Francesca Beard arrived in Oxford on a rainy day to work with IB English and Theatre students who perhaps expected a lesson about how to write poems. But Francesca has been hailed as the Queen of British Performance Poetry and we soon found out why. She showed us that poetry, rather than being mere written text, can come alive with a performer like Francesca.
And come alive we all did! After introductions where we played games that generated collaborative poems, we were treated to Francesca’s speaking her own poem, Chinese Whispers. The almost alien but soon strangely familiar messages in Francesca’s spoken poem Chinese Whispers somehow take on their own life as you listen.
Soon, we felt we were going on a journey with Francesca. She led us along a street where she used to live. Somehow, as we heard the words ‘with the trees like saints’, we were wandering down Ladbroke Grove, London with the sound of distant traffic and the trees rustling in a gentle breeze of expectations. Following Francesca’s dreamy tones, we soon found ourselves inside Tesco’s:
“Inside, the air hums with choice.
If you are what you eat,
I’m a Rubix cube of biochemistry,
consumer of international scandal, global cuckoo!”
This virtual supermarket trip turned into an exploration of our identities and after that, the performance became a hilarious game in order to discover who we were!
Students enjoyed hilarious musical chairs that involved asking questions and later wrote their own identity poems, responding to prompts like “What brand are your shoes and where did you buy them?”
The day went by far too quickly (always a good sign) and the students were left with questions forming in their minds and a whole new world to explore when shopping!
The classes followed up the visit by continuing to explore some of the themes of Francesca’s poem, Chinese whispers, working with Antonia and Tom on themes like “we are what we consume”. We had already looked at how advertising encourages to ‘buy, buy, buy!’ and how it often seemed to be connected to our sense of who we are. Students thought about being consumers, wrote blogs on globalization and other global issues. Some students even wrote their own poems, which you can read here.
So, thank you, Francesca, for opening our minds! We look forward to another visit and catching one of her shows! Thank you for sharing stories of your life with us and especially why you speak your poetry and want to share your words with us and our Rubix cube identities.
Originally published March 18, 2016.