I’m three hundred miles away in what was once the Mill Masters house. I’m on the edge of a valley in Heptonstall. Mist obscures the town below and above within clearest sky a crescent moon. . Sylvia Plath’s grave is just beyond the ruins of an old church only ten minutes away. Her shadow stretches over this house and sleeps inside. It was bought and donated to the arvon foundation by her late husband Ted Hughes forty years ago. Now there are five such large houses around britian with a full year long programme throughout each where writers teach.
There are sixteen students here from Lambeth in London. They originate from Brazil and Portugal, some have been in England less than a year. Aged
between twelve and fifteen they are learning the ways and language of England.
It can’t be easy. Their grandparents aren’t here. Their extended family aren’t
here. The experience of separation matched with the challenge of learning new language is not the easy path, and all this in adolescence.
This is the Arvon Foundation’s first ever bi lingual writing course. It’s funded by The Gulbenkian Foundation who have a representative, Isabel Lucena, here
tonight. Lambeth schools portugeuse language coordinator Luisa Ribeiro is
here. Sam Holmes a teacher from the school has an amazing connection and empathy with the children – without his prep work this event wouldn’t have happened. And Ruth Borthwick, the Chief Executive Officer of The Arvon
Foundation arrives tomorrow . I have been invited by the prolific editor writer and translator Daniel Hahn and his co-tutor Susana moreira marques to be
the guest author for the students tonight.
Within minutes of entering the house I meet a student and ask her how the week is shaping up. She waves both her hands as if to waft away something from her face, she was trying not to cry . “I can’t believe tomorrow is
the last day she said. I never want to leave. ”
Later on and after they had cooked me a brilliant meal at the candle lit farmhouse table it was time for my reading. After cleaning the kitchen they walked across the yard and into the barn – the reading was to begin. “I know people who speak the same language and they still don’t understand each other.” Short pause “ Do you know what I mean” . I saw them thinking about it and the penny slowly dropping inside the deep well. I could here the plink sound as it slid beneath the surface. “you can speak the same language and still people don’t understand you”. And from there, somewhere between the language of trust and the language of the body and the language of poetry, we all laughed and dived in the well.
At the end of the reading they said they’d studied my poem Gold From the
stone and translated it and wanted to read it to me. I sat beneath the rafters of the barn beneath stars on the edge of a Valley in Yorkshire under a crescent moon. Sixteen Brazillian and portugese students, thousands of miles from home themselves extracated from everything they’ve known, stood and read my poem in their language.