Friday, 22 November 2013

'Surviving' at Spring Bank

Sally Bavage writes:
Macabre? Not a bit of it
Class teacher Jo Ward and her eager class of Year 5 filed in to a 200-strong packed assembly hall at Spring Bank primary school on Thursday 21st November to read out the poetry they had carefully crafted in workshops led by James Nash, a well-known local writer and poet.  This was LitFest’s second collaboration with the school; year 6 “have not stopped talking about it since last year” and Jo herself “jumped at the chance” to work with James.  “He gets so much out of them, all of them; I don’t know how he does it but he generates huge leaps in confidence and performance.”

Working with a professional poet, supported by mentors Alice and Giulia from the local Older Wiser Local Seniors (OWLS) – who also read out their own poems – the children created some imaginative and powerful writing that quite took your breath away at times.  A clay head of a child, with some scratches on the cheeks and a crack across the skull, formed the stimulus material.  Macabre?  Not a bit of it: the youngsters saw through the cast eyes of the child and explored what that child might see.  From shaking sheets of paper held in nervous hands, they used the microphone with quavering voices.  But not for long!  The shyness vanished very quickly and the poetry they had created soon flowed out in front of teachers, friends, family and visitors.

The LitFest theme for this coming year is ‘Surviving’ and will include, next March, our researches supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund on the Wartime Hospital at Beckett's Park in WW1.  But for today, our young writers were taking a wider look at what surviving could mean.  In worlds where families are fractured, fight, leave, lose lives or hope. But our clay child observed it all and lived on, dreaming of a better future.  Confidence in writing and in creating the voice of an observer outside the self were strongly developed under James’ gentle support.  Only one young man was too shy to read his poetry; his friend volunteered to read it for him.  So we can add teamwork as well. 

“Again, well done to all the children!  They all sounded clear and confident.  I’m XXXX’s father and all I can do is thank you all for helping her improve on her reading and writing, also confidence.”  Parent

“Wonderful poetry by the children.  Really well written and performed.  Lovely and different for them to work on!”  Parent

“I’ve just come to listen to the poems that the children have created and am so impressed by the depth of emotion and expression that James has inspired from the children.”  Teacher

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Silent Night in Headingley...

Photo by Sally Bavage
... which, for the denizens of Headingley, a quiet Friday night would be rare.  However, this was a Silent Night of an altogether different category.  A combination of original music and lyrics, with a script The Narrator performed whilst familiar images of World War 1 played across the screen and in our mind’s eyes too.  The stark images, however, segued into the portrait pictures of the many writers of letters used to create the script and the lyrics.

“I wake from a dream into a dream
Half in heaven, Half in hell.”
Thus the wonderful voice of Julie Lloyd begins to tell us the stories of life away from Blighty from the perspectives of the lonely soldier and lonely partner at home.  With the rest of the group iFive – Charlie Burman, Dave Bowie, Steve Jones and Tony Hall, who created this splendid performance as well as partnering Julie in the songs – The Narrator Les Staves, drafted in for the occasion, unfolded the story bit by bit.

The night before Christmas 1914 had no shelling, no noise; it was indeed silent. Men slept despite the biting cold and the clogging mud.  Then the refrains of ‘Stille Nacht or ‘Silent Night’ came to them from the German trenches and … well, we know about the football game with a tin of bully beef in No Man’s Land, the exchange of small tokens (buttons, cigarettes), the proud display of family photographs, the handshakes, the sharing of drink, the camaraderie of those who had volunteered to fight an enemy and found themselves looking at mirror images.  They even buried their dead together.

The Narrator told us poignantly of letters between lovers, amazement at the turn of events; complemented by a range of songs that echoed the loneliness, longing and loss of the men whose Christmas dinner treat was bacon dip.  It couldn’t last, of course.  Friendship was again transformed by word of command into hate.  But the performance was done with a light touch and never became maudlin or miserable, much more a testament to the humanity of man.

The packed audience at the New Headingley Club sat in their own silence, rapt in a familiar  story written by real people, real words, real emotion.  “A really moving event”, “so very professional” and “thank you so much for this opportunity” were just some of the many words of praise for this premiere performance for LitFest.  It will be performed again; catch it if you can.

Sally Bavage