Friday 11 October 2013

Teaching at the Wigan Pier Workshops for the Orwell Prize

Some of the lovely students from the afternoon session of my Poetry Against the Cuts class at the Wigan Pier Workshops, presented by the Orwell Prize.

The workshops are held in the delightful bright and airy Sunshine House Community Centre in Wigan where Barbara and her helpers looked after us, not only laying on a nice lunch, but sending us home afterwards with a box of the most amazing chocolates they make in their chocolatier classes, and a fabulous wood-turned pen!

John Hegley, Will Self, Andrew Norfolk and Femi Martin are among the writers who have given classes for the workshops.

On Wednesday, Stuart Maconie kicked off the day followed by journalist, author and Orwell Prize judge Paul Anderson and myself teaching our classes.

Via a series of games and exercises, I get the students to end up having written a poem they can carry on developing at home or with their teachers.

I gave as examples a couple of my own poems — Credit Crunch Suicide and Margaret Thatcher Died at the Ritz — plus A Case for the Miners written by Siegfried Sassoon in 1921.

Something goes wrong with my synthetic brain
When I defend the Strikers and explain
My reasons for not blackguarding the Miners.
"What do you know?" exclaim my fellow-diners
(Peeling their plovers' eggs or lifting glasses
Of mellowed Chateau Rentier from the table),
"What do you know about the working classes?"

I strive to hold my own; but I'm unable
To state the case succinctly. Indistinctly
I mumble about World-Emancipation,
Standards of Living, Nationalization
Of Industry; until they get me tangled
In superficial details; goad me on
To unconvincing vagueness. When we've wrangled
From soup to savory, my temper's gone.

"Why should a miner earn six pounds a week?"
"Leisure! They'd only spend it in a bar!"
"Standard of life! You'll never teach them Greek!"
"Or make them more contented than they are!"
That's how my port-flushed friends discuss the Strike.
And that's the reason why I shout and splutter.
And that's the reason why I'd almost like
To see them hawking matches in the gutter.
That's a poem that ought to be making a comeback as it describes so well the attitudes of plenty of people in power today when it comes to the poorest and weakest in society.

Thanks to Kat for organising the event, the volunteers and teaching assistants, and Claire and Emma for being such enthusiastic and motivated teachers who obviously love their job. The whole day was an inspiring uplifting antidote to the toxic attitudes towards young people and teachers being created by some politicians and media.

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