Q: If water was a goddess, how would she move?
A: She would leap about and dance.
Q: If water was a child, what would it wear?
A: It wears bubbles and little fishes. Or it goes completely naked - it is wearing the air.
These are some of the things I learnt from the children of Kidgate Primary School in Louth in Lincolnshire. I was there for a day of workshops on themes drawn from the history of Louth's springs and streams, now hidden underground like a well-kept secret. But we teased out the song of that water in our first class poem which played with wonderful water words like 'gurgling', 'sloshing', trickle', 'dribble' and 'splash'. And that delightful closing couplet:
'It dances and prances, making us stare;
with no clothes on, it's wearing the air.'
Our second session took this class of 28 children - seven to nine year olds - out into the green space of the nearby Gatherums. Here Lucy Lumb from the Gatherums & Springside Regeneration Project related more of Louth's history to the children. The GSRP is a dedicated group of local volunteers and community workers who have transformed a rather muddy and semi-derelict area into a park with flowers, vegetable beds and paved play areas. As we walked down the ancient footpath of the Gatherums, past the site of the town's original sacred spring, the kids played out stories of John Jeffries, the town's Water-Carrier with his trusty horse. They revived the ritual of the Rag Tree, tying imaginary rags to wipe away sickness. And on the spot where the slum children of Gatherums once played by an open stream, they listened for the sound of water 'from a 100 years ago.' Never has a man-hole caused so much excitement as we all queued to kneel and hear the spring 'dripping and trickling ... like it was wriggling under the ground'. The wholehearted engagement of these open-air poets blew me away as each child wrote their own line for a place-poem alive with the sounds of the past and present:
'Walking around, children playing beside;
walking around a beautiful place
walking along the invisible water
green and alive, we are thinking back.'
Remembrance continued to thread the day's themes as our afternoon session focused on their own memories of a childhood in Louth or elsewhere. Each small group delivered a verse with a rhyme about their shared stories. They were generous with each other and creative with their rhymes: 'sledging in winter - don't get a splinter!' Then in a magical moment, Mrs Rhodes put her hand up and the hubbub fell silent for a final read-around. Later I edited this collective poem into a 'Memory Quilt' patched with squares from each table:
'From Lincolnshire, Louth
or Fermanagh lanes
Japan and all over
childhood's the same.'
At this tender age their powers of memory are impressive. Asked what they'd learnt through the day, without notes they recalled the Great Flood of 1920, the 50 houses that once bordered the stream, the Wool Walkers of Queen Street and much more. Pleasingly, they also learnt that 'you can make a poem from anything', that 'some are funny' and 'poems don't have to rhyme'. Collectively, they penned three lively, poignant, thoughtful poems, which may yet feature in the on-going celebrations of the Gatherums & Springside Project.
For myself, I learnt a huge amount and like the children 'wish we could do this again!' I want to thank the GSRP for the invitation and Writing East Midlands for facilitating this visit. My thanks go especially to Lucy for being our guide and my right-hand with the marker pen while the children were brainstorming lines thick and fast. Also to Mrs Rhodes and Mrs Philips who welcomed into this beautifully run school and fetched us restorative cups of tea. Above all the day at Kidgate reminded me what a pleasure it is to work with this age-group, 'playing acting and making poems all day.'
Teacher: 'A great day. I really liked the linking of history and poetry writing ... your given lines were a good starting point for the children'.
Project Organiser: 'It was wonderful to see the children in the Gatherums, talking about the history they had learnt ... their use of language was excellent, they understood what was expected and responded enthusiastically.'
Children: 'I found this lesson well today because I loved the poet writing the history and the little trip!!! It was great fun. I would like to do this again.'
'My favourite part of the day was listening to the manhole water and writing poems about Springside.'
'I enjoyed doing the acting in my group when we got hold of each other pretending they were horses.'
'I liked listening to the drain. Also I learned that Springside has a whole history!'
'We worked well together. I have enjoyed finding the two lines and acting like the people did in the olden days.'
'I wrote my first poem and it was fun
and at lunch I had a bun.'
Writing is a journey, both imaginary and physical. My first book took me to the Arctic to 'catch the colours' of the Northern Lights. Then I hunkered down to catch the wind-blown voices of polar explorers on Shackleton's 1914-17 Endurance expedition. More recently I'm obsessed by space: the race, the rockets, the final frontier.
Hear a BBC Radio Leicester interview about my space poetry at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03wfpyp
Explore my digital narrrative PHILAE'S BOOK OF HOURS, published by the European Space Agency, at:
My prose-poetry collections FIREBRIDGE TO SKYSHORE
and MAD, HOPELESS & POSSIBLE are both published by Original Plus Press at:
Contact me for signed copies or bookings at:
- Leicester, East Midlands
- As a storyteller, my work crosses boundaries of myth, science, history and spoken word. It has been presented in the British Science Museum, Ledbury Poetry Festival, National Space Centre and the European Space Agency website. In 2014 I ran a digital residency on WW1 for 14-18NOW and Writing East Midlands. I teach Creative Writing at De Montfort University and have experience of leading school events, workshop tuition and mentoring.