Wednesday 12 October 2022

Lines on the Leaves – Poetry at Kew by Lynda Waterhouse


As far as I’m concerned you can keep ‘Paris in the springtime’ or ‘Walking in a Winter Wonderland’, ‘Autumn Leaves’ is the song for me.

Autumn is my favourite season. I love the bursts of bright sunlight and flashes of colour paired with a cold nip in the air. I was born in October, coming in the world as my grandmother was leaving it, naming me as she went.

A few years ago Sophie Shillito gave me the opportunity to devise a creative writing session for Kew Gardens in October.  Each session would be twenty minutes long, be for all ages and include some scientific explanation of why leaves fall from tree. Creative writing would be next to yoga and a willow weaving tent surrounded by trees.

I thought I would share the session outline.

 ‘Lines on the Leaves’; a twenty minute exploration of what happens when a leaf falls from a tree (with some scientific explanations too!)

I often mark the beginning of a session with a chant, a rhyme or a poem. This session begins with some lines from Emily Brontë which we all spoke together.

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers away;

Lengthen night and shorten day;

Every leaf speaks bliss to me

Fluttering from the autumn tree.

Some questions. How do we think a tree and a leaf in particular tells the time? What makes a leaf decide to fall?

During the discussion weave in the words abscission, anthocyanin, senescence and their meanings. (They were written on laminated sheets and dotted around the tent)

Thinking about how a leaf might fall from a tree – does it glide on the wind or belly flop as it is caught in a shower of rain?

Everyone is invited to demonstrate their leaf’s journey with their hands in the air. Sound effects too!

Next, with some art materials and paper map out the journey and mark on it three places. In these places note the leaf’s reactions, thoughts or feelings or write a word or phrase to describe what is happening.

Share our ideas.

Hand out a leaf template and offer the chance to transform those words/ideas or feelings noted on the leaf’s journey into a poem. They could include some of the science words too. Or just sound effect or just colours or just a prop for telling someone the story of your leaf.

Sharing some of our lines on the leaves

Final question – Where does the leaf’s journey end? Does it land with a bump or a soft landing with its fellow leaves? Is it blown off course or…….?

That was the plan. At first one or two people came along and  soon the tent was packed. Some people just wanted to colour, some were intrigued or already knew about the science. The textures of the pile of leaves drew others or the chance to make a whooshing noise. Some left. Others stayed and wrote several poems. One toddler amazed his dad by repeating fall, leaves fall and another terrified me by trying to eat the charcoal!

It was such a wonderful experience, not least for the experience of walking through Kew Gardens on a sunny, cold autumn morning.


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