Hardy Poetry Workshops in Schools
THS Academic Director Dr Faysal Mikdadi leads Hardy poetry workshops in schools across England
Between November 2018 and June 2019, the Thomas Hardy Society Academic Director Dr Faysal Mikdadi led Poetry Workshops in nine schools in Birmingham, Cornwall and Dorset. Over one hundred students aged between 10 and 17 enjoyed reading and discussing a selection of Thomas Hardy’s poems. All participants wrote at least one piece inspired by Hardy. An anthology of these young poets’ poems following in the footsteps of Thomas Hardy will be published in September 2019.
After discussions on reading and writing poetry and after agreeing the aims of the Workshops, students read one or more poems by Thomas Hardy. These were read aloud by adults present or by the students. The questions used to prompt discussions were ones on (1) immediate meanings or events; and (2) deeper meanings. For example, after reading ‘An August Midnight’ the following questions were asked: (a) Where is the poet in this narrative? (In his study.) (b) What is he doing? (Writing.) (c) Who or what comes in? (Four creatures/insects.) (d) What is the fly doing? (Rubbing its hands.) (d) What happens to the poet’s page of writing? (The ink is smudged.) Students were readily able to answer these factual questions before moving on to slightly more complex ones in item (2) above: (a) What do you think the poet is trying to tell us? (A little observation or vignette of something that happened late at night in his study.) (b) Can you support your response with a quotation from the poem? (He describes the light and sounds in the room and then tells us ‘On this scene enter…’) (c) What does the poet think that these four creatures are to start with? (‘God’s humblest, they!’) (d) When he changes his mind, what does he think about these creatures? (‘They know Earth-secrets that know not I.’)
As interludes, the young poets took part in two light hearted verse ‘games’: ‘Exquisite Corpses’ and ‘Collaborative Genius’ where students composed poems together firstly without seeing what others had written and then, in the second instance, by adding one line each after reading what others had written.
The students had between thirty minutes and one hour to compose their own individual poems. If participants needed a framework or writing scaffold, they could use any Thomas Hardy poem, emulate it or, if they felt the need, borrow from it as long as any borrowed lines were clearly acknowledged.
Once the writing was over, students read their work aloud. After each reading, students were asked to give one positive comment each about the poem read. After all the positive comments were made, students were asked to be critical friends and to suggest what could be done better.
All students gave positive evaluations with comments such as: ‘the teacher is funny’, ‘enjoyable’, ‘free to express myself’, ‘analysis of the poems gave me ideas’, ‘loved the ‘no wrong answers’ idea’, ‘the group poem was fun’, ‘I really enjoyed changing Hardy’s old poem’, ‘my favourite was rewriting the Lyonnesse poem’, ‘great discussions’, ‘I enjoyed the critical friend bit’, ‘Thomas Hardy is a really good poet’, ‘I like expressing my thoughts’, ‘the teacher is really enthusiastic’, ‘pleasant to listen to each other’, ‘The Self-Unseeing made me want to be a child again but this time I am looking’, ‘The Self-Unseeing shows that anything can happen in a child’s world’, ‘the teacher’s passion for poetry is infectious’, ‘can we have more lessons like this next year?’
All nine schools requested a return visit in the 2019-2020 academic year. One school asked the Thomas Hardy Society to collaborate with them on carrying out small scale research on the use of poetry to engage reluctant or disaffected boys. Another school requested the Poetry Workshop lesson plan for use by their teachers of English. A third school asked to collaborate with the Society on enhancing learning in English. A further three new schools have requested similar Poetry Workshop visits.