Category Archives: Schools

Miłosz 2011


30 June 2011 was the centenary of the birth of Czesław Miłosz. He’s a poet I’ve begun to read just in the past year, after the Krakow visit. I returned with a copy of his New & Collected Poems, bought on the last morning of the trip with the spare zlotys, and begun on the bus out to the airport.

Thumbing its pages, I made a couple of immediate connections: his appreciation of the Japanese haiku masters – Issa, rather than Basho, perhaps simply because he liked the coincidental link with the Issa Valley in his native Lithuania – and his ‘Notes’, a series of single sentences each under a short heading (‘The Perfect Republic’, ‘Epitaph’, ‘Mountains’), which are reminiscent of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s one-word-poems and monostichs, and Günter Eich’s (even briefer) ’17 Formeln’. Neither ‘Reading the Japanese Poet Issa (1762-1826)’ nor ‘Notes’ are entirely typical of his work, but they were useful landmarks I could start to navigate by.

I read him over the winter (in English, having no Polish). I read him aloud while sitting for my portrait, when Angus and I enjoyed enjoyed the discursive prose of ‘La Belle Epoque’, especially its closing section, ‘The Titanic’. When I proposed running sessions on his work for secondary schools, it became one of those rare and serendipitous projects everyone says ‘yes’ to.

In the summer term I visited schools in Edinburgh, East Lothian, Fife, Highland and South Lanarkshire, and will visit several more schools over the coming weeks. The poem I’ve come to focus on most is ‘The Dining Room’ (‘Jadalnia’) from the sequence ‘The World’ (‘Świat’), a seemingly straightforward description of an interior whose place and date of composition – Warsaw 1943 – soon open up deeper, darker layers of resonance.

The Scottish Poetry Library has produced a Miłosz 2011 poster, featuring the poem ‘Song on the End of the World’ (‘Piosenka o Końcu Świata’) in English and Polish, along with background information, weblinks, and a couple of photos of the poet in later life, craggy and bushy-eyebrowed.

There is also a series of Polish Poems on the Underground at the moment, including Miłosz’s ‘And Yet the Books’ and ‘Blacksmith Shop’, as well as poems by Zbiginiew Herbert, Wisława Symborska and Adam Zagajeweski.
I’m also running an event on Saturday 10 September at Macdonald Road Library, Edinburgh, for the Polish book group Zielony Balonik, focussing on Miłosz’s poems.

Mortlach Storywalks

P2 looking towards Dufftown from Meg's Widd

P7 returning from The Giant's Chair

Earlier this year I worked at Mortlach Primary School in Dufftown, mainly with the P2, P4 and P7 classes. We walked – in snow and sunshine – some of the paths around the town, which the kids had already explored with Wild things!, and I got them to write about their impressions of the ground we’d covered. I collated, edited and wrote up their material as stories, which have just been published as three leaflets, designed by Glasgow-based artist Janie Nicoll. P2 collectively describe Meg’s Widd, P4 become Jimbo, a local boy showing visitors round The Toon’s Widd, while P7 encounter a shape-shifter who opens up the history and ecology of The Giant’s Chair. The leaflets are available from Dufftown Tourist Information Centre, and other venues in the town.

The project was co-ordinated by Mary Bourne, sculptor, and a member of the School Council. Her carved stones using poems by children from all classes have been placed along the three walks.

the river meanders beneath the spider spinning its fragile web while the buzzard drifts overhead as the river…

sLender whIte Noisy watErfall, tumbliNg And imPatient, Rushes tOwards dullaN (LINEN APRON)

rocks under water shaded by trees the heron nests in and flies down to stand on rocks…

Works made by P1, P3 and P5 with Janie Nicoll have been installed in Dufftown’s Cottage Hospital, Tourist Information Centre and at the local library. Additional works are in the school itself.

The P6 class prepared an orienteering route around Meg’s Widd, making a map and contributing words for the stones which serve as control points.

The nursery children worked with Vivien Hendry and Mary Bourne, making peg-fairies which they took to Meg’s Widd. I ‘interviewed’ them about their fairies’ skills and adventures, and Vivien has made a limited-edition book, The Magic of Meg’s Widd.

The Magic of Meg's Widd (photo: Mary Bourne)

Mortlach Story Walks is a partnership project between Mortlach Primary School, Dufftown, Moray and the Speyside Paths Network Group to produce arts-based interpretation for the countryside around Dufftown. It is initiated and supported by the school’s Parent Council.

Hidden in Hilton

The Wildwood

Back in April I ran workshops with Year 5/6 pupils at Hilton Primary School in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, as part of a project by Alec Finlay about habitat and outdoor learning. The focus was on exploring and redeveloping an overgrown garden known as ‘the wildwood’.
cHerry rIpening, pLum bursTing, Oak flamiNg

hawtHorn growIng, appLe fruiTing, cOtoneaster twistiNg

Poet-botanist Colin Will spoke to the children about what was growing there. The visit with Colin gave them a lot of stimuli, and they made notes as they went round. What helped them differentiate the plants was a memorable detail – the ash’s ‘black fingernails’, making it a ‘goth tree’, for example.
tHe fruIting pLum, The lOnely rowaN

sHaking wIllow, fLowering blackThorn, smOoth rowaN

I showed the kids different ways to write about the plants they’d discovered and observed. The mesostic poems have a central stem-word, while embedded poems have a word hidden within it, like a cryptic crossword clue. The two below include tree names.
A shivering twig and a shiny key (3)

Servant to a king (3)

The poems have now been installed in the garden, as labels, bird-boxes and on barrel-seats.

Lewis horizons

Stornoway

Stornoway harbour

Last month I spent ten days on Lewis and Harris, running schools workshops around the Artist Rooms exhibition Ian Hamilton Finlay: Sailing Dinghy at An Lanntair in Stornoway. The centrepiece of the show was a real dinghy given to Finlay, but it was too big for the lochans at Little Sparta. So it was never sailed, and it’s also unamed.
Jon Macleod

I worked alongside artist Jon Macleod, and as well as working in the gallery, we were able to take some groups out to the beach. Most of the pupils we worked with were familiar with boats, having sailed themselves or, if not, seeing the array of boats in Stornoway harbour or at other moorings around the island.
Bon voyage / child of the sea

The Gliding Water

Horizon poem

At the beach we said sad farewells to a dead dolphin beached after a high tide, named and drew boats, and wrote ‘horizon poems’ – the line in the middle is the horizon, and above it you write a few words describing what you see above the horizon; and below the line, what you see below.
Adam's lost poem

Sometimes the waves got the better of us. When I asked Adam what he written, he cried ‘I can’t remember!’ So he got on with writing a new poem.
Ian Stephen on El Vigo

Wake

While there I met writer and sailor Ian Stephen, and one afternoon he took me out on El Vigo across a sunny and becalmed Stornoway Bay.
Carloway broch

Signpost on Harris

I also managed a couple of stations for The Road North, Dun Carloway on the west coast of Lewis, and Rhenigidale on Harris; the blogs about these will appear soon on the website.