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Leading Welsh poet's word music inspires West Norfolk students

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Students at a West Norfolk school have been given tips and advice for their exams from one of Wales’ most influential poets.

Gillian Clarke, who was the National Poet for Wales between 2008-2016, visited Smithdon High School in Hunstanton and read to around 300 students in the school hall.

The visit marked the first time she had been back in a school following the relaxation of Covid restrictions.

gillian clarke at smithdon (52836629)
gillian clarke at smithdon (52836629)

With her work featuring on the GSCE and A-Level exam syllabus, Gillian was able to pass on excellent advice on how to approach studying poetry during her visit.

She said: “I was asked to read and talk about one of my poems, ‘The Habit of Light’, as an example of the ‘unseen poem’ question in the exam.

“I began by warning them against using the internet. Its advice is rubbish! Trust yourself. Read, re-read. Hear the word-music."

Smithdon students met poet Gillian Clarke
Smithdon students met poet Gillian Clarke

Gillian was interviewed for the school magazine by four students during her visit to Smithdon High, which is part of West Norfolk Academies Trust.

She said they were “excellent” and had prepared their questions well.

“Being back in school was marvellous - I love working with teenagers,” she said.

“For the past 30 years I have read on stage with Poetry Live for GCSE students.

“I learn from students too. In a poem about the birth of my daughter, ‘Catrin’, I describe the umbilical cord as ‘the tight red rope of love.’

“A boy in the audience asked: ‘Could it be the chain of DNA between mother and child?’

“Brilliant thinking! I had not thought of it, but there it was, in the words. That’s the way to an A*.”

Gillian said it is important to engage young people in poetry as it is the “most accessible of the arts” - free to read and write.

She added: “It is made out of the stuff in our own heads. We all feel love, loss, grief, rage, jealousy, joy, heartbreak.

“There are beautiful poems for all experience. Read those, and write your own.

“Whatever you feel, write about it, share it with a friend. You’d be surprised how many people write secretly."

When it comes to her advice to young people about studying or writing poetry, Gillian said to never forget it is “word-music”.

“Try to hear that music before speaking about ‘understanding’ it,” she said.

“All you need to do is read the poem out loud or aloud in your head. Read it again. Listen. Bring your heart, mind and experience to it. It is all in the words.”

Amanda Wright, head of English, said: “We were delighted to welcome Gillian to Smithdon; her verse and advice captivated the hall.

“She echoed our advice to students: write confidently about what resonates.”

Head of school, Amanda Gibbins, said: “It was a great privilege to have such a renowned poet to make the time to visit our school and fantastic to see a prestigious speaker back in school directly addressing the students live."

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