If Carlsberg did Conferences…

I attended one of the most inspirational conferences I’ve ever been to yesterday (remember, I’m in my fifties – I’ve been to a lot of conferences). This conference was organised by The Reader Organisation, a body I’ve blogged about before. Now what makes this conference different for me was that I wasn’t attending on someone’s behalf, or because I had to, or because it would raise my profile. I attended because I wanted to. iphone 7 case blossom   DSCN1357                       Two of the Reader Organisation’s publications. I’ve used A Little, Aloud for Children frequently on my author visits. It’s a treasure chest of carefully selected extracts and poems.   The Reader Organisation, founded by Dr Jane Davis, evolved from the simple idea of reading aloud in a group. This is not to be confused with a book group where a novel is read beforehand and then discussed afterwards. The idea was simply to read poetry and books aloud, in a quiet space, on a regular basis. Members of the group are free to simply listen to work being read, to read out if they want to, and to make observations if they feel like it. phone cases iphone 7 plus designer What Jane didn’t realise at the time (or maybe she did) was what she was doing was tapping into something so simple, yet fundamental and that is, that humans have an emotional reaction to words, and if those words are shaped into beautiful and moving and powerful things such as poems, the reaction is all the more profound. We are inspired and uplifted. We have moments of revelation and insight. We learn to love and forgive. I know this sounds sloppy; unlikely even, but it’s true! I know it’s true from being a reader, a parent and a teacher. I have experienced the joy of holding a class full of children in thrall as I read to them; believe me, there’s nothing quite like it. ears case iphone 8 What I didn’t know was how the simple act of reading to someone can actually change lives and that’s what the conference was about. The Reader Organisation doesn’t set up its reading groups in cosy places, like bookshops and cafes where the arty types hang out. Pah! – that would be too easy. No, they go to the toughest, most challenging of places; prisons and pupil referral units, mental hospitals and care homes; foster homes and failing schools. They read Shakespeare to kids who left school at fifteen, barely literate; Wordsworth to alcoholics, Elizabeth Jennings to the suicidal. The results have been astonishing. One speaker, John Woods, an occupational therapist at Broadmoor Hospital, had been running a Shared Reading group with some of the most difficult patients on the wards. Tests showed those in the reading group gained in confidence and concentration and had better social interaction. That blew me away. iphone 7 case labyrinth Now this is Broadmoor – where the most dangerous and severe psychiatric cases in the country are sent; if reading aloud can reach such damaged souls, what can it do for the rest of us? In the afternoon I attended a seminar about the Reading Organisation’s work in schools through their Readers in Residence scheme. Qualified staff from the Reader Org work with disaffected children on a one-to-one basis or in small groups. They use texts such as David Almond’s Savage, Frank Cottrell Boyce’s The Unforgotten Coat (commissioned by the Reader org). 93% of children said they enjoyed school more the days they had the reading sessions.     savage                   A page from David Almond’s innovative YA novel ‘Savage.’   But it’s poetry that is the bedrock here. Our brain responds to words used cleverly and surprisingly and apparently we come across this more in poetry than prose. Professor Philip Davis, an enigmatic speaker with dark, expressive eyebrows, gave the example of Shakespeare (King Lear) where instead of saying: ‘A father and gracious man; him have you enraged.’ Shakespeare writes: ‘A father and gracious man; him have you madded.’ Madded isn’t even a word – it’s a ‘semantic violation’ – but it works, doesn’t it? It arrests? Every session at the conference either began or ended with a poem. Jane opened with Tintern Abbey by Wordsworth, guest speaker MP Andy Burnham, read an extract from ‘V’ by Tony Harrison chosen because ‘… it was the first time I realised poetry could have a northern accent.’ The afternoon session ended with a reading of Blake’s The School Boy   DSCN1358                                           Inspiring through poetry: William Blake   One thing I noticed is that the selection of books and poems aren’t easy. Bearing in mind many of the people in the groups aren’t university educated or ‘bookish’, the choices might seem ambitious. But that’s the point; the Reader Org wants to introduce people to the best of literature. It doesn’t matter if they don’t understand all of a text- what matters is meeting it and realising there is no right or wrong reaction, only that it’s wonderful to share in it.

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