Marion Clarke, Poetry Facilitator, on Grange Primary School’s journey to success at the Ulster Hall

Given its location in the foothills of the Mournes, on the shores of Carlingford Lough, it’s not surprising that the pupils of Grange Primary School recently won an award for their poetry. However, such an achievement takes more than an idyllic location. It requires keen observation, an enthusiasm to learn and a lot of hard work. This is the story of how participation in Community Arts Partnership’s ‘Poetry in Motion – Schools’ Programme helped the pupils of one small school to go on to big things.

My involvement with Grange PS began when it was one of the schools selected to receive the services of a poetry facilitator to work with pupils on their poetry submissions to the PIMS anthology. Those who were successful would also be considered for the inaugural Seamus Heaney Award for Achievement which, naturally, made this year’s programme extra-special.

Before being allocated to a school, every PIMS poetry facilitator undergoes two days of training. So, last September at the Community Arts Partnership offices in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, I joined a group of twelve other poets for a weekend of learning. Under the auspices of the extremely knowledgeable Chelley McLear, we participated in a range of stimulating and diverse workshops including facilitation theory, skills sharing, activity development and practical application. I found all of these invaluable additions to my ‘facilitation toolbox’. At the end of training we were introduced to a representative from the school in which we would be working. I was delighted to learn I had been assigned to Grange, just further round the coast from my hometown.

The principal Sean McKinley and I arranged a start date towards the end of October. Over the next few weeks we communicated regularly to design a selection of workshops that would best suit the age and abilities of the P6 and P7 group.

Walking into a classroom for the first time is a bit like walking onto a stage. You are hoping that you will perform well, avoid tripping up and deliver an enjoyable experience for everyone. I must say, after the first workshop I was delighted with the excitement and enthusiasm of my new students.

As well as revisiting some of the more common poetry techniques, we turned to Japanese-style short poetry forms and art for inspiration. I also took along some beach and nature ‘finds’ for the pupils to examine and write about. They delighted in producing tiny three-line poems that could be said in a single breath – haiku. These were combined with their drawings to produce ‘haiga’ (a selection of which has been reproduced in the anthology)

Over the sessions, more great poetry emerged and upon finishing the final workshop I crossed my fingers for the students. They were very eager to have their poems included in the anthology. In fact, a few were still handing me scraps of paper with poems scribbled on them as I left.

However, this was not to be my last time at Grange. After hearing the exciting news that many of the poems submitted had been accepted, CAP asked me to go back to the school for a final session. This would involve organising and rehearsing a performance for the launch of the anthology The Way with Words and the Seamus Heaney Award at the Ulster Hall.

I joined them in Belfast and I know I was much more nervous than they were as they climbed the steps to the stage. The principal and I urged them on from our seats as they recited and mimed their creations in that huge space. When it came to the announcement regarding the Seamus Heaney Award for Achievement, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed once all the runners-up had been called up. However, we all gasped in disbelief when they were announced winners of the overall Seamus Heaney award. I honestly hadn’t expected it and as we said goodbye outside on the steps, I told them again how wonderful they’d been. One of the pupils grinned and said, “I know we were!”

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