Our week at Totleigh Barton

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Our week at Totleigh Barton has sadly come to an end.

I met the six students at Temple Meads station on Monday 26th June, where they all waved goodbye to their loved ones, phone signal and wifi. We did the standard introductions and I tried to store the names Luka, Katie, Bronya, Megan, Chelsea, and Sophie in my mind.

After the introductions we made our way to the platform and it was not long until our train arrived. We all exchanged a worried glance when the train that arrived was one of those really, really small ones with a maximum of 3 carriages. The mad frenzy then began as our group and the general public all tried to make it on to the train and, more importantly, to make it to a seat. I am happy to say that we were all successful in our mission and every one of us (even Megan's huge suitcase) managed to sit down.

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We travelled for an hour or so on the train before being met by a taxi driver at Exeter station who then drove us the final hour of our journey and took us to Totleigh Barton. As the taxi driver took us further and further away from any signs of city life it dawned upon us that we really were about to spend a week in the middle of nowhere.

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We arrived to the house at around 5pm and after everyone was shown which room they would be staying in, the resident chef, Helen, called us in for dinner and to everyone's glee announced that it was cheesy pasta bake! At dinner everybody started to relax and we were all introduced to Joelle Taylor and Anthony Anaxagorou, the poets who would be mentoring and teaching the 6 students throughout the week. By the time pudding was served (cherry and chocolate brownies!!!) Katie, Luca, Sophie, Bronya, Chelsea and Megan (showing off my name remembering skills)  all seemed a little bit more at ease and excited for the week ahead.

After dinner I decided to take myself on a tour of the house and its surrounding gardens...

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And I introduced myself to the neighbours...

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Please can everybody appreciate 'Pete the Pug'... the security dog who comes to check that there is no mischief at Totleigh Barton.

I was about to say that the week was not all fun and games, but that would be lying. Everyday the students would wake up and have breakfast, with some opting for cocopops and others *cough* Luka *cough* having bacon every.single.day! After breakfast we would all make way to the much loved barn (see photo below) for a 3 hour workshop with Joelle or Antony.

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Here, is Joelle giving her first workshop which aimed to encourage the students to think visually.  Throughout this workshop, and all of the others, students share a piece of work that they have produced in the workshop. Joelle and Anthony would then give informal feedback meaning that the students could go away and improve their work. Students also received 30 minutes a day of one 2 one tutoring from either Joelle or Anthony. This level of mentoring and guidance combined with the raw creative talent of the students meant that come the end of the week the young poets were giving Ted Hughes a run for his money!

Aside from being creative genius' the young poets also boasted great culinary skills. On Tuesday night they made homemade fish fingers with locally sourced haddock, followed by butterscotch bread and  butter pudding. Below is a photo of Ruth, a fellow chaperone posing with the pudding pre bake and also a photo of Bronya and the finished product.

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On Thursday night it was also our groups turn to prepare dinner for everyone. On the menu we had sausages with a homemade red onion gravy and peas followed by banana split with marshmallows, sprinkles and chocolate sauce- in other words, a heart attack on a plate.

When not writing poetry and cooking we did the only other thing left to do when in the middle of nowhere: walk.

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City dwellers Anthony and Joelle were transformed into country bumpkins with their wellies, barbour and raincoats.

Despite the general benefits of walking there was one which got the students out of the house. You guessed it, phone signal. When walking out of Totleigh Barton you would hear mobile phones one by one come back to life and one by one you would see the students strolling through their contacts, calling anyone who would answer, so as not to waste the opportunity of phone signal.

On the second walk we found ourselves strolling through the local town, Sheepwash. We stumbled upon an old phone box being used in a very nifty way:

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Naturally, this had us book lovers very excited.

On the walk back I decided to collect wild flowers to put on the dinner table, after being inspired by Chelsea and Megan who did the same earlier on in the week.

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In the evenings...

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At around 7pm all of the staff that work at Totleigh Barton leave meaning that we were left to our own devices. I am sure many would see this as an amazing opportunity to sing, dance and rave but us? Well, yes, we sang and danced but we exchanged the raving for poetry.

On Tuesday night Joelle and Anthony gave us a private performance and each shared 3 or 4 of their poems with us. This was a huge privilege and an experience that I am sure we will all remember. Joelle and Anthony also allowed time for a Q&A afterwards which gave students the opportunity to ask professional poets questions about not only their poetry but also about the creative process.

On Wednesday night, Kayo Chingonyi, a poet that Joelle and Anthony had earlier praised, arrived to Totleigh Barton to read some poems from his collection Kumukanda. One of the poems that he read to us was called Broomhall. Kayo explained to us how at his time as a student living in Sheffield he found a shop in an area called Broomhall. Kayo spoke fondly of this shop, telling us that it sold Zambian food, before reading the poem in a manner that was simultaneously calm and full of emotion.

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Friday night performances

Before the performance night the young poets were frantically typing up their poems and sending them over to Bronya and Sophie who made an anthology for he poems that were produced at Totleigh Barton. (Keep your eyes pealed next time you are in Waterstones)

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On Friday at 7.30 we all retired to the barn for the much anticipated performance night. Joelle and Anthony opened and closed the show with a poem each and below are video versions of the poems that they shared.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXohqBX9xck

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5_2kF1wSxs

After the performances were over we all danced in the barn, mainly to Taylor Swift and any 'upbeat' song we could collectively find downloaded on our phones. There were some  lots of tears, but of the happy kind, as the group reflected on the amazing week that they had. We also all arranged to attend Joelle's book launch on the 20th July which means that the young poets can meet their new friends again (Joelle included), before they start their library residency.

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GOODBYE TOTLEIGH, THANKS FOR HAVING US!

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