Spreading cheer at annual Block 3 Fireside Night

By Lucy McIlwraith, Teacher of English

As the nights draw in and we all remember the reason for the winter festivals that feature lots of fire and warmth, it’s time for the English department to spread some cheer, as we did at the Block 3 Fireside Night last Friday. This is an evening event, at which students and staff are invited to perform memorised poetry, stories and songs in the great hall of the Bedales Dining Room, lit only by fire from the enormous fireplace and a few candles. As it is difficult to photograph an event held in near total darkness, it must retain its mystery, but here is what it’s all about…

The students had been asked to think about life without phones, TVs and electricity, and what homegrown entertainment would look like without those things. Before the Fireside Night, Bedales English teachers had shared their own feelings about performance and how nerve-wracking it generally is. I had also been to the Block 3 assembly to reassure students that no one would be looking for perfection in this kind of performance, and remind them that we all need to forget what we see on our screens everyday, as it is not a fair representation of a live performance.

So, with the fire crackling and candles twinkling, students arrived at a dark hall last Friday to recreate the kind of entertainment enjoyed by our ancestors. Julia started the evening with a haunting rendition of Where the Boats Go by Robert Lewis Stevenson  and then introduced her students: Ivan reciting a Robert Frost poem called Nothing Gold Can Stay and Grace with Babysitting by Gillian Clarke.

The bravery of these first performances was a wonderful catalyst for the others. Later on – having decided they were brave enough –  others from Julia’s class also performed: Freya, with Anne Hathaway by Carol Ann Duffy and Lotty, who chose a powerful poem about Greta Thumberg. Our special guest, Clive, spoke the words of an ’80s rock ballad, making them far more profound in the process, and was, of course, cheered to the rafters.

Mary-Liz’s stand-out performances were from Caspar with Do Not Go Gentle by Dylan Thomas, which was impressive in its sophistication, and Seb, who confidently gave us two contrasting poems – one about death and a comic piece written by himself. As head of department, David might be expected to give the most impressive performance of all but, with terrible irony, his carefully rehearsed speech from Hamlet (in which the title character muses on the excellence of human-kind) flew out of his head. Thankfully, his students made up for his memory loss with faultless performances including raucous group singing from Bay, Leo and Kit.

Louise’s rendition of The Raven was followed by some keen performances from her class. Eliza performed Leisure by WH Davis, fully exploring the poignancy of the poem through her interpretation; Sienna gave a powerful version of one of her favourite poems, A Day by Emily Dickenson with confidence and poise; Hendrix lifted our spirits with his confident performance of the amusing poem, The Little Turtle by Vachel Lindsay and Alex approached the task with his signature confidence and performed his poem to great applause.

My own class was represented by Shoshana and Xander, both performing classics of the nonsense genre, The Jabberwocky and The Jumblies which provided welcome relief, I’m sure, after my own version of Jolene, a song I might not have performed quite as well as Dolly Parton herself, though not for want of practice. Jen’s classes were last with honourable mention going in particular to Oscar and his hilarious performance of My New Pet and Roan’s stirring and dramatic version of Dulce et Decorum est.

The evening was rounded off with a soulful Let it Be from Zeb, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar which gave us all a wonderful atmosphere to go out on.

Please do take the opportunity to ask students about their experience of the Fireside Night – they were an amazing and appreciative audience and deserve praise for this as well as their bravery in performing.

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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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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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.