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Inspiring creativity: Poetry on the Farm

  • Date: 19 August 2014
  • Artform: Literature
  • Area: Midlands
Image of readers at the poetry fence at Acton Scott Working Farm Readers at the poetry fence at Acton Scott Working Farm

On a summer's afternoon in July, the New Barn at Acton Scott Historic Working Farm was packed to its green oak rafters as 20 poets, aged from seven to 70, returned to entertain an audience of listeners with poems they had written during recent visits to the site. 

The event marked the end of poet Jean Atkin’s residency at the farm, where she has been getting to know visitors, encouraging them to hear and write poetry inspired by the historic site and its traditional agricultural life. 

Now almost 900 years old, Acton Scott farm has resisted modernisation, continuing to operate using 19th century farming practices. By preserving the heritage of this historic site, visitors are transported back to the turn of the 19th century to experience rural life on a Victorian farm.

Jean’s three month residency, which was funded through Arts Council England’s Grants for the arts programme, saw her spend time at the farm encouraging people to take inspiration from the daily demonstrations of period skills and visits from the Wheelwright, Farrier and Blacksmith, as well as the farmyard animals like Charlie the Shire horse.

Since Easter, poetry readings have been popping up in the farm’s barns and shepherd’s huts; while written poems could be seen fluttering all along the length of ‘The Poetry Fence’ Jean created. A total of 97 poems were written by visitors, both young and old, as well as a host of new poems written by Jean.

In addition to hosting impromptu poetry readings, Jean, an experienced workshop leader, offered local Key-stage 2 school visits the opportunity to take part if poetry workshops, giving children an opportunity to express their thoughts about fram's unique environment of Acton Scott creatively.  

At the final event, 40 people packed into the New Barn to listen to 20 readers returning to the farm to share their poems over cream tea. Jean also read some of her own work written about Acton Scott, part of which was produced in collaboration with poet, writer and photographer, Andrew Fusek Peters

“The ‘Poems for the Farm’ event was a fantastic finale!” said Jean. “I was very touched by hearing so many different voices read their poems about this very special place. We also read some of the work from people who couldn’t be there – like three year old Huxley’s poem about sitting on a Shire - and work sent to me by poets who just live too far away.

“I’m hugely grateful for the support I’ve had from poets and writers living in the region, and from the skilled and amazing people who work at the farm.”

As part of the residency, Jean also created a digital platform to document and share the poetry both she and visitors to Acton Scott produced. Her blog, Poet on the Farm, became a place where Jean and the budding poets she encountered at Acton Scott shared their poems, pictures, thoughts and comments about the project.

Below is a poem written by Jean inspired by the red brick stableyard which was built in 1760 with clay dug from the next field and bricks made and fired on site – enjoy!

Mason Bees by Jean Atkin

the mason bees prospect
this warm red wall
bee-buzz the same in all  
the summers since
this clay was dug

into toasted crevices
and cracks of firing
they sing then vanish

Find out more

For more information about Grants for the arts visit http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/funding/grants-arts/

Click here to hear from Antonia Byatt, Director of Literature, about how Arts Council England plans to invest in Literature over the next three years through the National portfolio.