Wednesday, 26 April 2017
The Girls’ Division Open Mic Night was a creative celebration of pupils’ individual voices and perspectives. The girls shared the stage with Caroline Bird, a poet and playwright whose first collection was published when she was fifteen. She has since won numerous awards and published three more collections, to critical acclaim. She was one of the five official poets at London Olympics 2012.
Introducing the evening, Mrs Kingsford spoke of the important place that creative writing holds in the School. She noted that the pieces of writing performed over the course of the evening were the product of fortnightly creative writing lessons for Years 7 to 9, after-school creative writing groups for older pupils and, of course, the recent Creative Writing Retreat to the Lake District. Before handing over to Caroline, she quoted Albert Einstein: “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”
“It’s a privilege and a joy to be here hosting this,” Caroline said as she took to the stage. Harking back to Mrs Kingsford’s mention of the Creative Writing Retreat, she talked about how important these are for writers and the difference that a creative writing retreat made for her at the age of thirteen. In her humorous and insightful introduction to the evening, also Caroline reflected on the fact that poetry is about “not knowing” and “remembering the feeling of the bizarreness of life”. She commended all of the writers performing at the Open Mic Night for capturing this feeling in their work.
The pupils then took to the stage, each group briefly introduced by Caroline.
The winners of the School’s National Poetry Day competition were the first to read. The theme of messages came through strongly in all three pieces of poetry.
This was followed by a selection of work from the Journal Classes, which pupils introduced with a brief explanation of what had inspired them to write the poem. Caroline remarked that these pieces of writing were often about making the ordinary extraordinary, or looking at things from a new perspective.
Next came a varied collection of poems from the Creative Writing Retreat: some inspired by the locations the group visited, others by the writing prompts they were given, and a few bucking the trend of ‘typical’ love or nature poems!
Finally, the evening came to a close with pieces by the Creative Writing Group. These Caroline described as having a strong voice and, once again, a creative way of looking at something familiar.
The girls’ performances throughout the evening brought their words to life from the page. They prompted sighs, gasps and laughter from the audience, and each pupil received a well-deserved round of applause.
The difficult task of judging the poems and selecting overall winners fell to Caroline. At the beginning of the evening, she stressed how difficult this had been. She commended Lucy Rowlands in Year 11 for her poem ‘In the Proximity of H2O and Sodium Phosphate’, written on the creative writing retreat because she didn’t want to write nature poems any more. She also commended Grace Collins in Year 8 and her piece, particularly for its wonderful title of ‘Widespread Upper Appendages’.
The Year 7 to 9 winner was Charlotte Jones with ‘Invitation from a Horse’, which Caroline particularly praised for the way it captured the horse’s viewpoint. The Year 10 to 13 winner was Eloise Booth with ‘Hunger Hill’ for its voice and the way it revisits childhood.
After the interval, Caroline herself took centre stage to perform some of her poems. She said, “I like to write strange poems about normal feelings.”
Caroline continued to talk about the inspiration behind some of her poems as she moved through her set, such as the fact that ‘The Promise’ came from the idea of reinterpreting a fairytale ending through a “self-loathing filter”, ‘The Military Life of a Maverick Teardrop’ wonders how the other tears might feel about the lone tear that rolls down a character’s cheek in a Hollywood film, and ‘SS Suppression’ was written after she found out about a sunken warship full of explosives and realised it could be a good metaphor for a secret. Relationships were a theme running through many of the poems Caroline read over the course of the evening, including ‘The Monogamy Optician’ and ‘Playing at Families’ which inspired one of the poetry banners created by girls that was put on display on the English corridor.
The thought-provoking combination of poems Caroline had chosen often combined sadness with humour, and her last poem – ‘Road Signs’, about becoming a writer and her mother – made for an uplifting end to the Open Mic Night.
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