SPINE residency blog: Cecilia Knapp

Cecilia Knapp Performing

Its my fourth day as Artist in Residence at Pimlico library and each session has brought me a new and joyful experience. I’m working alongside mixed media artist Emma Ghafur who brings new, inventive and engaging activities to each day we spend here. Combining creative writing with visual art is making really exciting and vibrant work.

Libraries are wonderful places and this residency has really shown me that. They’re little microcosms where people from all different walks of life merge together to spend time in a safe space, to learn, to try new things and to socialise. They nurture and cultivate communities. That’s why festivals such as Spine are so lovely to work on. They create energy around the library and encourage members of the community to come and get involved in different ways.
So far, I’ve worked with two lovely, energetic school groups. The teachers have told me that its so nice for the children to be able to get out of school and participate in activities they may have never tried before. In the sessions I’ve led so far, we’ve played a few games, including some competitive rounds of “Haiku Bingo”, (a game that I learnt from poet and educator Laurie Bolger.) The aim of Haiku bingo is to write a Haiku as quickly as possible on a given subject (for example “Sunday morning”, “school” or “Pizza”!) and when you’re done, shout Haiku Bingo! A Haiku is a Japanese poem consisting of 3 lines, the first of which has 5 syllables, the second 7 , then 5 syllables again for the final line. The kids loved it, especially the competitive element. It’s a fun, quick and accessible introduction to poetry. We also did simile bingo where the children had to finish a sentence such as “as hot as a…” with a drawing that completed the simile. We had some cracking illustrations and some very inventive suggestions.

Plastiscine animation in cardboard boxes, decorated by participants

One of the nicest things we did during the workshop was a conversation exercise. I asked the young people to pair up and pick a question out of a hat. Questions included: “Whats the kindest thing someone has ever done for you?” “What is your favourite subject and why?” “If you could click your fingers and go anywhere, where would you go?” One of the questions was about bravery, and one year 6 student wrote; “The bravest thing I have ever done is to get rid of my fear of being shy and I am still shy but I am trying my best.” I thought this statement was extremely brave in itself. I spoke to the children about how stories and poems can help us to feel less alone because they are all about sharing experiences. We discussed how learning about what other people have been through and where they have come from can help us understand each other more an make us feel less alone. I think this was my favourite part of the workshop, the students were thoughtful and kind to one another and took a genuine interest in the conversations sparked from the exercise.

The central theme around our work in Pimlico library is Place, so for the last part of the schools workshops, I’ve been asking the children to write poems about a setting. We’ve been writing shopping lists of things we would choose to buy in the supermarket then using these items to make inventive poems. Here are some fabulous examples from St Matthews School:

‘Strange Garden’ By Tatyana, year 6, St. Matthews School

Your cheeks are as red as strawberries.
The clouds are mayonnaise
with the attracting essence of cheese and onion crisps.
The water flows gently in the tea river.
Some of are clicking away on our iphones,
Some are taking in books.
The fountain is trickling away
Like the ink of a broken pen
The rest are serenely reading in their den.

‘Dream world’ by Elijah year 6 St. Matthews School

Coke raindrops fizzed into my mouth
Fanta Santa turned into fizzy snowman
Pizza bounced across sweet clouds
Chickens clucked through the air but
Sadly teleported to KFC
Ice cream whirled into peoples mouths.

Other than schools work, we’ve been spending time with lots of families on the weekends. We’ve been running drop in family sessions, again on the theme of Place, combining creative writing with visual arts and animation, which Emma has been leading on. So far, we’ve created a black and white mural on the table using words and pictures, we’ve built settings using boxes decorated with all sorts of materials and colours, we’ve created plastiscine and lego characters to

The box sculpture

animate in these places and we’ve drawn our favourite places and labelled them with words and poems. I’ve created poem templates for the children to work with as well as the craft, where they can write about their favourite holiday, favourite place, their bedroom or a dream world, encouraging them to use similes and metaphors and their senses.

Today we created a ‘Place’ installation using cardboard boxes, encouraging children to write and draw on the structure to create a big colourful sculpture. Its got the Eifel tower, out of space scenes, beaches, cities and different countries on it, as well as poems on the roof. Its been amazing meeting all the families and young people over the last couple of weeks, and seeing how this library is a real place of fun and community for so many people. The parents are enjoying doing something different with their children and really getting stuck in.

Both Emma and I are so looking forward to the next couple of weeks of our residency. We’ll be working with even more school students of varying ages as well as some other community groups, such as older people. Having access to the community around the library and hearing their stories is a huge pleasure and we feel very honoured to be here.

Part of our black and white mural about “Place”