by Joe Kelly
The links between Kevin Mc Dermott and Trinity Comprehensive School have been strong for many years now and this bond was further strengthened in the past year through an innovative trilingual, international creative writing initiative.
The residency saw Kevin work with a group of thirteen students in our school library over the course of a number of weeks. Students were selected based on their interest in creative writing and the group was made up of twelve second year students and a single student from Transition Year.
As a way of setting a theme, Kevin introduced the young writers to the powerful words of Greta Thunberg and together we reflected upon the climate disaster that we have brought about through our disregard for the environment.
Free writing exercises were an important part of these workshops as the students were encouraged to write in a way that was as much physical as it was mental. They were asked to tap into their thoughts and let these words, images and ideas flow onto the page as they appeared to them in their minds. This approach meant that the writers produced work that otherwise may have not seen the light of day if they had had the time to plan and reflect as they wrote. Within these many lines of writing, Kevin taught them to recognise gems and nuggets that lay there shining and waiting to be discovered.
We have long had links with Vimmerby in Sweden and teachers and librarians from both countries have visited each other to learn about methods that may not be prevalent in their respective educational systems. It was decided that students in Astrid Lindgrens skola would shadow us and produce their own pieces of writing based on Kevin’s workshops. It turned out to be a fortunate coincidence that Greta Thunberg was helping us on this creative journey. In the days before apps like Zoom took over our lives, the workshops transmitted via webcam now seem almost prescient.
As the residency progressed Kevin helped the students to edit and refine their writing. With many hours of his own time given up to this project at home, he selected a short poem or fragment which each young person has the right to be very proud of.
Meanwhile, our Swedish friends were experimenting with writing and translating between English and Swedish. This provided us with the inspiration to look at ways to incorporate writing in Irish. The JCSP librarian sat down with each writer and used the haiku as a frame to create an echo (macalla as Gaeilge) of the original poem based on their English one. This was a fascinating experience as we looked at ways the imagery and sound had to be adapted to better fit another language. Sometimes, the poem in Irish provided inspiration for a further poem in English. Below we see examples of the process in poems written by Ellen Kennedy:
Deep within the forest I hear the wind. Its howls are lonelier than ever. It sounds so hopeless Dear Earth, Let us open our ears To the cries of the wind.
Go domhain sa choill Glamann an ghaoth uaigneach. An gcloiseann tú í?
The Lonely Wind
Deep in the forest, The lonely wind howls for now. Do you hear her cries?
Kevin enlisted the help of Jo O’Donoghue who helped to tidy up the translations and provided useful advice on possible edits.
It was planned at this stage to introduce a visual element to complement the poetry whereby the students would take photographs which would provide a background for their poems when they were displayed. We also hoped that the students would record their poems also. Unfortunately this was not possible as schools closed in March. However the project continued. Photography teacher Brigid Dunne and Kevin himself provided images to match the mood of each poem.
As it wasn’t practical for the students to do so, Irish language poet Ciara Ní É recorded each of the poems and which Kevin then spent many hours editing and fine-tuning to produce the short and beautiful poetry audio-visual presentations that we are all now so proud of.
Listen to all of the poems HERE
Meanwhile our friends in Sweden were busy working on their own poems which had been inspired by Kevin’s workshops and writing prompts. Such was the enthusiasm there that the students produced a bilingual book of poems in English and Swedish called Words. Some extracts from this wonderful book by the young poets Niklas and Amanda are included below:
Best Time of Day
This is the best time Of the day When I ride My bike Into the forest
Bästa tiden på dagen
Det är den bästa Den friaste tide På dagen När jag kör Min cykel I skogen Och tittar på enduro Niklas
My Soul Sings
My soul sings My soul makes the melody My soul sings to the world Amanda
Reflecting on the project, the class English teacher Beata Ringström praised the students for the “bravery” students displayed by simply sharing their work.
In Sweden, unlike Ireland, it is commonplace for schools to have a librarian. Similarly to the JCSP Library Project where librarians often guide students and encourage them to write, in Vimmerby Lena Andersson filled this role. As a former writer for a newspaper, Lena understands the importance of having a mentor to encourage young people and went on to say that “the professional guidance of Kevin Mc Dermott gave students the courage to rise above themselves and deliver true poetry. While exchanging texts with others has opened their eyes to how others form their ideas on the page.”
As delighted as we all were by the success of the project, we were taken aback and honoured when we learned that Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D. Higgins had recognised the importance of the initiative in a letter he wrote to Kevin Mc Dermott:
I was most interested to learn of the innovative and truly valuable collaboration (…) between Trinity Comprehensive School in Ballymun, its twinned school in Vimmerby, and the JCSP Library.
As President, (…) I am particularly impressed by how the initiative addressed the issue of language by helping students in Ireland to reimagine the Irish language in the context of their own lives and their newly forged friendship with their counterparts in Vimmerby.PRESIDENT MICHAEL D. HIGGINS
That our current President of Ireland is himself a poet bestows the words with even greater honour.
As borders are again erected and some nations choose to turn away from their neighbours, this project is an example of how the fragile words and language that hide within us all can be used to bring different cultures together. When we take the brave step to let others read the dreams and fears that emerge on the page we see all that we share.
In similar ways to the In Pieces project, a small acorn of an idea managed to grow into something much grander than we could ever have hoped for.
Kevin may have checked out of ‘The Hotel California’ which our JCSP Library has become to him but it is unlikely that he will be allowed to leave anytime soon.
Echoes from a JCSP LibraryTweet