Tuesday, 21 January 2014

A First Story Visitor

I love being able to show off the First Story students at Oxford Spires Academy, so when Nikki came to visit, I was very excited!

Nikki is the Project Officer at First Story and often liaises with me about events, competitions and general administration. Today, she came to observe our after school class, as the First Story superstars at HQ occasionally like to do.

I took Nikki on a little tour of our school first, showing her the contrast between the old administration block that has historically been part of the school since it was a boys' school back in the 1950s, through to the brand new Rubens Business Centre, which only opened last term. The Library, where we host our First Story classes, is in the old build. It is a large room with high ceilings and a stage, because it used to be the school hall. Now, it's walls are lined with books and there is a large central table where our creative writing club meets.

Continuing to focus on the details in our poetry, Kate had us take a look at a poem called I Come From by Robert Seatter. It explored sights and sounds and tastes, funny family traits and school day memories. We also looked at a beautiful poem of the same name by our very own Azfa, in which she talks about her childhood in Glasgow.

Some of the students immediately responded to the poem, getting excited by the structure and rhythm, so Kate started us writing lists of three. She encouraged us to think about a space from our past - a bedroom or classroom - and to draw out the senses experienced in that room: what could we see; what could we smell; what could we hear? Immediately, the students started to recall memories, thinking about friendships, adventures and stories they'd heard a thousand times.

Poetry can be very personal, but I was proud that the students in our group were confident to read in front of Nikki. Somehow, in just a few minutes of writing, these teenagers had completely engaged with the structure and meaning of I Come From, and they ran with it. The rhythm was natural - Kate barely needed to guide any of them in editing - though some struggled with an appropriate ending. At this point in the year, when students have a good understanding of the expectations and have explored a variety of poetic forms, it is amazing how quickly and independently they can produce beautiful work.

Nikki said she was blown away by how easily the students understood the task, and was impressed by the outstanding writing they all produced so quickly. She was in awe and would like to come every week!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

First Technical Fault

Apologies to Kate for labeling this post with this title, but it had to be said!

We added some musical madness to our First Story class today, with Kate drawing inspiration from Leonard Cohen's Famous Blue Raincoat:

Once we were actually able to play the song, the group discussed the difference between writing lyrics and writing poems, though none of the First Story students present considered themselves lyricists. We looked at the rhyme in particular, which Kate openly abhors usually, but we agreed was acceptable in song lyrics. Why is this?

The song is written in the form of a letter, full of mystery about who is being addressed and who is being spoken to. But within the lines are tiny, unique details, strangely specific in a song so vague. Like the famous blue raincoat of the title, these details leave us asking questions, as demonstrated by numerous online discussions about what Leonard Cohen was trying to say.

Drawing on Cohen's style, we wrote our own letters, focusing on a small number of solid images, like names of streets and people. We were given the opportunity to write about something personal or create a dramatic monologue about a fictional scenario.

I went for the fictional option, and, as I so often find when I initially struggle with a piece of writing, the words soon took over and a story developed. What began as a love letter between a recently separated couple turned into a macabre tale about obsessive love, with a stalker writing to his victim.

Our First Story students, again proving themselves to be pure genius, wrote amazing pieces of prose and poetry, some imagined and some semi-autobiographical. As a whole, our group tend towards the darker side of writing, often exploring love or loss or even hope through cynical eyes. And yet, we have much to celebrate amongst our cohort of young writers, as demonstrated by their ability to get right back into the flow of creativity today.