Teaching the Foyles Prize Winners (feb 15th to 19th)

When playwright John Osborne owned The Hurst, he declared that he had the ‘best view in England’. It was the best view in his England.  Surrounded by Housman’s ‘blue remembered hills’, and featuring three 18th century buildings, thirty acres of sprawling woodland and a spring-fed lake, The Hurst is incredible all the same. 

I’ve been here all  week, by the spring fed lake,  teaching  a residential course to  fourteen winners of the Foyles Poetry Prize.  The prize winners range fifteen to eighteen years of age are an inspiration.  Alongside  Caroline Bird my co-tutor  we have experienced non-stop laughter and productivity the whole week from start to finish. My work ethic  is to work hard and have fun.  

Fourteen people chosen from a competition entry record of fourteen thousand people is impressive. The judges were  Selima Hill and myself.     The students work this week is of high standard confirming our choice.  Each day has been filled with writing,  each evening a reading of some kind.  Dinner is at long candle lit tables.  . It is idyllic and we have the Osborne’s to thank.

By the end of the week poems were falling through  the ceiling sliding betwixt the wooden beams. On one day it snowed and covered our world in sheets of white paper as if early drafts had been torn up thrown into the clouds where they crystallized and returned in sheets. There were poems everywhere,  of  astonishing quality. Their  energy was focussed,   evident in the attention to detail and specifity of metaphor.

On Friday we made a gallery of The Ted Hughes room,    tied string from wall to wall,   attached  poems to the string, placed poems on the walls.  This is an idea of mine cultivated with adult students some years ago at Arvon.   With lights off and music by Sibelious one by one we were ushered in to the darkness. Each was given a torch some used their mobile/cell phones as a torch. The only rule was that no one speak. 

These dedicated  people had so thouroughly bonded you could have easily thought them family.  I’ll remember the snow and  candle lit dinners, and the writing, the amount and the quality and the laughter and the readings but here in the gallery, silence, darkness, torches fixed on white pieces of paper  floating in the air and the  wordless music  filling the room as  streams of light  swept from one poem to the other. 

Supplementary note:   On March 7th the Sunday Independent   covered the entire
course through the eyes of  attendee Phoebe Powers. 

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