Hi! I’m Natasha, Education Officer at The Poetry Society. Over the past year, The Poetry Society has worked on a project called About Us, one of ten commissions for UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK. The project explores the many ways we’re connected to the universe, the natural world and one another.
A major live show toured the UK in spring 2022, visiting Paisley (Scotland), Derry-Londonderry (Northern Ireland), Caernarfon (Wales), and Luton and Hull (England). Combining projection-mapping technology, poetry and music, the show told our shared story from the Big Bang to the present. Watch it here:
An extensive learning and participation programme supported the show. A nationwide poetry and coding competition invited young people to respond to the theme of ‘connectivity and the universe’, with the winning entries incorporated into the show. And primary schools in the show’s locations received poetry and coding workshops.
At The Poetry Society, we’ve been running a Poets in Schools service for years and have some schools we regularly support to receive a poet visit, as well as others with whom our relationship is more ephemeral. About Us gave us the opportunity to reach a new set of schools we’d never worked with before – this was especially true in contexts outside England. For the first time ever, we delivered workshops entirely in Welsh and Irish.
Of course, different contexts meant navigating different school systems, so this was also a chance to expand our organisational expertise. Working with many poets from across the UK who were new to us, we learned from their knowledge of their local contexts while also sharing our experience. Working with local poets was so important: not only did they have insider knowledge about the area, but because they lived only a few miles away from the schools, the children had real role models, showing them poetry is possible for people who look and sound like them.
For my own part, I visited the schools once the workshops had happened and filmed the children performing the poems they’d written. The moment I entered the first school in Paisley, I realised how much I’d missed being in a school environment: missed seeing kids’ drawings on the walls alongside healthy eating and bikeability posters; missed seeing young people excitedly sharing their poems; missed the way every receptionist offers you a cup of tea when you walk through the doors. Schools are such vibrant, versatile places, and this project reaffirmed my admiration for teachers. Despite the Covid chaos, every school went above and beyond to make this opportunity work for their students.
Once filmed, we exhibited the children’s poems on giant plinths as part of the show, giving the children a tangible goal to work towards when writing, and shaping each of the show’s iterations to the place in which it was delivered. The poems were collaborative so that each of the 1600 children who participated saw their own words celebrated in the heart of the community.
And the feeling of connection lives on. Because we now have a wonderful archive of films of primary school children performing their class poems. Browsing through them, the diversity of voices and backgrounds represented quickly becomes evident. But so too does the sense that all the children came away with a universal pride in their creativity. As the young residents of Derry put it: “It’s quite special our little city got picked to be a part of this project… I couldn’t believe for a single minute I’d get to recite the poem! I felt so proud.” Watch their poems here.
If you’re aged 4-18, there’s still time to get involved with About Us! The poetry competition is open for a second round until 31 August. Enter at aboutus.earth/competition
Natasha Ryan is an Education Officer at The Poetry Society. She manages the About Us project and supports The Poetry Society’s slam projects and Artsmark, having previously worked on the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award.