Words for Waterloo: A Collaborative Poem by New Abbey Pupils
What better way to celebrate a historical landmark than to write a poem? In this Live Literature-supported project, poet Hugh Bryden pitched in to help New Abbey Primary School pupils compose a poem to celebrate the Waterloo Monument. Anna Johnson, who organised the five-week project, tells us more in this blog.
Dumfries and Galloway Council works with local communities in the three NSA’s in the region to help people get to know and enjoy these designated landscapes. Building on previous projects undertaken in the NSAs, we enlisted poet Hugh Bryden to help pupils develop their historical research and experience of visiting the monument into creative writing.
The project was building towards something very special. We knew that Prussian and Belgian soldiers fought alongside the British at Waterloo, including men from Gifhorn, a German town that is twinned with Dumfries. A delegation from Gifhorn was visiting New Abbey in early June to lay a wreath at the Monument, and they planned to visit the school. We decided to make this visit a focus of the project and were excited to be performing individual and class work for the delegation!
During an afternoon with Hugh, the pupils were introduced to artists’ books and pamphlets produced by his Roncadora Press. Each pupil was asked to keep a short sensory diary during their visit to the Monument, to touch, smell and listen as well as look and record the details and write how they felt to be at the Monument.
On a wet, muddy May morning the whole school made its way up the steep, stepped path to the top of the hill. Quite a challenge for some of the younger pupils - but perfect ground conditions for remembering the Battle of Waterloo!
The young ones were then asked to refer to their diaries and write three lines about being at the Monument and how they felt. The older ones were asked to use their research about the battle and write three lines that told us something about the place and the feelings of a soldier.
The collaborative poem was created by stitching all three-line stanzas together. The contemporary and historical writing was used alternately in the poem to create an echo/contrast in time.
All the pupils’ draft stanzas were later emailed to Hugh, giving him time to assess the content and organise a running order, and on his final visit he worked with both classes, editing lines and working with particular pupils to fill in gaps in the poem. Agreement was also reached following discussion on the layout of the pamphlet and the illustrations for the cover.
If there had been more time we would have loved to introduce a repeat couplet or chorus (perhaps in French or German) to introduce more rhythm to the poem!
The project took place over five weeks and included four half-day sessions with the poet/illustrator, one of which was studio-based to prepare and assemble the booklets. Two of the half-day sessions were supported by Live Literature.
The poetry pamphlet was given to the visitors as a memento, and extra copies were requested to take back to Germany for the ‘Dumfries Friends’ group.
When the children were asked at the end of the summer term what had gone well in the school and what needed improvement all the children unanimously and enthusiastically agreed the Waterloo celebrations were their favourite event of the year!
For more information on applying for Live Literature support for events, click here.