"It is a good divine that follows his own instructions; I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done than to be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching."
Portia, The Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene II.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Grow your soul...

Workshop 4: Harvey Molloy, Newlands College – How to Grow Poets

Here I am with my old mate, Harvey, we go way back to university days, so I needed to come along and see if he knows what he’s talking about!

Harvey is the Dean of Gifted and Talented Students at Newlands. He is a published poet and all round awesome person! Here is one of his poems.

He suggests that if we are starting a creative writing group we talk to whoever is in charge of gifted and talented at our schools because they may have funding we can use, since a writing group is an extension activity.

Harvey also runs a book club and a philosophy club.  He taps the gifted and talented money to buy books for the book club (which end up in the library). Students choose the book they are going to read.

The first year Harvey ran his creative writing group he says it wasn’t so successful. It was too unfocussed. Then he saw the school focus in a major way on the school production so he decided that his writing group needed a focus.

So he decided to use National Poetry Day as the focus and have a poetry writing competition. Senior and Junior categories, $50 prize each, $25 runner up. He got 60 entries. Use an outside judge, anonymous entries. Restricted to no more than 4 poems per student. He gave the material to students to design and publish as a book. Winners and runners up had to be named. The only rule he gave was that they had to respect the poet’s layout of the poem and he gave the title (chosen from a phrase in one of the winning poems). Otherwise they could decide on the layout, cover, design, font etc etc. Prints 40 to start and after that on demand – free copies to the authors and charges $2 per copy to everyone else.

Anybody can enter the competition – it is not restricted to people in the creative writing group.  He got 60 entries the first year and it’s been running for several years now.

Q: any problems with authenticity? Yes, Harvey checks on them and has had some problems with it in the past.

It’s ok to have a poem inspired by someone else’s work, as long as that is acknowledged.

Harvey also encourages the students to enter the National Poetry Society competition and has dispensation for the same poems to appear as the school publication doesn’t count as an ‘official publication’.

Suggestions which have worked for Harvey:

·      Regular meetings
·      Poetry Day and competition focus
·      Visiting poets reading and running workshops
·      Use Juicy Writing by Bridget Lowry
·      Google “creative writing exercises”

There was some discussion of participants’ experiences at their schools with running creative writing workshops:

·      Small group that fizzled when teacher left
·      Someone who ‘hijacks’ the Y10 camp for poetry-writing purposes (way to go!)
·      Full school ‘Young Writers’ Awards’ – 6 different text types. Literary luncheon, poetry readings, with guest speaker; prizes book/movie vouchers, and top pieces published in the school magazine. Includes team entries. Some class time given for editing in the week before the entry deadline. Makes everyone enter something.
·      Use of chocolate for bribery purposes seems widespread at a range of schools!
·      Large group, meets weekly, publishes a newspaper regularly during the year and a collection at the end of the year – range of text types.
·      Poetry workshops as a rotation in a range of activities for gifted and talented days.
·      Inspiring poems by looking at their town using Google Earth and getting students to use metaphors and similes to write a poem describing their town.
·      2 day writers’ camp specifically for y9 and 10 writers – shoulder-tapped. Quite landscape-based. About 20-30 kids – best writers. Work is published. A range of different staff involved running workshops, plus visiting writers.
·      Writing group blog where members can post their work and comment on each other’s writing.
·      Students have a poem week – English classes are rotated to hear a teacher’s favourite poem.

Harvey’s Tips for student poets:

1.     All poems are not brush paintings. It’s ok to go back, rethink, rework, revise, chop and add. The poem can be better than the ‘flash’
2.     Read with your ear. Listen to the poem. Read it out loud. What parts stand out? Does it sound smooth or lumpy? Is it too soft or too loud? Are any words clunky?
3.     More or less? Have you said all that needs to be said? Have you said too much? What can you take away? Any filler? Any flat lines? Can you clarify?
4.     Be unusual. Write about dog breeding, or your Uncle Sam’s beer mat collection, or Linus, or your sister’s obsession with the bagpipes, or carburettors and stock car engines. Use the words you find there. Avoid the moon, love, feeling like shit, being dumped…
5.     Titles are tricky. They are so important; they can change everything. Have another think. Is it OK? What else could it be? What else could it say? What do you want the title to do? What is its function in the poem?
6.     Let it lie in the drawer. Leave it for a while. It won’t run away if you close the drawer tightly.
7.     Proofred your work! Use spellcheck. Double check. Many writers are terrible copy editors. Save multiple copies. Then double check the final version.

What Harvey would like more of:

·      More peer review – students reading each other’s work.
·      Workshopping the writing.

Remember – poetry is not an assessment task! The only rule is that you have to write. You are producing, not just consuming. Harvey gave us this great quote from Kurt Vonnegut:

“Go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

Check out Harvey’s blog at:  http://harvey.molley.blogspot.com

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