Eleanor Cooke,
Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Eleanor Cooke has published three collections of poetry: A Kind of Memory, Who Killed Prees Heath? and Secret Files. She is an experienced lecturer and broadcaster and has written several plays.

Background

Poet Eleanor Cooke spent five days in the Botanical Gardens with pupils and teachers from four Birmingham schools. The children - from Canterbury Cross and Yenton Junior Schools, Fox Hollies School, and from Year 8 of Kingsbury School, visited the gardens in November. Their teachers had already spent a day at the gardens writing poetry with Eleanor during October. All those taking part came back in January for a half-day of celebration, with workshops, performances, and games.

 


Description of Project

During the inset day, teachers were asked to produce riddles - one of the oldest forms of poetry. Using some of these and some of her own, Eleanor sent each group of visiting students on a discovery trail to begin their day at the gardens. Later in the day, after they'd gained some experience of imagery, and a greater familiarity with the plants in the glasshouses, the children were invited to create their own riddles.

Most of the students enjoyed this way into poetry, creating metaphors and similes to describe the wild and often improbable shapes and habits of the plants that crowd the glass houses.

Storytelling led to an invitation to the students to imagine a spirit trapped in the plant. Murder, rebellious daughters, robbers, mischievous monkeys, demons, and mythical beasts vied with each other in a progression of dramatic stories.

We had thought initially of creating some concrete and lasting record of the Placement - a poetry trail, poems mounted on plaques, set in stone, picked out in pathways. But so far none of these seem appropriate to the growth and vigour of the children's poetry. Perhaps that's not a bad tribute to the amazing diversity and energy of the Botanical Gardens - bus-loads of children leaving with their heads full of living images.

 


Follow-up comments from Eleanor Cooke

The children's responses to the location and workshop initiatives was wonderful - (an accompanying Head Teacher commented that he'd be able to tick the "Awe and Wonder" box on the National Curriculum forms for all the children!) - and the poems of the young people from Fox Hollies School for children with severe learning difficulties was particularly exciting. One of the junior school teachers wrote that she was particularly proud of her children's achievement since, for most of them, English was their second language.

The Teachers' Day was interesting. All the teachers confessed to nervousness about writing in response to the workshop exercises, and felt put on the spot in a way which they hadn't experienced since they were students. As the day went on their confidence grew so that some of the later exercises produced poetry of a much more sophisticated kind. The teachers left fired with an enthusiasm which had communicated itself to their pupils before the students' workshops began.

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Young Poets Network