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25th May 2007 at 01:00
course of the week: creative writing

Teachers who take their class on an Arvon writing week are not there to supervise. They are there to take part. You learn alongside the children, under the guidance of professional writers.

We worked with two performance poets, Lemn Sissay and Luke Wright. I didn't know much about the genre but I took to it straightaway. You have to get a certain musicality in your writing and make use of pauses and silences. And when you perform, you have to use your voice and body language.

The course is held at Lumb Bank, the house where Ted Hughes once lived.

He's my favourite poet by far, which made it a special week for me. In the evenings, we'd all sit round a coal fire and share our poems. At 10.30pm I had to tell pupils to go to bed - they were so caught up in the atmosphere.

That enthusiasm has been bubbling ever since. The problem now is that the pupils only want to study poetry. When I try to tackle other parts of the curriculum, I get a few groans. Poetry has become part of school life. The children produce anthologies of their work and put on regular performances in front of parents and pupils from other schools.

We're also trying to secure funding to run some performance poetry workshops during the summer holidays.

I'm no longer afraid to show my own passion for poetry, and that's made me a better teacher. I teach my pupils that poems are something to be shared with others. For many of them, language is either a defence mechanism, or a means of aggression. Through performance poetry they learn that language can also be about self-expression, and bringing pleasure to other people.

As for me, I now write poetry all the time. What I learned on the course will stay with me for life Janek Podhajecki is head of English at Castlegreen, a secondary special school in Sunderland. He was talking to Steven Hastings

The details

A five-day performance poetry course run by the Arvon Foundation, at Lumb Bank, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.

Arvon's residential writing week costs pound;4,200 for two teachers and up to 16 pupils. Grants may be available. Go to for more information.

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