Halifax schoolchildren display their talent at PoetryQuest

PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 August 2017

Dame Penelope with young poets Iqra Mahmood and Azaria Khan

Dame Penelope with young poets Iqra Mahmood and Azaria Khan

Joan Russell Photography

They are all poets even if, perhaps, they didn’t know it, as stars of stage and screen discover

Young poet Mustafa Ali reads his workYoung poet Mustafa Ali reads his work

Actors Dame Penelope Wilton and George Costigan were on hand to help Halifax schoolchildren get to grips with the sometimes baffling ways of poetry. They worked with the young would-be poets from Beech Hill School, St Mary’s Catholic Primary School and Moorside Community Primary School at Square Chapel Arts Centre, Halifax.

They read poems written by the children as part of PoetryQuest, a literacy project which pairs arts venues with schools, developed by education charity Children & the Arts. The aim is to work with schools where there has been little provision or opportunity to experience and write poetry.

Dame Penelope, an ambassador for Children & the Arts, talked about her love of poetry and read alongside the children. George Costigan, patron of Square Chapel Arts Centre, chaired a question and answer session with the children.

Normally, Children & the Arts work with PoetryQuest venues over just one year but the partnership with Square Chapel Arts Centre has been so successful that they have now collaborated over three consecutive years supporting 438 Year 5 and 6 children from seven local primary schools.

Bushraa Parveen reads her workBushraa Parveen reads her work

A programme of workshops in the schools explored different kinds of poems, including haiku, kennings, found poetry and sonnets, with the children writing their own poems using these styles. The children were encouraged to read their poems aloud to each other and gave public performances of their work before an audience of teachers, parents and friends.

The schools have worked with local poets Winston Plowes and Keith Hutson, throughout the three years. Both are now poets-in-residence delivering regular workshops and mentoring the children. ‘I am always surprised what the classroom offers on a project like this,’ said Winston. ‘Just when you think you might have heard everything, a Year 5 pupil stands up and the words “Love is like a million marshmallows, floating down like parachutes” appears.’

‘PoetryQuest is a bonding and friendship experience for the children: they learn to support each other, to listen – like an audience – to each other’s performances and to applaud each other,’ said Keith. ‘These things build a sense of togetherness – this is as important as the poetry and performances,’ he added.

This final year of PoetryQuest saw 170 Year 5 and 6 children from Beech Hill School, St Mary’s Catholic Primary School and Moorside Community Primary School write their own compositions and perform them last April at Square Chapel Arts Centre with poems about speed, chocolate, teachers and animals.

Jeremy Newton, chief executive, Children & the Arts said the project had helped to improve the opportunities for children in Calderdale. ‘PoetryQuest opens children’s eyes to the inspirational world of performance poetry and spoken word and by empowering children to write and perform their own poetry. It builds literacy, communication skills, self-esteem and confidence,’ he added.

PoetryQuest in Halifax has been supported by international businessman Jonathan Moulds who is originally from the town.

In their own words

From Moorside Community School, Year 6

I Really Don’t Know Why (by Gabrielle)

The stars twinkle in the sky

and I really don’t know why.

The moon is way up high

and I really don’t know why.

The clouds loudly cry

and I really don’t know why.

The sun shines bright

makes everything dry

and I really don’t know why.

Do you know why the stars twinkle in the sky?

I really don’t know why.

I Am the Moon (by Catlin)

I am the moon that walks on the man

I am the bug that killed the man

I am the balloon that pops the human

I am the house that demolished the bulldozer

I am the bed that lays on the man

I am the couch that sits on the child

I am the water that makes the tap

I am the water that sails the boat

I am the coat that wears the man

I am the toast on the butter

I am the cake on the icing

I am the plane that flies the pilot

I am the food that eats the human

I am the carriage that pulls the horse

I am the dog that walks the man

I am the sound that listens to the ear

St Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Year 5

Winter Weather (by Dharani and Muniba)

On Monday icy rain poured down,

It flooded streets all over town.

Tuesday’s storms bashed elm and ash,

trees fell down with a crash.

On Wednesday it was foggier than ever,

has it been like this ever? Never.

Thursday’s thunder was a big bang,

it even made some strange clangs.

On Friday frost bit my ears,

it was cold enough to freeze my tears.

On Saturday it was so cold,

that all the scarves got sold.

On Sunday there was a bit of a gale,

it made everyone go slightly pale.

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