Chelley McLear Project Co-ordinator for Poetry in Motion writes about the Project

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Community Arts Partnership is the leading organisation in providing arts facilitation projects in schools and communities in Northern Ireland. Two of those projects are the Poetry in Motion projects which place working poets into short residential placements in schools and communities. Supported by the Arts Council NI, Arts Council Lottery and Belfast City Council, these successful programmes are now in their fourteenth year.

In addition, the Seamus Heaney Award for Achievement (schools) and the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing (Community), supported by the Heaney family, are now in their third year.

Poetry in Motion Schools

Poetry in Motion Schools is an innovative literary programme for primary, secondary, grammar and special schools. PIMS aims to develop the creative abilities of young people, enabling their poetic voice through increasing students language skills, introducing participants to poetic device and encouraging them to use their creative imagination. Emphasis is placed on the ability to create poetic works through activities which are fun, joyful, and which encourage self-expression. Workshops are conducted by published/producing poets most of whom have a wealth of experience in working with young people. Crucially, the young people own their own words and language, discovering that the words they use every day can be transformed into poetry through learning how working poets approach their own practice.

Every year this work takes place in thirty or more schools across the region, connecting with close to a thousand children predominantly in inner city schools and tiny rural communities. Through the programme there is a breadth of experience expressed through poetry which, whilst often contrasting, connects the different lives involved in the project. Schools that have taken part in this project see it as an enriching experience for both pupils and teachers and find that it while the activities forge many links with the curriculum, there can also be an added element on offer,

“As a teacher, it is a joy to have a trained facilitator in the school showing pupils that “real-life poet people” do exist. It is also refreshing to have a point of view that is not strictly tied to where this fits into the curriculum and how it can be assessed; art for art’s sake, is a very liberating concept!

As a spectator, it is revelatory and humbling to see how far some of these young people can go with a concept, an idea or an image. With the right challenge and support, both offered by the CAP facilitators, the pupils achieved things that neither they nor I thought were possible.

I am a little ashamed at times that I did not realise the huge potential within some of them, and that I didn’t nurture this creativity more. I had touched on poetry, poetic terms and imagery, but I was panning for gold in a tiny stream that ran above the mother lode.”

Brian Mawhinney, teacher at Dundonald High School

The success of this project can be seen by the overwhelming number of applications made each year. CAP receives more than 2-3 times as many applications as the places available. Two thirds of the places this year were allocated to schools in the upper half of the social deprivation index, half of the places allocated were in the top 25%. In other words, these projects reach children who might not otherwise have access to this form of education or facilitation with working artists.

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The Seamus Heaney Award for Achievement

Seamus Heaney once described the rap artist Eminem as having

created a sense of what is possible. He has sent a voltage around a generation. He has done this not just through his subversive attitude but also his verbal energy.

This is what Poetry in Motion and the Seamus Heaney Award for Achievement strives to do: to create a sense of what is possible; sending voltage around our younger generation to harness their verbal energy.

What is possible might be beyond the comprehension of a child in a P6 classroom until someone opens a door for them. Just as Heaney recognised that Eminem opened doors for many young people to engage with poetry, PIM recognises that placing a working poet into a school can spark a circuit which connects the individual child to the light bulb moment of seeing themselves as owners and creators of language.

It connects our young people to the possibilities that lie within their own experience and expression. It enables and empowers them to use their voices to connect and to make themselves heard in a society which needs to hear its young generation more clearly. The Award for Achievement is presented to the school attended by the student or students whose winning poem is selected from the work of all the schools taking part in the project.

Poetry in Motion Community

The Poetry in Motion Community project seeks to reach new and emerging poets across the region. As with the PIM Schools project, professional poets facilitate workshops, feedback sessions and masterclasses for writers groups and individuals seeking to improve their work. This project seeks not only to encourage new and emerging writers but also enable those writers to connect with one another and to encourage one another. The coming together at events facilitates new connections as writers put names to faces and feedback and celebrate one another’s work.

Over the course of the project we see writers returning with new work and honing their craft year on year. This project facilitates the development of writers, the craft of writing and continual improvement of work. The emphasis is on the quality of writing and accessing paths to an audience which might otherwise be inaccessible.

The Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing

Each year, an anthology of work is produced from an open submissions process. All selected submissions are put forward for the Seamus Heaney Award for New writing. This has been an invaluable vehicle for the winners of this award, enabling them to be recognised within their field and to progress further with publication and reading opportunities.

The inaugural winner, Stephanie Conn, has just returned from Tasmania where she was a guest at the Tasmania Poetry Festival. Since winning the award, Stephanie has published a full collection and a pamphlet and has been invited to read at a plethora of events.

She had this to say about her experiences,

“I first became aware of Community Arts Partnership and their work through the Community Project, Poetry in Motion, in 2012. I was a member of Ards Writers and the group had the pleasure of welcoming Poet Brenda Liddy to the Web Theatre, Newtownards, to facilitate a poetry workshop on Place.We all left feeling inspired and worked on our initial words and ideas, before submitting our poems to be considered for the anthology, ‘The Poet’s Place’. My poem “Dandelions” was accepted and the launch in The Dark Horse was one of the first poetry events I attended in Belfast.

I submitted work again in 2013 and my poem “Cutting Lemons” was included in the ‘Still’ anthology. In 2015 I submitted “Lavender Fields” and with that poem I was absolutely thrilled to win the inaugural Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing.

This award comes at a transitional period in my life. Having become ill in 2013 and following a year of tests, investigations and scans, I was finally diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. My life changed dramatically; my busy, activity-filled days of teaching, studying, writing, running a home and looking after my children came to a grinding halt. For six months I could barely get out of bed. Over time, as I began to adapt to life with a chronic condition, I returned to the page. Writing was something I could still do, and in the wake of my former life, could commit to.”

Why PIM matters

The Poetry in Motion project and the Seamus Heaney Awards seek to establish a particular method of teaching, firstly by starting with the view that everyone has the capacity to write poetically, and on that basis everyone deserves access to the kind of teaching which will enable their abilities to develop.

Beyond that, by using published and producing poets, students and new writers get support to learn techniques, increase language skills and build their own self confidence in the process.

That should lead to a situation where we develop the opportunity for something desperately needed for students and writers in our communities, to have the voices of many people who are often excluded from creative opportunity, heard, understood and offered avenues to connect their stories with others.

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