197 years ago this week, Emily Bronte was born in the village of Haworth, Yorkshire. Though best known for her one and only novel – the brooding and wild tale of obsession Wuthering Heights – she also wrote poetry, a selection of which featured alongside others from her sisters Charlotte and Anne and published in 1846 in a small volume simply entitled Poems, under the male pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Out of all of the sisters, Emily is the most mysterious, with not much known about her work or life outside of biographies that were constructed after her death by her sister Charlotte. However, she was thought to have written somewhere near two hundred poems, only a fraction of which featured in Poems.
To mark her anniversary and celebrate Emily in her own right, this week’s Featured Poem is a selection from her. Otherworldly presences are just as apparent here as in her most famous piece of work, but are they haunting – prolonging the sad and gloomy mood – comforting, or something else entirely?
I’ll Come When Thou Art Saddest
I’ll come when thou art saddest,
Laid alone in the darkened room;
When the mad day’s mirth has vanished,
And the smile of joy is banished
From evening’s chilly gloom.
I’ll come when the heart’s real feeling
Has entire unbiased sway,
And my influence o’er thee stealing,
Grief deepening joy congealing,
Shall bear thy soul away.
Listen ’tis just the hour,
The awful time for thee;
Dost thou not feel upon thy soul
A flood of strange sensations roll,
Forerunners of a sterner power,
Heralds of me?
We obviously love to talk about literature here at The Reader Organisation, so we were rather pleased and intrigued in equal measure to find this post on The Guardian Books Blog on books that make great conversation starters. An eclectic list, but definitely ones that get us talking, in one way or another.
This week’s atmospheric Featured Poem comes from D.H. Lawrence, and continues the weather theme from last week – after all, isn’t that the most typically British of conversation starters? It certainly stimulated some insightful thoughts amongst one of our community shared reading groups recently, and showed how literature can run deep beneath the surface, bringing out topics that may not be expected from the original starting point… The Project Worker facilitating the group tells us in more detail:
“The group shared their feelings about how they felt about thunder and lightning. Some were scared by it, some excited. One man, who often struggles with concentration and anxiety, picked out a fine detail that I had not noticed myself in the poem but was really struck by. ‘Why does it just say ‘down the sky’ – shouldn’t there be something else there – like ‘down from the sky so we know where it is coming from and which direction it’s going?’ His observation led to a great discussion about how unpredictable nature and life can be. Again some members felt scared by that thought, some excited.
The following week, one of the members who had spoken about being frightened by thunder and lightning and its unpredictability, brought in a padded envelope. ‘I’ve got something in there for you all to look at – now tell me what they are?’ Inside were what looked to me like two crystal type sand coloured rocks – fossils – call them what you will – and they were faceted with fine layers of stone. ‘Roses’, one member said, ‘They look like roses.’ ‘You’ve got it!’ the lady who had brought these marvellous objects in for us to look at exclaimed. She went on to tell the group about how the poem had reminded her of them. She had got them on a holiday years ago and spoke about how they are formed when the lightning comes down in the desert and hits the sand. ‘These are what are formed underneath and then people dig them up to sell to tourists. And do you know what they’re called? Desert Roses. Aren’t they beautiful?’ I loved the fact that the poem had brought back such experiences to the group member, and that she had carried on thinking about the poem after the group and brought things from her own life to think a bit more about it. I also loved the fact that she had moved from talking about being frightened about lightening and the unexpected to seeing what beauty might come out of it. And I also loved the fact that she wanted to share this with the group.”
Take a read, and see what gets you talking.
Storm in the Black Forest
Now it is almost night, from the bronzy soft sky
jugfull after jugfull of pure white liquid fire, bright white
tipples over and spills down,
and is gone
and gold-bronze flutters beat through the thick upper air.
And as electric liquid pours out, sometimes
a still brighter white snake wriggles among it, spilled
and tumbling wriggling down the sky:
and then the heavens cackle with uncouth sounds.
And the rain won’t come, the rain refuses to come!
This is the electricity that man is supposed to have mastered
chained, subjugated to his own use!
“I learnt about my good qualities and realised how much of a difference the small things make, especially because I cared about being the best person I could be for the young people.” – volunteer at the Book It! Summer School 2014
Our Off The Page project is getting underway, with our volunteers being trained and inducted into the programme where they’ll be helping us reach hundreds of disadvantaged children across Liverpool with reading. Team Off The Page have been busy making a star appearance on BBC Radio Merseyside (as well as snapping a selfie with Roger Phillips), selecting texts to read – a big thank you to the Siobhan Dowd Trust for sending through a hundred old and new favourites especially for the project! – and planning for their week-long Summer School, which will be coming to Calderstones Mansion House at the end of August. We’re currently looking for a charismatic, entertaining and enthusiastic individual to become our Summer School Leader – if you can think creatively and are passionate about engaging young people with literature and new experiences, you could fit the bill. More information can be found here (deadline for applicants is Thursday 16th July, 9am).
Last year’s Summer School was an amazing experience for the young people involved, with stories being shared, confidence built and friendships made. Many of the young people discovered books they had never heard of or read before, and in many cases found that their enthusiasm for reading grew:
“I’m dyslexic so I don’t often read that much, this has made me more confident because here no one laughs at you when you make a mistake.”
“I’ve finished reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid – I finished it in three days because I felt more confident. Now my mum gets me a new book every Friday instead of pocket money. I’ll do a lot of reading now.”
Our volunteers working on the Summer School project also rediscovered the power of reading, and how important sharing stories, especially one on one with a child or young person, can be:
“One day one ten year old boy was having a really bad day. He had taken a while to begin to join in with the team but had settled in, and we’d found a series of books he’d liked which we were really pleased about. This one day he was restless and uncooperative. The other assistants and I were worried about him and cared deeply that he was obviously unhappy.
I asked him if he wanted a bit of time out from the group and we sat together and I read Jack and the Baked Beanstalk by Colin Stimpson while he listened. It was young for his age but as we often found, suitable age groupings for books were irrelevant if the story was a good one. He really loved it and I loved being able to give him that time. It was a true shared reading experience and I think we both benefitted from it! I really felt the calming and inspiring power of literature and reading stories. I didn’t need to ask him what was wrong but he visibly relaxed and engaged with the story. He was great at drawing cartoons and when we rejoined the group he sat and drew his own version of the book. We were reading a story out loud at the time and when we were talking about it he joined in, so we knew he’d been listening and enjoying that too. It was such a positive experience, I’ll never forget it.
If we were lucky enough to have had people who took the time to encourage us to read for pleasure when we were young it is easy to take that aspect of childhood for granted. My experience at the Summer Camp enabled me to see that some children’s’ lives are so full of disruption, whether around them or in their thoughts, that that time hasn’t happened. Reading one to one is an opportunity to share peace, and fun, and the wonder of possibility, to give that time that should be every child’s right.”
– Ginni, volunteer at the Book It! Summer School 2014
Of course, a love of reading isn’t just for summer – we’re looking for volunteers who would be able to commit to reading with a young person aged between 11-16 one-on-one for a minimum of six months. You’ll receive full training and support from our Off The Page team, and the rewards you’ll receive from sharing literature and being involved in a young person’s development at such a vital stage are endless.
It’s a little disheartening after the recent spells of sunshine to look out of the window and find the rain splashing against it…not to mention that this week sees St Swithin’s Day arrive once more. We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled on Wednesday and hoping for sunshine to avoid forty days of solid showers – especially as we’ve got more outdoor theatre at Calderstones to look forward to in the coming weeks.
We’ll keep this poem from Edward Thomas aside for when the rain goes away, looking in particular for ‘little black fish’ at the roadsides and ‘uncountable crystals’ hanging from the trees. Most definitely a cheerier way to perceive a downpour.
The rain of a night and a day and a night
Stops at the light
Of this pale choked day. The peering sun
Sees what has been done.
The road under the trees has a border new
of purple hue
Inside the border of bright thin grass:
For all that has
Been left by November of leaves is torn
From hazel and thorn
And the greater trees. Throughout the copse
No dead leaf drops
On grey grass, green moss, burnt-orange fern,
At the wind’s return:
The leaflets out of the ash-tree shed
Are thinly spread
In the road, like little black fish, inlaid,
As if they played.
What hangs from the myriad branches down there
So hard and bare
Is twelve yellow apples lovely to see
On one crab-tree.
And on each twig of every tree in the dell
Crystals both dark and bright of the rain
That begins again.
Today (13th July) also sees the anniversary of Wordsworth finishing Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey in 1798. It’s one of our favourites, but running at an impressive 1,200 words it’s a tad too long to feature here. You can read it in its entirety here – something to enjoy over a rainy lunch break.
Here at The Reader’s HQ, the weekend antics of Blur’s Damon Albarn have got everyone talking. After refusing to end a marathon five-hour set at the Roskilde festival in Denmark, Damon was picked up and carried offstage by a man thought to be the stage manager (BBC News), at the heroic hour of 4am – much to the crowd’s disappointment.
I’m sure there are times when many of us have experienced the immersive power of music – though perhaps we don’t reach a point of being literally carried away like Damon. In Yeats’ ‘A Crazed Girl’, the speaker is enthralled by a young woman who finds relief from her harsh existence in singing. Despite the poem’s bleakness, perhaps like the speaker we can take something uplifting from ‘her triumph’ over her situation, through the ‘desperate music’ she makes.
A Crazed Girl
That crazed girl improvising her music.
Her poetry, dancing upon the shore,
Her soul in division from itself
Climbing, falling she knew not where,
Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship,
Her knee-cap broken, that girl I declare
A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing
Heroically lost, heroically found.
No matter what disaster occurred
She stood in desperate music wound,
Wound, wound, and she made in her triumph
Where the bales and the baskets lay
No common intelligible sound
But sang, ‘O sea-starved, hungry sea.’
William Butler Yeats
Every year, almost 148,000 children leave primary school in England unable to read well – including one third of all children growing up in poverty according to a report released by Save the Children as part of their Read On Get On Campaign.
Ready to Read calls on national government for ‘a decisive shift towards early action and investment to help address one of the country’s most pressing challenges – entrenched educational underachievement’.
However the report’s findings demonstrate that the root of this issue stems from a child’s pre-school years:
- A child with weak language skills at the age of five is much less likely to be a strong reader at the age of 11
- In England, almost one child in four (23%) does not meet the expected level of language development by the age of five
- Children living in poverty face a much greater risk of falling behind – one in three (35%) does not have the language skills expected of a five-year-old
[Ready to Read, 2015]
Due to the impact of Early Years speech and language development on life chances, the report states that in order to fulfil the primary aim of the Read On Get On campaign – that every child in England can read well by the age of 11 by 2025 – an interim goal is needed: that every five-year-old in England should have good language skills by 2020.
However in the midst of calls for national focus and investment in Early Years, Save the Children recognises that this challenge is not Westminster’s alone. It also requires the coordination of local services, organisations and families to address reading standards – an area in which Liverpool is already leading the way through its city-wide campaign City of Readers, joint-funded by Liverpool City Council and Liverpool Learning Partnership, and delivered by The Reader Organisation.
The success of previous projects The Reader Organisation has delivered with children and young people in schools and other educational settings, including a three year transition project reading with deprived school pupils in Glasgow, have left us well-placed to replicate our efforts in Early Years Development. The graph below shows the improvement in reading and language skills of the children in one of our shared reading groups within the space of six months, when beforehand the same children had little interest in reading for pleasure:
Taking the initiative in 2012 to lay the foundations for future prosperity and skills growth, Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson instigated a 12-month commission into the city’s education system, led by former education secretary Estelle Morris. The Mayor saw a link between improving reading standards for children and reducing the number of NEETs (young people not in education, employment or training). The commissioned report From Better to Best was published in July 2013 and the City of Readers campaign was formed in order to develop a new generation of readers in Liverpool.
Since then, the Liverpool Learning Partnership initiative City of Readers has been promoting opportunities for families to help their children’s language and speech development, through projects including the PVI programme commissioned by Liverpool City Council’s Childcare and Family Information Service (CAFIS).
In the PVI programme, The Reader Organisation works with nurseries from the Private, Voluntary and Independent sector to deliver shared reading groups across Liverpool, for two-year olds and their parents and carers.This access to free early education also represents opportunities for family bonding and fostering reading pleasure.
Jan Gallagher, Principal Officer at CAFIS, spoke of how the PVI project has been received so far:
“Although still in the early stages of the programme, early indications are very positive, and feedback from nursery staff and parents is suggesting the benefits for the future, and the enjoyment of those families involved.”
In another initiative to encourage families to read together, City of Readers recently hosted a free event with the Sunday Times Children’s Book Editor Nicolette Jones and award-winning writer Frank Cottrell Boyce at The Reader Organisation’s headquarters in Calderstones Park. This event, ‘Turning Pages Together: a celebration of children’s literature’ saw both author and critic highlight their rich experience of the best in children’s literature to the community, just one of many events that the City of Readers campaign will be offering across the city to make reading for pleasure more accessible and achievable.
Nicolette Jones praised the foresight of Liverpool City Council in its efforts through City of Readers to raise the profile of reading in the city as a whole – celebrating the enjoyment of reading in all our communities:
“I am delighted that Liverpool City Council has been so enlightened as to encourage the exemplary Reader Organisation, which has found effective ways of making children and adults love books, and has allowed them to make Calderstones Mansion the hub of this joyous activity, as well as enabling their outreach into nurseries, homes, schools and other institutions.
The world is going to be a better place, starting in Liverpool.”
Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson reinforces that a wider culture of reading needs to be embraced in order to increase children’s literacy development:
“I want to thank everyone who’s been engaged in the City of Readers programmes, but I also want families to be engaged… I want your grandparents, uncles, aunties, mums and dads… to help work with our young kids to make sure that they’re able to read and if we do that I’m sure our city will have a better future in terms of educational standards”.
City of Readers recently produced a short video highlighting their work with early years’ children and parents, giving an opportunity to hear directly from those involved with their PVI programme and the benefits they have experienced. You can watch the video here or by taking a look below (with special thanks to Insight Moving Images):
On August 10th City of Readers will be supporting the Read On Get On national Storytime Starters event with Beanstalk. The city-wide celebration of reading will see storytellers from both organisations offering free storytime sessions across several parks and green spaces in the city.
Find out more information about this event and where your nearest story time session will be as well as more on the City of Readers campaign at: www.cityofreaders.org