Julia Copus gives inspiring poetry reading at Bedales

Julia-Copus-with-students

By Thomasina Rowntree, 6.2 and English Don

On Tuesday evening the renowned poet Julia Copus came to Bedales to give a reading of her poems in the Theatre. The evening began with a drinks reception for sixth form students, which gave them the opportunity to ask Julia for creative advice. Julia engaged with all the students, taking note of their individual interests – such as songwriting – to make the experience a very rewarding one.

The reading started with an incredibly moving and poignant performance of her collection of poems, Ghost Lines. Using sound and recorded text to enhance the poems, Julia told the story of her experiences of IVF treatment. It was an emotive experience to hear poetry performed in a way that many of us had never experienced.

Julia’s poem, An Easy Passage, is a text that we study for English Literature A Level. Hearing Julia read the poem gave a very personal insight into the piece, transforming the way I perceived it. We were privileged enough to be given a copy of some of the drafts of the poem, stressing the creative process, rather than the poem as a finished piece.

Hearing Julia read and having the chance to speak to her was a fantastic opportunity for all those who attended. The evening ended with a delicious supper for a few students and teachers. Many thanks to the catering team for such amazing food!

Bedales hosts first Reading Day

Last Friday saw Bedales host its first Reading Day, with students and staff taking part in a range of reading related activities throughout the day, from nature poetry walking tours to exploring different ways to enjoy Shakespeare, listening to Stephen Fry read Harry Potter and independent reading on the Orchard.

Head of English David Anson – who along with Rick Cross (Deputy Head Academic), Al McConville (Director of Learning and Innovation), Emily Seeber (Head of Sciences) and Ian Douglas (Librarian) organised the day – explained that the idea for a ‘Reading Day’ stemmed from a collective, passionate belief in independent learning, as well as the view that reading is the very best way to learn. This is an idea that is backed up by research as well as some of the pedagogical foundations Bedales was set up with.

Activities were designed to give students – regardless of ability or levels of interest – the opportunity to get their teeth into areas of personal interest, with the day structured around independent reading and activities that encouraged or modelled ‘how to read’ – reading or understanding an object or the landscape, for example.

The day went well and there is talk of holding another in the future, possibly one in the winter term and then again in the summer. Thanks to everyone who was involved in the smooth running of the day.

Arvon attendees reunite for writing workshop

By Julia Bevan, Teacher of English

Last Wednesday, 14 students who attended the Arvon Creative Writing course in Shopshire over the Easter holidays attended an afternoon writing workshop. We held the workshop partly so they could collect The Lighthouse (the anthology of their writing from the course), but also to celebrate seeing their work in print and practice writing techniques they learnt on the course.

To get themselves in the writing headspace, they began by carrying out a free writing task to some serious music, which quickly led to much fast scribbling! The students then attempted some ‘Golden Shovels’, a technique devised by the American poet Terrance Hayes in honour of his fellow compatriot Gwendolyn Brooks.

The last words of each line in a Golden Shovel poem are, in order, words from a line or lines taken often from another poem; the original Golden Shovel is The Pool Players / Seven at the Golden Shovel by Brooks. The results of this technique can be quite different in subject, tone and texture from the original poem, depending on the ingenuity and imagination of the poet composing one!

In honour of the incoming Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage – who visited Bedales last September – students chose lines from his poems Poem and I Am Very Bothered, and had a lot of fun sharing the new poems that evolved from his lines. The intention is to keep the writing momentum going with monthly writing reunions next year and include new work in The Poet’s Stone.

Engaging Arvon Creative Writing trip

On 15 April, English teachers Lucy Mcilwraith and Julia Bevan accompanied a group of Bedales students to the Hurst Arvon Centre in Shropshire for a five-day residential creative writing course.

Set in the former home of the late playwright John Osborne and led by tutors Malika Booker and Colin Grant, both of whom are published writers, the course saw the group take part in a series of workshops designed to “ignite a life-long love of creative writing”.

Over the course of the five days, group writing workshops saw students take part in a range of exercises, including keeping haiku diaries as a way of focussing observation skills; free writing as a means of ‘loosening up’ and increasing the flow of ideas; exploring ways of creating images to express emotions; using memoir writing as a way of recording not only facts but also atmospheres; and practising writing dialogue where each new speech had to start with the sequential letter of the alphabet.

In addition to workshops, one-to-one tutorials and readings with guest speakers, the group were given the freedom to develop their own written work and explore the beautiful remote environment.

The independent living experience formed a significant part of the retreat, and students spent time in small groups in the kitchen, preparing the evening meal and washing up – something which promoted rather than stifled creativity.

In an email to parents during the trip, Lucy and Julia wrote: “As we’re in the home of John Osborne, a writer of kitchen sink drama, I think it’s particularly appropriate that the washing up crew indulged in kitchen sink poetry. We tried one word each, then rhyming couplets, then answering each other only in rhyme. For some reason we kept coming back to ‘feet’ and ‘beef’, but it certainly made the washing up go more quickly!”

The students, who will now produce an anthology of their written work from the course, praised the way the course offered them the space to write creatively with minimal distractions.

As many of the students particularly enjoyed the writing exercises in the mornings while on the course, Julia now intends to keep the group going following their return to school, through monthly writing sessions.

Visiting Thomas Hardy’s Wessex

Last Saturday, a group of 6.2 English students visited Dorset to visit some of the key sites in Thomas Hardy’s life, to complement their study of Tess of the d’Urbervilles and some of his poetry. Here are two perspectives from the trip.

By Magnus Bashaarat, Head of Bedales

Thomas Hardy didn’t move far in his life; the distance from his birthplace in Lower Bockhampton to Max Gate, the house he built for himself on the outskirts of Dorchester once he had found success, is less than two miles.

First up was Hardy’s birthplace, a small cottage that has remained largely unchanged from when Hardy lived there with his parents and siblings. We were led there by National Trust volunteer Wendy, who led us through the woodland above the cottage and read to us some of the poems Hardy wrote inspired by the landscape.

The most ambitious part of the trip followed with our group walking through steady Dorset drizzle, following the River Frome across which Angel Clare had carried Tess in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, to Stinsford Church, where Hardy’s heart is buried in the family tomb.

Further walking across boggy flood meadow took us to Max Gate, and a meeting with Andrew Leah, Vice President of the Thomas Hardy Society, who lived at Max Gate for 17 years before the National Trust opened it as a visitor attraction.

Andrew gave us a tour of each room and described movingly the creeping melancholy that coloured most of Hardy’s married life at Max Gate, followed by the guilt that consumed him after his wife’s death. We sat in the study room in which Hardy wrote Tess, and then moved next door to the room he took over when he turned his back on writing prose and wrote only poetry until his death.

By Thea Sesti, 6.2

By walking from one of Hardy’s homes to the other, we explored the landscape and the place Hardy was so tied to and served as a backdrop for so many of his works.

We were at times accompanied by a National Trust guide who read out some of Hardy’s poetry in the Dorset woodland, which clearly evidenced the sensibility and attachment to nature he had from a young age and emerged so prominently in some of his later novels, like Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

Having studied the text as part of A Level English, we were able to draw comparisons between the then appropriately damp and evocative scenery we came across walking and that in the book, making us understand all the more the area’s impact on Hardy’s life as an author.

We were thus able to retrace his life’s journey as he moved from his family cottage to Max Gate, the house he built for himself and moved into with the first of two wives, following the rise of his wealth and fame.