11 Jul 2018

POETIC OUTREACH: FACILITATING POETRY WORKSHOPS IN DCU LIBRARY

Highly Commended post in the Conul Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Award 2018. 
This post is by Eilís Ní Raghallaigh of DCU Library

A series of serendipitous events resulted in one of the highlights of my working year – DCU Library’s delivery of poetry workshops to O’Connell’s Primary School. We had already established contact with this local school in October 2017 following a Facebook request by their school librarian for book donations.

O'Connell’s School Facebook post requesting book donations

The Director of Public Services and Outreach and I dropped a box of children’s books in to the secondary school and met with the Vice-Principal.

She reacted enthusiastically to our suggestion of a school visit to Cregan library in the near future. The library building is still only 3 years old and its combination of stained glass windows, colourful furniture and panoramic view of the city make it a popular draw for visitors

It just so happened that one of our new members of staff, Lucinda Jacob, had her book ‘Hopscotch in the Sky’ published by Little Island and Poetry Ireland that October. Lucinda is a children’s author and illustrator and this is her first book of children’s poetry. Little Island also released a free online poetry kit with her book aimed at teachers and facilitators who wish to teach poetry to children. Lucinda regularly runs creative writing workshops for children and the stars continued to align when she agreed to run two poetry workshops with pupils from O’Connell’s School.

Lucinda advised me that fourth class primary school groups would be the ideal audience and that workshops held between 11 am and 12 pm would be best. Armed with that information I contacted the Vice-Principal of the secondary school who put me in touch with the secretary of their primary school. We arranged dates for two fourth class workshops and in November the first group of pupils arrived at Cregan Library.

Lucinda Jacob poses with ‘Hopscotch in the sky’ and runs a poetry workshop with O'Connell’s School fourth class pupils

We led the group up through the library to the digital learning labs on the first floor. The pupils were wide-eyed as they passed by groups of busy students but Lucinda expertly put them at their ease. She welcomed them and introduced both of us as staff working in ‘this brilliant library.’ She added that we were looking forward to seeing them here in the future, studying subjects they love. I witnessed their self-consciousness melt away as she read funny, scary and surprising poems from her collection. She showed them how to structure a haiku, but advised them not to get too bogged down in design. If their poem didn’t fit with a certain form, they should keep going with their own sense of how their poem should flow.

Ensuring they were feeling relaxed and comfortable, she encouraged them to contribute to their own original class poem. She asked them to imagine themselves as an animal and to suggest an action to go along with that animal. “I am a dinosaur laughing with my friend,” was the first suggestion and I watched as Lucinda drew a contribution from each pupil. Some of the suggestions echoed previous lines but there were no wrong answers - a complete poem slowly formed on the page in front of us. The final suggestion, “I am a footballer scoring 28 goals,” didn’t strictly relate to the theme of the poem but Lucinda used it as a closing metaphor. She explained that the footballer embodied each animal and action suggested as he laughed with his teammates, evaded his opponents and scored goals – genius!

Poem created by O’Connell’s School fourth class pupils in a DCU Library workshop

The next class visit was just as successful and both groups hugely enjoyed the workshops. Lucinda has been busy working with the DCU Institute of Education over the last few months but we hope to run more workshops next year. I liked helping to de-mystify the library space for the pupils and getting them thinking about third level education as a distinct possibility, rather than just an abstract concept. It was amazing to see how Lucinda used poetry to draw the pupils out and unlock creativity in each one of them. I felt energised for weeks after the workshops and I was delighted to have played a small part in bringing them about.


REFERENCES
(1) Menton, J. [John]. (2017, September 8) Hi all, I am the school librarian in O’Connell’s Secondary School... [Facebook status update]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/groups/therickosheabookclub/permalink/1988107618069369/
(2) Jacob, L. (2017). Hopscotch in the sky. Dublin: Little Island Books and Poetry Ireland.
(3) Jacob, L. (2017). Hopscotch in the sky poetry kit. Dublin: Little Island Books. Available at: http://littleisland.ie/books/hopscotch-poetry-kit/ 
(4) Ní Raghallaigh, E. (2017). Lucinda Jacob poses with Hopscotch in the sky and runs a poetry workshop with O'Connell’s School fourth class pupils [Photograph].
(5) Ní Raghallaigh, E. (2017). Poem created by O’Connell’s School pupils in a DCU Library workshop


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