The EIS and the Scottish Poetry Library have long worked together to bring poetry into the everyday lives and works of members. The 2018 anthology To Learn the Future: Poems for Teachers was gifted to all newly qualified teachers that year. In 2020 and 2021, we supported members to find their own poetic voices, through a series of creative well-being workshops.
Below, the workshop tutor, Jenny Lindsay, describes more of the workshop process, and a few members share some of the work.
I’ve loved writing ever since childhood and often find it to be a fantastic way to express myself, reflect on life events or simply just chill out. I started a blog during lockdown, and also keep a poetry journal which I add to when inspired.Emma Newton
In the days of lockdown the writing workshop was a wonderful opportunity to ‘open up’. Jenny’s exercises seemed to open up a torrent of words which were almost like opening a valve and releasing the pressures of lockdown. It was great to be at the receiving end of learning and offered an escape from being the one always leading the discussion/lesson. It was also stimulating to hear the works of others, especially the other participants. I really enjoyed hearing their takes. I was so grateful to be part of it and to realise I could still be creative while caught in the quagmire of assessments and form filling!Irene Hartshorn
Over the last year it has been a real pleasure to work with different groups of teachers on the last Saturday of the month. All were in different circumstances and from different schools, but most shared the same challenge: juggling a deep commitment to their students and colleagues with home-life and workplace expectations, plus the same worries and concerns we have all had throughout the pandemic.
With such competing pressures on their time, the objective of these sessions, as I saw it, was to primarily be a space to breathe.
Using a variety of prompts the sessions were structured to be an honest, fun, and sometimes extremely cathartic space to share worries, hopes, concerns, and personal stories through poetry, lyricism and prose. What are the small things we miss from our former lives? A handshake. A train journey. A mask-less smile. A hazelnut latte on the way to work. An unplanned day, free to go anywhere we liked.
If we could be honest, what would be tell our students, our daughters, our partners? What might be the real lessons we can take from this last year? What is it all about? It is about hope. Joy. Faith. It is about finding out what matters most. What have we discovered that we didn’t know before?
During the sessions we read and discussed poems by several poets including William Letford, Caroline Bird, Hannah Lavery, Magi Gibson, Ada Limon, Luke Wright, Don Paterson, Ali Whitelock, Richard Medrington and many more. But the object, first and foremost, was to have fun with words and language and not to aim for perfection. As Margaret Atwood said, “If I strived for perfection, I would never write another word.”
Thank you to all of the teachers who took part in the sessions and many thanks to those who have submitted their poems for this blog.
by Irene Hartshorn
(For my daughter)
Tonight I want to marvel at
your ability to perch on the couch
like a small bird.
Did I say small?
Did you have to mumph and puff as you did it?
Blocking out all other sound –
Your exquisite limbs resting gracefully,
Bearing the weight of the body you so hate.
The fragile movements, like a dance,
Your fleeting presence through time,
Perching on the edge of something great,
Ready to soar into the sky,
Claiming, the air, the vastness of space.
The delicate nature, the ghostliness of your presence,
Belying the impact of your words, which
do not perch but reach out to the world.
by Kate Henry
what I didn’t know before
was that I held
100 billion neurons
how many of them
are connected to you
so many memories
linked to you
in my life,
so many senses
when you’re near
neural pathways made,
stronger than concrete
respond to your
or your footsteps
on the stairs,
or your voice
pieces of you
have I forgotten,
to make way
for new connections
as all memories do,
age will leave
so I cling
to all those
by Irene Hartshorn
Joy rolled into my life like a ball of fur,
hard to catch, moving just out of reach,
within an arm’s length then skywards
as I looked up craning my neck,
tips of fingers almost touching,
desperate to cradle, caress.
Looking me in the eye, defying, challenging…
go on catch me, enjoy,
but always just out of reach,
preferring the company of others,
their ecstatic stares, proclaiming,
It’s ours now. You lost!
I am yearning for its return.
by Emma Newton
Dawn, but the sun
can’t pierce the opaque fog
which looms heavily,
shrouding the horizon.
Dense silence rings, foretelling doom.
Blindfolded, I step
furtively into the icy air,
each tentative motion a tiny triumph.
A light glimmers in the distance,
a candle flickering, mapping out my path.
My breath sharp yet shallow,
the thick air dank on my tongue.
It will lift, pass, banished
by the sun’s fiery breath,
a formidable power.
And then the lightness will dance,
unfettered to the murky heavens.
When the old year ended
I let go
although we had ended
so much sooner
it had been a while coming
though your bags had been packed
many months before,
had moved out
and moved on,
I became stuck
in the longing
of might have been
then autumn came,
the possibilities of summer,
and the chill
it is winter
and the cold
longs for fire,
I need the glow
and the crackle
and the spark
so I stand
of the year,
with what you’d left
and what I’d kept
the sparks all dance,
little lights of us