to practise the subjunctive and fire our imaginations. (If I were a corner, I’d be smooth and sanded. If I were a road, I’d be South Cotham Road - pot-holed, twisted, difficult to cross…. etc)
Then we composed our own flip-books to explore syntax and surprise ourselves with unexpected combinations.
Finally we undertook Peter Stillman’s ‘Floor-plan’ exercise to explore the different effects of drawing, labelling, talking and writing about a place special to ourselves.
Teachers had the space to experience writing ‘from the inside out’, share, be inspired, and reflect on the process - taking away some practical ways of ‘owning’ writing alongside pupils in their classrooms. "Great ideas to try with the children at school - A liberating experience to free write - Loved having the opportunity to write with no reason apart from writing" (teachers’ comments.)
On October 13th, I joined a long-standing and growing group - NWP Free Spaces – at the Imperial War Museum. To get there, I’d walked through the Dalai Lama’s peace garden outside, so opposites were already in my mind.
In the cafe, Mari Cruice, the group leader, asked us to list or cluster our thoughts associated with a person or place. David Marshall shared an extract from Harry Parker’s ‘Anatomy of a Soldier’ – writing about war from the point of view of objects. Then we paired up and discussed some poems by Gary Snyder, Chelsey Minnis and other poets. Afterwards, we wandered around the museum looking for inspiration, and wrote. Finally we returned to share. This is what I wrote:
If I were a silver button,
With an eagle pressed proud upon my back,
I’d be stitched to his epaulette,
Holding his stripe straight till,
One moonlit night, I’d betray him
With a wink to the sniper.
If I were a wounded sniper,
Shivering by a broken window,
I’d steady my shaking elbows on the sill,
Fasten his button in my sights and,
Whispering a prayer for a quick death,
Squeeze – and make an eagle fly.
NWP outreach director