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Pupil report: Poetry discussion workshops with Poet Laureate Simon Armitage

We were honoured that Poet Laureate Simon Armitage came to visit Bryanston this week.

Head of English Mrs Weatherby commented: “Simon ran a workshop for the B year group on GCSE poet Ted Hughes, and then delivered a poetry workshop with our A3/IB1 English cohort, and then finally gave a reading in Elder Concert Hall to some of our sixth form pupils and visiting schools, including Budmouth Academy, The Blandford School, Shaftesbury School, Canford and Milton Abbey. We are so grateful to Simon for giving up his time and for delivering such inspiring workshops for our pupils.”

The visit for me started with a workshop on a few poems that we had read in advance, by Ted Hughes, Thom Gunn and Elizabeth Bishop. Mr Armitage provided his unique insight on both the content of these poems and the context in which they were created. He had known Ted Hughes, a former Poet Laureate and fellow Yorkshireman, personally. The talk took the form of a Q and A session, with the discussion also covering his experience as a poet and poetry in general. One of the answers that stood out to me is when he described poetry as (something along the lines of) black shapes on a white page; he described how these shapes could, despite a gap of hundreds of miles, years or both, create an impact on someone’s mind.

The second half of the visit consisted of a reading of his own poems, complete with a witty commentary on their inspirations. The segment was followed by another Q and A session, but this one was much more about his poems and life and how the two relate. Later, I was lucky to be invited to have lunch with Mr Armitage in which I got to ask a few more questions, my favourite of which was an answer to my question of ‘how do you start your poems?’ To which he quipped 'the left-hand side, with a capital letter’.

Overall, the experience was incredible. To meet such a funny and talented person and hear his thoughts on a topic he obviously enjoyed and had made his life’s work, was inspiring. I personally took away a phrase he said that went something like ‘we see the world in poetic terms not in prose sentences’. This was something I had never considered but (at least in my opinion) is so true.

One line in a good poem, however convoluted and intricate, will express a more realistic image of a scene than prose while leaving room for individual interpretation. The thought that poetry is the truest form of portraying the way we see the world implies that our minds see a hectic and intriguing world and it is up to the individual to decipher it. When I asked if he had thought of that on the spot he replied ‘I hadn’t said it, but I had thought about it for a while’ and I think I will be thinking about it for a while longer.

Click here to see our full gallery from Simon's visit.

By A3 pupil Theo C