Saturday, 3 May 2014
Poets' Retreat at Ammerdown 2014
About a year ago, after having had a poem accepted for publication in Roger Stevens' children's anthology Off By Heart, I was invited to participate in a week long children's poets' retreat at Ammerdown, near Bath, with several eminent practitioners of the art. I have just returned from the retreat, and had a great time.
I was immediately struck by the warmth of the other participants, especially given that I was by some decades the youngest (as I'm sure they won't mind me acknowledging), and that I was one of only a few people to have recently joined what I subsequently discovered to be a well-established group who meet up regularly. I was also struck by the poetic diversity among the group. The life of an itinerant poet/educator can be a fairly solitary one, and it is all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking there is a certain way in which children's poetry should be done. The retreat was extremely helpful in exposing me to a variety of practices, ideologies and techniques, and enabling me to appreciate that, as well as the full-on, highly energetic performances I tend to give in schools, children's poetry can be written and performed in a more quiet, reflective way.
We ran workshops for each other in the mornings, which were very useful in furnishing me with new ideas for the classroom. Especially revolutionary, to my mind at least, was Sally Crabtree's food poetry (literally poems written on food), which really opened my mind to the sheer number of wacky possibilities when it comes to playing with words, which is I think essentially what poetry amounts to. Evenings consisted of reading poems, singing songs and generally being a little bit silly. The age gap was rendered totally irrelevant by the fact that I shared a sense of humour with my fellow retreaters. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I felt more at home among this group of children's poets than I have ever felt among younger 'Spoken Word' artists.
The retreat, however, was permeated by a degree of sadness due to the passing away of Gerard Benson, a poet whom many other members of the group knew very well. I sadly never got the chance to meet him, but by all accounts he was an inspirational man.
We closed with some discussions as to how to take the group forward. I suppose it all remains a little 'hush hush' at this stage, but I look forward to continuing to be a part of an inspirational group of children's poets.
(from left): some weirdo, Sally Crabtree, Cheryl Moskowitz, Andrea Shavick, Jane Clarke, Michaela Morgan, Roger Stevens, Liz Brownlee, Jan Dean, Philip Waddell, Celia Warren, Trevor Parsons, Sue Hardy-Dawson