As we celebrate the Thresholds poets-in-residence project at a finale party at the Fitzwilliam Museum tonight, Dr Judy Fox reflects on the processes and revelations of Ann Gray's residency at the Botanic Garden.
From late winter to spring, Thresholds has organised poets in residence at ten of the University’s collections including the University Library and the Botanic Garden. The aims of the project included writing new poems (you can listen to one of Ann Gray's new poems, Ghazal, via the listen link on the right) and running public engagement workshops to introduce more young people to poetry. I was lucky enough to have the time to be involved with Ann Gray here at the Garden.
We worked alongside a group of students from the Red Balloon Learner Centre, all very special students aged from 12 – 16 years who have experienced severe bullying and have been unable to continue in mainstream school. We met on five occasions, both in the Garden and at their school, and hope that the burgeoning relationship will continue to thrive and become a lasting Thresholds legacy.
I love poetry and any chance to read, write and generally immerse myself in this secret language, but many young people are immune to its magic and regard it with a kind of dread or at least anxiety. Ann and I approached our young onlookers, therefore, with great care. Ann described the teaching methods as equivalent to ‘holding a hot potato’ and we had to be acutely aware of what worked and what did not when encouraging the students to articulate their responses to the Garden, and be prepared to ‘drop the potato’ when things were not going as hoped.
The Garden declared itself and captured everyone’s attention – there's so much Garden treasure to pick up and collect and amazing shapes and colours to find even in the depths of winter. The students flourished behind the camera and made some wonderful images onto which the students began to add their thoughts and words. Some of this began in the Garden and the Red Balloon teachers carried on this subtle process back at school. We were able to visit and see a wonderful wall of images and poems developing, Ann describing the process as ‘dropping in words’. Some students went further and created poems and one student is developing Where is that tree that leads to heaven? a beautiful new poem trail which we hope soon to install at the Garden.