Picture This! with Dan Simpson and Beach Creative

photo 3Picture This! is a year-long programme of creative writing workshops for Herne Bay teenagers, made possible by a grant from the Clore Duffield Foundation. I was involved in part of it – a series of inspiring workshops by poet Dan Simpson at Herne Bay High that resulted in a Categorical Books publication of the poems. One series in particular, inspired by a poem by Sven Stears, had the pupils invent imaginary jobs, to surreal effect.

The anthology was launched at an event at Beach Creative in Herne Bay where Dan performed poems from his new book Applied Mathematics.

The book’s cover photograph and design are by Nancy Wilson.

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Poetry Exchange

tpeFiona Lesley Bennett of the Map Consortium has set up a wonderful project called the Poetry Exchange.

The Poetry Exchange is a way of sharing our enjoyment of poetry by inviting people to nominate a poem that has been a friend to them. The person who suggested the poem then has a conversation with an actor about what the poem means to them – either one to one or as part of a larger audience – and in return they receive a unique recording of their chosen poem inspired by the conversation.

I nominated Adrienne Rich’s poem ‘Song’, which has long been a favourite. The discussion took place at the Wise Words festival in Canterbury and I was thrilled with the recording by Jacqueline Kington and Michael Schaeffer.

You can hear some of the recordings or nominate your own poem by clicking here.

Kings Hill revisited

IMG_0820Kings Hill is built on the former West Malling airfield, which was the most important base for night fighters during World War II and was subsequently home to US forces, Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin, the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour and much more. From the 1990s it was developed as a new town and in 2013 I was invited to help to gather material from local residents and schoolchildren for a series of text-based artworks by artist Richard Wolfströme that would commemorate the site’s history.

It was a long journey from talking to people and gathering their memories and dreams to the finished art. But at last the works are installed and it was wonderful to see them and to remember the many conversations and workshops that inspired them.

You can read more of the memories we collected and some of the poetry we generated by clicking here.

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Poetry for the Olympic Legacy List

TMitchell_130522_4784.163200The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is about to open – and alongside the adventure playground, flower meadow, riverscape and café you’ll find poetry from Carol Ann Duffy, Lemn Sissay, Jo Shapcott and others incised into walls, paving and benches. Among the ‘others’ are the young winners of the Children’s Legacy Poems competition.

I feel privileged to have worked with these young writers. Joseph Coelho and I spent May and June in schools in the five Olympic boroughs encouraging children to balance on crocodiles’ tails (or beams, if you must), run across swamps, hop over rocks in streams of molten lava and tiptoe past sleeping dragons in order to write adventure poems inspired by the Olympic Park. The schools submitted their entries and we chose thirteen winners, with the results published in a booklet produced by the Legacy List. Lines from the two outstanding poems will be reproduced in some form within the park.

Joining us on the judging panel was Jo Bell, Canal Laureate 2013. At the prizegiving she described poetry as holding a magnifying glass up to the world, or a holding of hands between writer and reader… ‘Poets notice things and try to say them in a way that makes others see the world differently.’

The project was organised by Discover and the Legacy List; the wonderful photographs were taken by Tim Mitchell.

Joseph, Jo and I all wrote our own Olympic Park Adventure poems, and here is mine.

Hide and seek in Tumbling Bay

One, two, three… and I was whooshing
down a blade of grass as broad as a dragon’s tail,

dodging through a forest of stalks
each as tall as the Great Scots Pine,

climbing a mesh of green laces
to the top of a swaying fern

then hooking my fingers round a frond
and dangling like an Olympic gymnast,

hand over hand, towards the trembling edge. I jumped…
and landed on a spot on the smooth red shell

of a ladybird’s wing, clinging to the rim
as we flew through the blue to the bell of a foxglove

that smelled like my grandmother’s hair.
We battled a bumblebee in a clash of antennae

then swooped away, trees and paths and river
like a map below us. I let go, dived downwards

to a trampoline of turf, rolling over and over
to escape the stomping feet of dinosaur children,

the rough pink cliff of a tongue, panting and wet.
Quick! Hide! Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred…

Storytelling for The Conservation Volunteers

P1070337It was a wild and stormy day in late March. Snow was blowing in across the North Sea and the early daffodils were shivering in the biting wind. At the Singleton Environment Centre families stomped up in boots and winter coats to take part in  the Spring at Singleton weekend…

And despite the bitter weather, we had a great time! I did a storytelling session where groups were invited to listen to me perform ‘Where stories come from’ and then to create their own story with the help of a basketful of wooden objects I brought in for the event.

By the end of the day my voice was giving out after leading half a dozen sessions to groups of between 5 and fifteen who all enthusiastically listened and then contributed ideas. We wrote out some of the stories and put them up on the wall to inspire future sessions. Here is one of them.

Workshop for the Isle Writers

P1020182I was really pleased to be asked to deliver a workshop aimed at drawing in less experienced poets and writers for The Isle Writers, a Thanet-based writing group. To my amazement – and that of the organisers – thirty people turned up for a day called ‘Give it a Go!’ that included my own sessions on poetry as well as workshops on memoir and story-writing.

There were accomplished novelists who were novices at poetry as well as people who had been writing poetry but never made their work public and people new to writing. Everyone had produced at least one poem by the end of the hour, and several people told me that it was their first!

I hope to give another workshop for The Isle Writers in November. For details of the group, telephone 01843 865135 or 01843 869413.

The photograph is of my own poem for Margate, which was displayed for a year in a disused shop in Cliftonville.

Canterbury Valentine’s Trail with Prosper

MOiseax15I can’t resist posting this image of the Valentine’s Trail which I created with Pat Wilson Smith and Adam De Ville as part of the Prosper intitiative.

The wonderful life-size wooden people were designed by Pat Wilson Smith, and as you can see from the photograph, they certainly succeeded in attracting the attention of passers-by.

Each board had information about a local business and local initiative and each led the viewer on to another further along the trail.

We learned a lot from the experiment, and next time could certainly do it bigger and better. But rather than praising what we did do to the skies, here is feedback from one of the shopowners, which I hope speaks for itself:

“The general idea of setting up trails of this sort to guide some people off
their beaten track and their comfort zone is very good for the city centres
(a bit like ‘google something with your feet for a change’). Giving visitors
(and residents) a real authentic experience of a place and its unique
products and history in a broad sense is what will be the future of City
centres I believe, leaving the cheap and standardised shopping for on-line.”

Watch this space!

Prosper Valentine’s Trail

prosper valentine's trailOur Prosper project has gone through many permutations since we started back in October. But our thoughts on a living tourist information station have now coalesced into the idea of an installation containing information that links community and commercial, history and stories, themed around a specific event.

It’s probably easier to see it in practice than explain it in writing, so why not come along to our Canterbury Valentine’s Trail on 9 February? For those of you unable to attend, it will consist of a series of life-sized wooden figures outside businesses with a link to Valentine’s Day, each of which gives information about both a current community project and the history of the part of Canterbury it’s located in. Each board directs you to the next one to form a trail, with the journey beginning and ending at the Beaney where you receive a small prize for solving a riddle. Enjoy!

You can find more information by clicking here, or on the Prosper website.

Lost the Plot with New Writing South

lost_the_plot_cover_front_onlyThis is a small book full of wonderful writing.

It’s part of a project called Writer Squads run by New Writing South, which places writers with groups of young people aged 13 to 17 to inspire and help develop their writing.

The book documents the results of Dean Atta‘s project with the Margate Writer Squad and features poetry and stories by Maddie Raven, Samuel Williams, Anna Harvey and Sofie Llugiqi.

The writing is fresh and original and it is obvious that the young people, inspired by Dean, have polished their work so there’s not a word out of place.

Categorical Books is very proud to have played a small part in the project’s development. The book is not for sale as the print run was minute, but hopefully the contents might help the young people and the project to find a wider audience.

Prosper with Canterbury Festival

prosper adam de ville vicky wilsonI am excited to be part of a team working on the Prosper initiative, a scheme to build cultural capacity in East Kent by offering support and investment to discover how working together and the power of the arts can enable East Kent and its people to thrive. It is backed and run by Workers of Art, The Map Consortium and the Canterbury Festival. There are about fifteen other investigations within Prosper, ranging from using virtual technology to explore Ramsgate Tunnels to producing a mobile museum to make public the Beaney’s stored collections.

For our investigation, I am working with artists I had never met before – Pat Wilson SmithAdam De Ville and Reece de Ville – to explore the possibilities of a living tourist information station that will give residents and visitors an alternative view of the city from that provided in the usual brochures and websites.

We will be holding a day of action to gather stories and information:
Bean Head cafe, Burgate, Canterbury
15 December, 11am to 3pm.
Please come and join us to tell us your Canterbury Tale!

Kings Hill Cultural Strategy with Richard Wolfströme and Future Creative

Kings Hill is built on the former West Malling airfield, which was the most important base for night fighters during World War II and was subsequently home to US forces, Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin, the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour and much more. From the 1990s it was developed as a new town and plans are now underway to refurbish the former airfield control tower – a wonderful 1930s building with curved glazing and walls – for community and commercial use.

Artist Richard Wolfströme is creating a series of text-based works to be embedded into the paving around the site. And along with Future Creative practitioners Andy Evans, Lesley Finlay and Doug Noble, I am collecting stories to use as inspiration. We are talking to individuals, organising visits to schools, nurseries and youth clubs and are holding two community events (see poster). So far we have heard about ghosts and heroes, abandoned women and candlesmoke graffiti, lost German pilots and the perils of going over the top. Please get in touch if you have any stories or information to add! Or join us in the Kings Hill Community Centre on 5 or 10 December.

Wise Words with Canterbury Festival

wise words categorical books sarah salwayWise Words: The Canterbury Laureate Anthology 2011–2012 is the latest publication from Categorical Books.

The anthology charts the journey of the 2011-2012 Laureate Programme, part of which was a pilot collaboration between creative writing MA students at the University of Kent, teacher trainees from Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury Laureate Sarah Salway and the Canterbury Festival.

Teacher trainees and MA students worked in pairs with schools and community groups to deliver workshops aimed at producing creative writing and photography on the theme of Wise Words. The project had a strong intergenerational slant, pairing older members of photography, arts and dance groups with young people from a refugee centre and a special school. Along the way, wise words were collected from the public at events and though a website forum.

The book contains the inspirational writing and photographs produced in the course of the project by students and participants, as well as by Sarah Salway herself, alongside writing exercises and workshop guidelines.

Do come along to the launch on Saturday 13 October at the Canterbury Heritage Museum, Stour Street, CT1 2NR, 5.30–7.30pm. Or check out the book at Amazon.

Wise Words with Sarah Salway

wise words image future creative vicky wilson sarah salway canterbury festivalCanterbury Laureate Sarah Salway has launched a programme called ‘Wise Words‘, in conjunction with the Canterbury Festival. The project links four community groups in the under-18 age bracket with four in the over-60s bracket to produce intergenerational creative writing. I’m hoping to be involved in producing a publication of the results, but meanwhile there’s a public forum where you can post your own ‘wise words’ and read others’.

I’ve just posted mine – drawn in part from the responses of pupils to the Future Creative Pass the Passion project, which I’m sad to say has now finished. The idea was to use the Olympics as a stimulus to encourage pupils to think about their aspirations and to create messages for the future. Here are some of my favourites:

We hope the future will be chocolatey.
We hope you have cars that fly and a robot to clean your houses.
We hope you have a rocket that can mend holes in the ozone layer.
We hope you have books that create pictures from your imagination.
We hope you find a magic touch that cures all illness.
We hope you can regenerate the forests with your footsteps.
We hope you have an underground world to visit when you are bored or sad.
We hope you are careful where you step – the earth could be breaking.
We hope everything will be flowers and butterflies.
We hope you have dreams, and can make your dreams come true.
We hope everything will be… just charming!

Prosper out of the storm

prosper out of the storm collaborationCollaboration seems to be the new buzzword, whether to enhance creativity and provide inspiration, to explore new possibilities and artforms or to find solutions and means of survival in difficult and philistine times.

Prosper Out of the Storm is a collaboration between Canterbury Festival, The Map Consortium and Workers of Art to foster creativity and innovation in East Kent – as well as to help find ways to keep the area’s artistic community afloat.

I’ve worked with all three founding organisations and am a great admirer of their ideas and input, so I’m really keen to see what their joint expertise can produce. Also, the idea feeds right into my own current preoccupations with ways of expanding the reach and ambition of my work and having fun doing so!

For more information and to sign up, go to www.prospertogether.co.uk. I’m looking forward to meeting you at a creative gathering soon!

This Is Brent

This Is Brent Brent Museum and Archives Vicky WilsonI’m really proud to be part of a new publication, This Is Brent. It’s the result of a project at Brent Museum and Archives during which a group of young people were invited to become cultural researchers, gathering information, taking photographs, conducting interviews and generally exploring the borough past and present.

The publication includes the poem ‘In Brent I’m on top of the World’, which I wrote while I was Poet in Residence at Willesden Green Library. Artist Alex McIntyre and I wanted to find ways of animating our exhibition space so we created a writing wall where the public and young people involved in the project could leave comments about their environment using prompts and questions we provided. The poem was formed by rearranging their comments, with sometimes surreal results. It’s called crowd-sourcing, I think!

It’s great to see it combined with the young people’s own discoveries. To see the whole book, click here, then click on the book cover to flick through. You can also find the poem in an easy-to-read version on the page about my collaborations with Alex by clicking here.

Creative Partnerships and the future of collaboration

Brent Museums and Archives Alex McIntyre Vicky WilsonCreative Partnerships was an Arts Council-funded scheme that placed artists in schools to boost pupils’ creativity. The idea was that by working with artists from any discipline, staff and pupils would experience at first hand the risk-taking, lateral thinking, communication skills, collaboration, flexibility and open-mindedness that are key to any creative endeavour – and are also the skills and mindsets needed to succeed in the modern world.

The scheme was axed in 2011 – despite research showing that it significantly raised pupils’ attainment and motivation and boosted staff skills and morale. It was also an economic lifeline for many an artist (including me!).

Personally, I found that working within the programme developed the same values within my own practice as we were trying to instil in the young people, in particular risk-taking and collaboration. Many of the projects I have embarked on since would never have happened without the confidence to ‘have a go’ that I learned through CP and the many creative people I met.

My former colleague, Martin Heaney, has just written about the CP legacy for Arts Professional, using my collaboration with Alex McIntyre at Brent as an example of its impact on artists who worked within the programme.

To read his conclusions, click here.