This project has been part funded by the Dedham Vale AONB and the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB Sustainable Development Fund


Not Sleeping

D. was a boy whose poems always took a pleasingly unusual view. When asked to write about a time of day, he wrote down '3.15 Friday'.  'But' I asked him, 'is that 3.15 in the afternoon or at night when you're not sleeping?' He seemed more interested in the latter and quickly got down to writing a brilliant middle of the night poem. It's nice to know that the tradition of childhood nocturnal reading continues - you just don't need a torch now...


I can't sleep! Lorries, tractors, cars rumble by

as people deliver pigs and come home

from work.

My stripy pyjamas are sweaty and rough

and rubbing on my leg.

I remember reading my Kindle

underneath the quilt.

The secret is mum and dad don't know.


D. from Wilby Primary, Year 5


The Message Keeper

'A wonderfully creative day,' was how the teacher described it. R. particularly liked what he had written during one of Jeni's warm-up exercises in the morning, so he chose that poem, 'Message Keepers' as the one he wanted to edit and write-up in the afternoon. I suggested cutting up the poem, tearing it up in strips and then re-arranging the lines (the original 'cut and paste' technique! He agreed and disappeared to get some scissors and Prit-Stik and I left him to it. And he surprised us all with what he came up with...



I would hide my message

In the pixel of a computer

In a grain of corn

In the brain of an ant

In the book of a tutor

At the tip of a thorn

In the twinkling of a star


R. from Wilby Primary, Year 5


New Life to An Old Apple at Wilby Primary

As you may have heard, this year I'll be running the 2016 Suffolk Young Poets Competition, all part of a new venture called 'Poetry People'. I've been busy these last few months - along with Jeni Smith and Michael Laskey - delivering workshops   in schools to help generate some poems and entries for the competition. Jeni and I had a really aborbing day at Wilby Primary School, who I had visited last year as part of the Poem for Suffolk project (this was the school who came up with the wonderful 'Why Did the Hedgehog knock' group poem!).

We spent the day with the Beech class (27 students in Year 5) and their lovely teacher Ms Wiseman. Spending the whole day with one group meant that we could really get them to have fun writing lots of poems in the morning and then focus their attention on one particular piece, for them to edit and write-up. We wrote poems containing questions, strange jobs, list poems, guided poems and the names for animals.

And here's a poem from the day that Jeni and I particuarly liked - written by a boy who throughout the day  came up with bright short poems that fizzed with strange lines and images. Giving new life to an old apple...


This apple is so old that

it is as furry as a monkey.


So old and soft and brown like

a stinky old dog.


So old its crunch is on the floor.

So old the mould has taken over.


R. from Wilby Primary, Year 6



Every Road Tells a Story

So, amongst other things, these last few months I've been working in Stowmarket on something called 'Every Road Tells A Story'. It’s celebrating the Unity Housing – otherwise known as ‘prefabs’ – and the people who lived in them. These particular ones were built in the mid-1950s as a ‘temporary’ housing solution to last for up to 30 years but stood rather longer than that and are only now being demolished (having stood for 60 years!) with new rented houses built in their place.

By the end of their lives, these buildings were creaky and damp and a man from the council turned up each year with a bucket of cement to fill the cracks in the walls. The thing is, they were 'home', people invested their lives in the old properties and a community grew around them. They planted magnificent gardens (which were huge)! They buried their pets there. Babies born, parents died there. Many didn’t want to move out. One woman who did – and moved around the corner into a new house – couldn’t look at her old abandoned home and overgrown garden and closed her eyes each time she went past as her husband drove her to Aldi. Eighteen months it stood empty before it was demolished. Lots of stories like that. It’s been fascinating to put them together for a little book which will be part of an exhibition at the Museum of East Anglian Life in May. I hope to tell you more about it in the coming weeks...


Where We Meet

Every Thursday this autumn I’ve been escaping to Stowmarket for the ‘Where We Meet’ project run by Suffolk Artlink. Each week the same group of ten children from Year 5 visited the handily situated next door residential home to work with a bunch of the residents, taking part in chatting/writing led by me or art session led by the artist Caitlin Howells.

From the beginning it became obvious that my session wasn’t going to involve the participants writing – many of the residents were living with various stages of dementia – so it evolved into a conversation or ‘chatting room’ with Candida from Suffolk Artlink writing down good words or thoughts or memories as they emerged. It felt like a real luxury that we had time to evolve this – things like, Caitlin having the idea of starting with a song at the beginning and then allowing the group to play around with the lyrics. So we made up our own words for ‘My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean’ and ‘She’s Coming Round the Mountain’ and I suggested an old Scaffold number, ‘Today’s Monday’ which we also ‘customised’.

Each week we would have a different theme for the ‘chatting room’ – some worked better than others. So colours (based around the autumn leaves) worked well where as ‘sweets’ didn’t and just became a list of sweets rather than any memory around them. And there was always a crossover between the writing and the art with Caitlin using some of the words and phrases as part of her making (creating things like leaves and hanging them from ribbons with the words written on them).

My favourite session was when we discussed the moon and it quickly became pleasingly creative and a little strange. ‘What does the moon taste like?’ I asked one resident called Nancy. She looked at me like she hadn’t quite heard what I’d said to her (mostly she’s asked if she wants a cup of tea or coffee or whether she’s too hot or cold). So I asked again and Nancy smiled, said, ‘you are daft!’ and then thought a bit more and said ‘well, they say it’s made of cheese, so I suppose it would taste of that.’ But what kind of cheese? ‘Primula’ came the answer immediately. And then Doreen disagreed and suggested  a blue cheese -‘Gorgonzola. Because you can see the blue lines running across the moon’s face.’

It all came to a close with a Celebration event, where we sang the songs (our own versions) and the children performed some of the group poems - that’s when the picture was taken. And here's the moon poem - the final line is a contribution from a lovely resident called Margaret, who if asked a question would often respond with a very apt song.



It’s like a tablet dissolving behind a cloud

It’s white chocolate and tastes like milk

It’s a reflection of the earth


Its hung on a fishing hook

And in Ipswich they cut the moon down

It’s like the egg guy who fell off the wall


It’s a golf ball or just a round ring

It looks like a glass of milk

Or the top of a prit-stick from above


The moon is a melon or sometimes like

A chocolate orange segment

It’s luke warm mouldy milk


It has a happy face

The moon works most nights

And yawns and says, ‘I’m tired’


When the moon goes dark the birds go quiet

The moon is always over the mountain

It’s as scary as a sunflower


It’s as cold as a dog’s nose

It’s as cold as a polar bear’s igloo

It’s white because of all the snow there


The other day the moon got embarrassed and went red

And when Nancy was watching it

through the window, it disappeared!


The moon doesn’t like the sun

It’s friends with the sea

The moon dreams of coming down to earth


The moon tastes like gorgonzola or Primula

It smells of sweet peas or dafodils

When the moon is bright, she sings…

‘Take these chains from my heart and set me free…’