Exploring utopias and dystopias with Young Writers’ City students

As part of our Young Writers’ City project, poet Bob Beagrie has been working with a Year 8 and a Year 9 class at Excelsior Academy in Newcastle…

Throughout this phase of the project we have been using creative writing to explore themes of hope and hate, of identity, place and one’s sense of connection. The activities have involved individual and collaborative writing; free expression through word play; short fiction, as well as writing in strict poetic forms.

The sessions have included discussions of the work of poets and novelists; considering utopias and dystopias through a variety of games (including ‘The Sun Shines On’ and ‘Pass the Parcel’); storytelling (‘Pandora’s Box’ and ‘Odysseus and the Cyclops’); responding to and interpreting sequences of projected images and film extracts; riddling through kennings and extended metaphors; personification, and capturing concrete details from the views outside of the classroom window.

We have also investigated the broad range of emotions which lie between hope and hate – considering how they feel, their triggers, how they affect behaviour and their potential consequences, as well as what other emotions precede, follow or accompany them; tying the creative activities firmly into a context of social and emotional learning.

Some activities encourage close observation of objects, in an effort to reveal the extraordinary within the seemingly ordinary. Others allow students to project themselves into imagined settings and situations and to respond emotively. Students reflect upon the web of connections that join one another, and their ties to different places, ideas and beliefs. Other activities have been geared towards shaping raw notes into more coherent poetic patterns and narrative structures.

It has been a pleasure to watch, week by week, as the students’ confidence has grown and they have become more accustomed to the creative process of non-critical spontaneous expression, followed by more considered revision and editing.

Sometimes the topics discussed tap into their interests and concerns, and they have a great deal to say, feeling validated enough to exchange views on politics, ethics, the environment, racism and sexism – occasionally to such a degree that it’s difficult to get them to return to the task of writing! However, the work produced during the nine weeks has clearly shown a high level of creative engagement, imaginative freedom and a growing maturity toward literary expression, along with a growing confidence in drawing upon their own personal experiences as a source for writing.

Facebook: Young Writers’ City at Excelsior

Young Writers’ City is a project from New Writing North and Cuckoo Young Writers based in Newcastle upon Tyne. We want to get more young people from the city involved in creative projects and offer them the chance to experience all types of writing in their own communities. Young Writers’ City supports young people to make their own work and share their work with audiences and readers.