Jess Green – Picture The Poet, Lincolnshire

Jess Green tells us about her experience of running workshops in a Lincolnshire care home, how she saw the young people grow more involved and gain self-confidence.

Over the past six weeks I have been running performance poetry workshops with a group of young girls aged between 14 and 19 in a care home in Lincolnshire. This was organised by Apples and Snakes, part of the Picture the Poet project, a National Portrait Gallery touring exhibition in partnership with the National Literacy Trust and Apples and Snakes.

My aim was to introduce the group to performance poetry and help them to develop their own performance pieces using the theme of self portrait and identity as well as aspects of the exhibition.

The girls were really keen from day one even if they weren’t quite sure what performance poetry was or what they would be asked to do. I talked to them about the project and the idea of it not just being in their school but something that was happening on a wider scale nationally. They were really interested in the writing and performing side but less so in the exhibition. It became clear quite quickly that these were girls who had never been to London or to an art gallery and who couldn’t understand why anyone would want to go and look at pictures of boring poets…!

IMG_2403copyBut what they were really keen to do was to write their own stories about themselves, their worlds and the things that were important to them. They wanted to create their own portraits.

Over the six weeks we used photographs, post cards, their favourite songs, their most treasured possessions and sometimes just having a chat to generate ideas. They became really interested in the idea of ‘anything goes’ and ‘you can’t get it wrong’ and ‘it doesn’t have to be the best thing you’ve ever written first time’. They enjoyed the freedom of free writing (writing without thinking for a set length of time) and liked being given titles or ideas or images to think about and work on. Half way through the project they asked for their own notebooks so that they could write during the week and bring poems to the session.

Real highlights included the moment that students with really low self-confidence wrote something that they felt proud of and didn’t think they would be able to. As well as this it was lovely to see students who at the beginning of the project barely spoke or even looked in my direction, by the last session standing up in front of the rest of the group and reading out their work.

IMG_4899One of the girls, Tonicha, even decided to perform at the live event held at the Usher Gallery in Lincoln on the 24th of July.

The girls were great fun to work with and produced some really beautiful and inspiring pieces of work. I was quite sad when the project came to an end and I really hope the girls will continue to write as confidently as they were by the last session. And fingers crossed, they now understand why poetry is so important and why a London gallery would want to dedicate a whole exhibition to a bunch of boring poets.

Find out more about the Picture the Poet Project here, and keep in touch with Jess Green here: @jessgreenpoet | www.jessgreenpoet.com

Midlands based performance poet Jess Green has performed at Glastonbury, Latitude, Bestival and the Edinburgh Fringe. She is currently touring a music and spoken word show, Burning Books. She also runs the poetry and rap night, Find The Right Words in Leicester, as well as poetry and creative writing workshops around the country.