Writing in nature

By Lucy McIlwraith, Teacher of English

This half term Block 3 have been using their English composition lessons to read and write poetry about nature and the seasons. Naturally, John Keats’ To Autumn proved an inspiration for many with phrases that everyone half knows, even if only from the Mr Kipling advert! We’ve also read Seamus Heaney’s Personal Helicon,in which he muses on the way that nature creates and reflects artistic inspiration and helps us to know ourselves better.

Our local favourite is Edward Thomas, who many Block 3 students know from visits to The Poet’s Stone – a hop, skip, and very steep trek up Shoulder of Mutton Hill. The poems But these things also and The penny whistle evoke the landscape around Bedales and students gained a clearer insight into the subtlety of nature writing from the detailed imagery Thomas uses.

I’ve been really impressed with the poems that the Block 3 students wrote in response. You can read a selection below:

Autumn is the soft dying days when the light fades into mysterious night;
Autumn is the cold seeping into your cheeks making them go a rosy pink;
Autumn is the sharpness of the cold in your lungs and the chilly nip of the crisp air;
Autumn is the cosy afternoons by the fire and the musty November smell;
Autumn is the silence in the sky;
Autumn is the path from summer and the bridge to winter.

Posy

The autumn came that year, too fast, too soon.
The rolling winds whipped in from the west.
And all that was in light, shadow overtook.
The late summer fruits lay rotting in the fields,
As if summer itself had forgotten them.
More harvests failed with every looming day,
As the thunderclouds crowded low, drenching the ground.

Where there should have been leaves, golden and red,
There was the black rot of decay.
Where the autumn grass once would have lain,
Bear rock, earth and mud had overtaken.

— Jake

Standing tall, silent, sturdy,
They loom above you,
The pines are straight and thin,
They have stood for tens, hundreds of years.

Needles drop, crunch underfoot and rot,
Branches fall only to be replaced many years later,
Squirrels hop from tree to tree, escaping from some unknown.

— Xander

Winter is coming
Winter is coming thick and fast
The earth is getting hard and frosty
The sun has hidden behind a cloud
And you may be thinking what is happening
And I tell you Winter is coming
It doesn’t matter what you think
It doesn’t matter what you do
Winter is always coming.
When the leave stand strong
Then Winter is just around the bend.
When the hedgehogs are curled up in their dens
And the rivers are freezing up
The wind blows hard on my face
And I know Winter is coming.

— Jack

The trees shiver naked in the blowing wind,
The cool rush of a fresh breeze,
Leaves scattered across the floor,
With little wellies splashing

The winter bounds stick to the paths
With the mud rushing on
Nowhere is safe from the weather
Not even the warmth.

— Mo

Block 3 experiment with comparative poetry

By Julia Bevan, Teacher of English

My Block 3 students have been practising writing poems using extended metaphors.

In class, we read The Beach by William Hart-Smith, Winter Morning by Roger McGough and In a Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound to inspire us, observing that none of the poems used full rhyme or a particular rhythm; instead, they’re constructed using one long sentence.

Students then worked together in small teams groups, looking at a range of images – a skiing scene, traffic on a motorway, a mountain top and a red London bus – and coming up with a number of metaphors and similes to describe aspects of the picture (mountain tops as “Stegosaurus spines” in the skiing scene, for example).

Next, they were asked to turn their collective notes into a descriptive sentence that uses at least one metaphor, then turn that into a poem.

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English students exercise persuasion skills in homework debate

By Lucy McIlwraith, Teacher of English

This week, my Block 4 English set were given the chance to debate a subject close to the heart of every member of the school community: homework.

Having learnt about persuasive devices and studied speeches from speakers as diverse as Donald Trump and Greta Thunberg this half term, students have made their own speeches to their class on a wide and eye-opening range of topics. Kipp Bryan had researched fast fashion and advised us all to buy more from vintage clothes shops; Theo argued for a ‘back to basics’ approach to paying footballers; Stella Miller gave an illuminating account of what it has been like to be without a smart phone for the last month and how liberating it has been; and Masha Kulakova argued for more languages to be taught to primary school children. Having practised their skills as solo performers, the class moved on to a more tricky way to persuade an audience: team debates.

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Poetry by heart

By Julia Bevan, Teacher of English

On 11 October, Block 3 students were invited to attend and participate in a poetry event in the Dining Hall. Welcomed by members of the English department dressed in sheepskins and cloaks, and surrounded by candles, students and staff stood up to perform a poem they had learnt by heart in front of the roaring fire. Some took on Shakespeare and others invited the audience to join them in a rendition of a nursery rhyme.

Lilibet Viner gave a dramatic performance of Helena’s speech from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Sam Coleman told us what it was like to be a cupcake cooking in the oven; Clara Gardiner-Cox gave a moving rendition of Mary Elizabeth Frye’s Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep; and Miranda Robertson sang a luxurious yet spine-tingling version of Bohemian Rhapsody.

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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.