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.

Catching Words with Discover

20131209_152933I’m very sad to have finished another term with three schools as part of the Catching Words project run by Discover Children’s Story Centre. This time I was working alongside a fantastic team of poets including Joseph Coelho, Adisa, Paul Lyalls and Joshua Seigal.

The project is for Year 2. In the first term each class has eight session with a poet, followed by eight with a storyteller in term two and a further eight sessions with a storywriter who helps them create a class story that is published as a book. The project has been incredibly successful, with children progressing far faster than expected. Most of the classes contain a high percentage of EAL children as well as children who struggle with literacy and it is wonderful to see them grow in confidence and ability to express themselves.

Altogether we worked in ten schools in East London as well as a similar number in Hertfordshire who got a single whole-day session rather than the full project.

My favourite session involved asking the children to draw and write about imaginary animals or monsters based on Edward Lear’s ‘The Quangle Wangle’s Hat’. The teacher said she had never seen the children so spellbound!

Songs and poems with Nine Below Zero

ghostThis was a wonderful project organised by Future Creative in Minterne Community Junior School in Sittingbourne.

Musician Dennis Greaves of blues band Nine Below Zero and I worked in all twelve classes – I went in first and encouraged the children to write poems on the themes of memory and identity and then Dennis followed and helped them transform the poems into lyrics and set them to music.

At the end we produced a book of poems and illustrations and a CD of the songs, called There’s a Ghost Under My Bed.

VickyDennis2013 023It was really interesting for both Dennis and I to observe each other’s creative process and to think about the difference between what makes a good poem and what makes a good song. The most successful poems for me were with a Year 4 class where we did cut up poetry – I gave the children an A4 page of words to do with the sea and they rearranged them as they wished.

Here is an example:

Calm clouds disappear
Shimmering waves whisper
Rippling pools roll
We walk on the golden sand
Violent cliffs towering up
We plunge into the deep
I shout to the dark
Rocks, sharp and solid
Alone under the pebbles crabs scuttle
Shimmering moon sings
Droplets surf among the tide
Sunrise, sunset over rain

Dennis and I were reunited for the retirement of headmaster Bill McGrory when Nine Below Zero performed and I read a poem I had written sourced from comments and memories by of pupils and staff. Here it is:

million dollar bill

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…

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.

Karaoke poetry performance in Unexplored Territory

Chapel-Unexplored Territory–PosterAnother opportunity to hear my Karaoke Poetry as well as other readings from Unexplored Territory, edited by Maria C. McCarthy and published by Kent publisher Cultured Llama.

The book is anthology of poetry and fiction that includes such fabulous writers as June English, Maggie Harris, Mark Holihan, Luigi Marchini, Gillian Moyes, Bethany W. Pope and Fiona Sinclair among others.

The latest celebration of a wonderful publication is at The Chapel, 44/46 Albion Street, Broadstairs CT10 1LX, Saturday 16 March, 2pm to 4pm.

Readers from the book will be joined by musicians Bob Carling and Sienna Holihan. I’ll be there too, with my karaoke backing tracks, to read the first three poems in the Karaoke Poetry series.

All welcome, so please join us. Or if you can’t come along, the book is available from the Cultured Llama website.

Catching Words with Discover

tim mitchell discover catching wordsI am really proud to be part of a team delivering Catching Words, a literacy intervention project for Year 2 pupils in East London and Hertfordshire run by the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford. The project involves a writer and storybuilder delivering eight weekly sessions a term across seven schools with the aim of improving children’s confidence and switching them on to writing. First term is poetry, for which Joe Coelho and I are sharing the schools between us. Second term is story writing with Malika Booker and Paul McVeigh, then in the third term the children write a group story which is published as a book with Vicky Martin and Zoey Cooper.

Most of the work is oral, consisting of sharing good poems and using various strategies to encourage the children to write their own. So far I have done one session in each of my three schools and the children are filling up their writing journals fast!

The photograph by Tim Mitchell is of one of Vicky Martin’s Term 3  sessions where children are encouraged to act out scenes and develop characters through shadow-puppet techniques. The training day, where Joe, Malika and Vicky shared the innovative strategies that had worked best in previous year, was awesome. It seems I am on as much of a creative learning journey as the children.

Unexplored Territory with Cultured Llama

Karaoke Poetry is about to be published for the first time! The first three poems are now available for public consumption in Unexplored Territory, edited by Maria C. McCarthy and published by Kent publisher Cultured Llama.

The book is anthology of poetry and fiction that includes such fabulous writers as June English, Maggie Harris, Mark Holihan, Luigi Marchini, Gillian Moyes, Bethany W. Pope and Fiona Sinclair among others.

The launch event is at the Beaney, 18 High Street, Canterbury CT1 2RA, Thursday 15 November, 6pm to 7.45pm.

All welcome, so please join us. Or if you can’t come along, the book is available from Amazon.

Launch of We come from… with Dean Atta

Dean Atta and Vicky WIlson We come from...We had a really great launch event for We come from… Write from the Heart 3 (edited by Dean Atta and Vicky Wilson) at Beaumont School in St Albans on 9 July.

The book contains some 60 poems by secondary school students who have English as an additional language and is now available to buy on Amazon. For more about the project, click here.

About fifteen of the young contributors read their poems and Dean  performed two of his own that are in the book.

Thanks to everyone who worked on the project – it has been a wonderful experience and a real cause for celebration.

Carole Connelly of the Herts BME Achievement Team and Suzanne Rider of Hertfordshire Music Service are hoping to get funding for future similar projects – watch this space!

Performance of Karaoke Poetry with Maggie Harris and David Woolley

old look out gallery broadstairs maggie harrisI’m very excited to be trying out some of my new Karaoke Poetry series on Saturday 30 June at a reading hosted by the wonderful Maggie Harris. Also appearing is David Woolley, editor of the Bob Dylan 70th birthday tribute book of poetry, The Captain’s Tower. It seems particularly appropriate to be kicking off with ‘Like a rolling stone’, and even more so as Bob himself is appearing live at the Hop Farm later on the same evening.

I’ve bought a karaoke mike for the occasion, as well as downloading some karaoke backing tracks to introduce each poem. I’m not sure yet how or if it’s going to work, but I’m practising!

The reading is at The Old Lookout Gallery, Broadstairs Pier, at 6.30pm, and is the culmination of a week-long residency and exhibition by Maggie. Reading alongside Maggie Harris, David Woolley and myself are Mark Holihan and Write Women Poets.

Do come along if you can, and feel free to leave your comments!

The Old Lookout Gallery, Broadstairs Pier, Saturday 30 June, 6.30pm.

We come from… with Dean Atta

We come from edited Dean Atta and Vicky Wilson World Arts PlatformI was thrilled to receive the first copy of We come from... this morning. The book is a collection of poetry written by students from three Hertfordshire secondary schools in response to a series of workshops delivered by the wonderful performance poet Dean Atta. All the students have English as an additional language.

Dean and I organised the project together, chose which of the students’ poems we wanted to include, then I edited them and Categorical Books did the book’s design and production. The book looks great, and the poems within it are moving, funny, original and well worth reading.

The poems tackle three key themes – ‘We come from…’, ‘We care for…’ and ‘We stand for…’ – and are published alongside some of Dean’s inspirational writing on the same topics. In ‘We come from…’ the students evoke the key experiences that have shaped them (‘crime classics and Russian literature’, ‘beautiful Ząbkowice Śląskie and dull, noisy Hatfield’); in ‘We care for…’ they investigate their feelings for members of their families; in ‘We stand for…’ they describe the kind of society they wish to be part of.

The student comments we got from the evaluation forms testify to the project’s success: ‘Even with difficulties you can achieve whatever you want…’; ‘I can be confident in front of everyone…’; ‘I’m better at writing poems and more encouraged to read…’; ‘No matter where we come from, we can work together.’

I’m really looking forward to the launch at Beaumont School in St Albans on 9 July. And, of course, you can buy the book on Amazon or from bookshops: We come from… Write from the Heart 3, edited by Dean Atta and Vicky Wilson.

The project was supported by Hertfordshire BME Achievement Team, Hertfordshire Music Service and World Arts Platform. Many thanks and congratulations to everyone involved.

New writing: karaoke poetry

microphone karaokeUnder-employment has its upsides, and one of them for me has been the headspace and time to embark on some focused solo writing rather than responses to commissions, collaborations, workshops and other projects, wonderful though these have been.

The project is Karaoke Poetry, a sequence of poems based on memories linked to specific songs. So far I have used a different form for each poem… something about playing off popular and high culture, perhaps? So far there are three: a villanelle for Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, a pantoum for Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine on you Crazy Diamond’ and a sonnet for Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I will survive’. Here is the first in the series:

space line

Like a rolling stone

How does it feel to be on your own?
The question floats above my right shoulder, midnight on Willesden High Road
and I’m hurrying home, hoping to shake off this complete unknown,

past the restaurant where I queue for take-away Masala Dosas,
past the deli where chatting women load up with baklava and okra,
How does it feel, how does it feel, to be on your own?

Footsteps slap the pavement behind me, voice is Irish but I know the line,
glance, nod, Dylan?, then suddenly he’s hunched in front of my gas fire,
holed socks planted on the patterned carpet, a mystery, a complete unknown,

smoking my cigarettes, drinking my wine, telling me how his family
couldn’t fit round the dinner table, laughter, talk and more talk… and me?
How does it feel to be on your own

night after night watching the mice play on the record deck,
smoking your cigarettes, drinking your wine, stuck
in this room you now call home, a street where you’re a complete unknown?

And me… I’m silenced by fear of the contagion of isolation,
of making the wrong moves, of not making it in this cold town,
of giving up and crawling home, of staying forever a complete unknown,
of never escaping how it feels, how it feels, to be on your own.

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.

Touch Wood for The Conservation Volunteers

touch wood edited by Vicky WilsonCopies of Touch Wood: children’s poetry from the Kent Heritage Trees Project have arrived!

The project began with a series of workshops to support The Conservations Volunteers’ project to map and preserve Kent’s old, large or interesting trees at Reculver CE Primary School, Whitstable Junior School and Great Chart Primary school. The idea was to stimulate the children to write poems that explored the myths associated with trees and woodland and raise awareness of their importance. This was combined with an open call for submissions that went out to Kent primary schools and visitors to The Conservation Volunteers’ Singleton Environment Centre. It was then a question of selecting which poems to include in the book.

The poems and illustrations produced by the children showed a high level of craft, imagination and observation, as well as a commitment to preserving our woodlands. No matter what kind of exercises or source material I use with children I find myself constantly surprised by the sophistication and invention of the work they produce.

You can buy Touch Wood from Amazon.