West Sussex children's lockdown experiences captured in verse

Shoreham Wordfest has marked lockdown with an important collection of children’s experiences expressed in poetry.

Thursday, 15th October 2020, 7:00 am
Christine and Kay
Christine and Kay

Wordfest, supported by Adur District Council, decided to make lockdown a positive experience by collaborating with poet Kay Walton, of Rap’n’Rhyme, to encourage local children to think about their experience, view it from many angles, see the positives as well as the negatives and write poems about it.

Kay Walton, of Rap’n’Rhyme, explains: “When lockdown happened and we realised we wouldn’t be able to physically take our planned project into schools, we were in discussion about whether to postpone the launch of the primary poetry project until next year, but I felt that this could be an opportunity missed to use poetry to give children something really meaningful and historic to write about: their lockdown experiences. I suggested we move the project online, so children could access it at home, and make it all about what the children were going through. It could not only be a creative expression of their life in lockdown, but also an aid to their mental health, giving them an opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings about the situation.

“I made sure that the poems I wrote and recorded for the website showed a mix of approaches so that children could express the joys and frustrations of the lockdown experience.

“Luckily, Chrissie and Ros at Shoreham Wordfest agreed that this could be an important way in which to launch the SWF poetry project.

“There were several dangers in moving the project online:. We didn’t know how effectively schools would be able to promote the project to their children and we were aware of the tremendous strain they were under to try to provide remote learning to their pupils. We hoped that our project could support this remote learning as the resources on the Rap’n’Rhymers website were open to all. We didn’t know what the uptake would be from children at home and how supportive parents would be in helping them to access the online resources and write their poems.

“We weren’t sure if children would respond to the call and be inspired. But we found that all of those who accessed the resources were inspired in many different ways and we got a wonderful range of poetic, thoughtful and humorous responses back, so many in fact that we decided rather than choose a set number from each school for inclusion, we’d publish all the poems in a book and provide one book free to each participant poet as a memento of this time. SWF also suggested that we employ a local illustrator to illustrate the poems, which we did and Aaron Blecha did a fabulous job.”

Chrissie Ient, of Shoreham Wordfest, and Kay were overwhelmed by the number and variety of poems submitted, 114 poems in total written by children from 18 Adur and West Sussex schools. The result is Poems For Our Time – Lines from Lockdown 2020.

They launched the project in May with an online resource produced by Kay that could be accessed by schools, parents and children. Children were then invited to write a rap, a poem or a collection of haiku no longer than 20 lines. As Chrissie says, when they started to try to select the poems to be included in the book, they just couldn’t reject any of them. The children’s voices were in all the poems and it was decided that all should be heard.

“There are poems from the viewpoint of the virus or pets or wildlife, poems about the earth and the positive effect lockdown had on nature, poems about family and friends, about the NHS, about feelings of isolation; funny poems, very moving poems, short poems and long poems. The poems reflected the creativity, humour and thoughtfulness of children during what has been, and continues to be, a challenging time.”

Copies are available to buy from Shoreham Art Gallery or from www.shorehamwordfest.com

• Talk is increasing of further lockdowns in the UK. What do you think of the situation? Join the Big Conversation and have your say on everything from healthcare to how the pandemic has affected you personally and how we make our communities stronger: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/bc-worthing