Monday, March 16, 2015

Species books and the silence of the crab

A selection of the 230 species books
created at Seaford Head school
It's amazing how much discussion eight words can generate: "…a crow, a black rainbow/ Bent in emptiness…" from Ted Hughes' poem, Two Legends.

Looking through his Selected Poems when I was planning three days of workshops at Seaford Head school (in Seaford, unsurprisingly), I was reminded at almost each turn of the page of his inventiveness, of the way he generated metaphor to show the natural world as it truly is.

As well as piling metaphor upon metaphor to give some animals mythical qualities, his observations are so acute that even children who probably barely know his work and certainly are not regular readers of poetry, can pick up on the many layered meanings.

Every group I read the crow quote to identified the bleakness behind that image, the sense of desperation it encompasses and its arc of grief.

Then there's his metaphor to describe birth in New Foal: 'a warm heap/ of ashes and embers.' I'd read this as a metaphor about colour and the bonelessness of new life. One child identified the red in the image as blood, another the grey as the birth sac. Another mentioned the phoenix, rebirth, life. Another the colour of its coat and saw the heat coming off it as it lay on the ground.

It's the hardest thing, creating metaphors, and difficult for children to come to in less than an hour, rushing between lessons in a busy school day. Hardest of all is convincing them that they need silence to concentrate, to focus on drawing what they need from their own imaginations, without collaborating, without asking if it's okay to write this or that, without getting a fit of the giggles, and that silence is not a punishment, that struggling to find the right word or picture is not synonymous with boredom or failure.

But on Thursday, Friday and today, the children in year seven at Seaford Head school did that, despite one or two difficult moments.

The idea of these workshops was to start off their species books. Around 230 of them have listened and then wrestled with the task of writing their own similes and metaphors based on the picture of the species I gave them. The species ranged from the mullein moth to the otter, from the bee orchid to the starfish, from lichen to the adonis blue.

I have heard some incredible metaphors from many pupils and those images are now, hopefully, gathering force in the notebooks ready to be worked on again. I sneaked a look at a few before I left and this is what I saw: the mallard is 'a dark green secret', the garden snail 'is a recycler of plant life, a tank track powering over a leafy landscape', the mullein moth is 'a long, burnt fingernail', the robin is 'a feathered dancer' and finally….'the silence of the crab hums the ocean.'

Head of Creative Arts, Dave Faulkner and I flicked through the notebooks reading lines to each other. He's decided to add a prize for the best notebook to the one for the best poem. The librarian was inspired yesterday to go home and write a poem. Amber, the classroom assistant who helped out at each session is going to write a poem for her sister's wedding.

Local photographers and wildlife enthusiasts Bob Eade and Colin Pritchard supplied most of the images and Maeve Jenkinson, musician and organiser of the project Seaford In Harmony, made sure they arrived at the school in the right format and size.