Sonnets and the enduring power of Walter de la Mer

Two writing projects stand out in the last month; three sessions writing narrative poetry with the excellent Year 5 at Weetwood Primary School here in Headingley and a sonnet writing session with ‘more adult’ writers on ‘Super Sonnet Saturday’ at The Ropewalk in Barton-upon-Humber one morning a few weeks back. 

Both sessions had common threads. 

Dogged by snowy weather the school sessions had to be shifted to accommodate school closure, and I travelled out from Selby on a ‘replacement bus’ to Brough in driving sleet, not sure what weather I was going to discover at the end of my journey.  More positively both projects featured wonderful team-teaching.  At Weetwood Primary School the brilliant class teacher Joanne Parker and I found ourselves talking as one on writing, the importance of planning, editing and redrafting, and performance.  At the Ropewalk Trevor Millum, wonderful poet and workshop leader, worked with me and and we found we had brought in the same sonnets to demonstrate what they can do as a form.  As with Joanne at Weetwood, Trevor and I seemed to finish off each other’s sentences throughout the morning.

At Weetwood Primary I took in the poem ‘The Listeners’ by Walter de la Mer to show how a story can be hinted at in a poem.  Year 5 persevered through the thicket of archaic language of de la Mer’s wonderful poem,  and wrote their pieces from the point of view of the ‘listeners’ in the house. They read them to each other and parents on the final session, and I had to keep pinching myself and saying to myself, ’These children are only nine and ten’. The Super Sonneteers started off by writing a line in iambic pentameter, the signature metre in many sonnets, and then went on to write their own poems.  They were all fabulous.

I was so inspired by both projects that I went on to write two new pieces, one a Shakespearean sonnet about a house haunted by the past and the other a Petrarchan sonnet [my first] about a night out on the town, which is my poem of the month for April.

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