Sunday, 21 November 2010

Sarah de Nordwall - a bard with a bard school

Once upon a time the Bard or court poet was worth the King's ransom. His commission was to speak truth without fear, and to entertain everyone from the peasant to the King. To make this task easier, in 8th Century Ireland, they had Bard Schools - to teach the poets to be as astute as they were spiritual, to be improvisers as well as "living libraries of cultural knowledge" and to have "the virtues of all classes and the vices of none!"

12 years ago I began to wonder how one could become such a bard, and whether it would be possible to found such a bard school.

A few years working (and performing poems) at the BBC taught me that bards were still required to turn the tables and awaken some fresh creative energy.

These days, as well as performances of my shows, in delightfully varied venues from rehab units to the civil service, I also offer bespoke creative writing workshops for individuals, groups and teams.

Parties and celebrations from 100th birthdays to weddings can have a unique poem commissioned and performed. Charities have used my poems for lobbying parliament and raising awareness of their cause.

Clients have included:
  • Four open house parties for an Architectural firm in Central London, when they opened a new office.

  • The Teaching Development Agency for a Learning at Work week.

  • Financial advisors who wanted to bring creativity and more personal reflection into the environment.

  • Two Carmelite monasteries who love a good party.

  • One rehab unit for ex-prisoners and ex-addicts, where an immense amount of talent was just waiting to be released.

  • Two hen parties, three weddings, a 40th, a 60th and a 100th birthday party.

  • Two International Conferences on Arts & Social Change - one in Switzerland and the other in Pakistan.

  • Several gigs supporting signed bands, dozens of schools, support units, youth clubs, front rooms, radio shows, offices parties, faith events,

  • and creative collaborations with academics, singers, visual artists and fellow poets, who were all a great and varied joy to work with.

All creative collaborations are welcomed and considered! If you would like a performance, a commissioned poem or workshop then do mail me at and I look forward very much to meeting you.

There is also a regular Bard School for creative artists who wish to train as Bards in the Roman Catholic tradition at venues in and around London. Please visit The Bard School Blog for the latest news and dates for future events.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Sarah's blog...

This is my new blog.  Here you will find a new poem every single day, so do follow along and receive what I hope will inspire you to reflect, enjoy and create for yourself.   I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts and responses, poems and questions.

Leo & Claire are my web designers
(you can see their portfolio at

The lovely cosmic star girl that leaps across the top of the page was designed for my first CD by Sara and Leah of Happily ever After

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Bespoke poetry workshops for businesses

Poetry and stories, performed like classy stand-up, can really transform a business event and even help to solve a business problem.

This is because the performance and its contents lifts the audience into a new context - the space for thought is re-enchanted - and people find themselve energised, motivated, released and delighted.

  • For AML Benson Financial Services Limited I devised a course in assertiveness and poetry to improve relations between staff members.

  • For the Architects’ Annual Mass, I performed a set of poems and stories in the Hogwarts-like environment of the Westminster Choir School Library on the theme of beauty, ontology, aesthetic ambition and Calamity Jane, which brought laughter, reflection and hope.

  • For Tom Giannini Architects, I provided entertainment at four successful Open House Parties and this time included flamenco guitar from the wonderful Hammad Baily. Every letter that thanked the Practice for the Open House, mentioned 'the Bard' and the creative and joyful atmostphere. The practice was highly pleased with the work that the parties helped to bring in.

  • At the Teacher Training Development Agency I was commissioned to write and perform a poem for the head of advertising (with a bit of an opera theme thrown in). It was a much appreciated celebration of a successful staff member's leave-taking after a highly effective and quirky campaign.

  • At the National Occupational Therapy Managers Conference on the 'Management of Change', Sarah Myers and I performed our 1 hour show for delegates, which included true tales of transformation. This matched their conference theme - 'Change' - and encouraged people to talk about real experiences, heart to heart. Delegates were relieved that the conference therefore escaped the trap of bland slogans and management speak.

  • For Merryl Lynch, again with Sarah Myers, we performed 'Microwave Man', 'The Lifestyle Store' and 'The Hermits', for a senior network programmer who was leaving for New York. This performance later provided much needed food for thought for the high status executive in question after he was a witness to the 9/11 tragedy. He wrote to tell us about his experiences and actually thanked us for the context that our performance had brought him, years afterwards.

  • We also entertained the Senior Trainers of Time Management International at their summer school and received a standing ovation. They then recommended us to a somewhat unexpected client - The Air Miles Technical Team.

  • We particularly enjoyed the beauties of Combe Manor where they were meeting for their team building weekend. We hadn't expected to perform under a genuine moonlit casement and they hadn't expected poetry and tales to enliven their discussions of the complexities they encounter in their work. But dealing with complexity and paradox is what so much poetry is about.

"There is little time in this outer world for deep questions. Given the right plan, everything in this life can be managed – except your heart. The heart seeks not efficiency, but passion, art, poetry, beauty, mystery, ecstasy – these are what rouse the heart. Indeed, they are the language that must be spoken if one wishes to communicate with the heart."
John Eldridge, an American author

What I have seen during my years of writing and performing is that an intelligent heart leads very quickly to a truly intelligent mind. For the two are one.

Find out how your business event or party could be made more creative and memorable by calling Sarah de Nordwall on 07849 641 899 or email

Bespoke poetry workshops for schools & colleges

Working with teachers and NGOs, I've used poetry performances, creative-writing or public-speaking training to address aspects of the school curriculum in Citizenship, Literature, Drama and RE.

I've also provided workshops and performances at colleges, universities and in conference seminars designed to train youth workers and volunteers. 

Citizenship Education
  • The bardic theme of speaking truth to the king appeals immediately to the Citizenship curriculum and can be combined with workshops on taking action and finding your voice in the community. So, at James Allen Girls Preparatory School we looked at what it meant to be a bard today. I performed the 'Lifestyle Store' sketch from my CD. The teachers then harnessed the enthusiasm that had been awoken in the pupils, to get them writing letters and engaging with campaigns about the issues they cared about. They started to reflect on their own values.

  • Talking to the boys at Eton in their frock coats, about poetry and broadcasting during a careers event, and then going to the East End to work with a year 10 group (of 400 children!) in a school in which 35 languages are spoken, provided some interesting reflections on notable differences and surprising similarities between children as they seek to find a compass to help them make choices about their lives. Stories help in this process.

  • Working for 2 years in schools and youth departments for Action Aid and the Commonwealth Institute was a great introduction to the power of the arts in the arena of social action. A bard seeks to stand at the heart of the needs of his community. He or she is not aspiring to be an entertaining cultural accessory.

    I represented Action Aid UK at a conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh and presented the 'Get Global' education pack which I had been helping to trial with teachers in the UK. It was a tool to encourage teachers to develop participative projects for social action with pupils. The model was based on the way Action Aid works with communities in many countries.

    Later in Pakistan I attended the Action Aid conference in Karachi entitled 'Art & Social Transformation' which provided great inspiration. I witnessed how the fact of encouraging people's artistic practice had empowered whole communities - from forced labourers to fishermen - to articulate their need for fairer treatment. One of the 'Forum Theatre' plays acted beneath the palm trees, motivated a government official the next day to intervene on their behalf the next day at work.

    Art can be powerful in the struggle against poverty.

    At the Commonwealth Institute Schools & Youth Department, we ran an event for Commonwealth Day with the Secretary General of the Commonwealth and the 400 yr 10 students mentioned above.

    We encouraged them to research and to speak about issues in global citizenship and then to plan their own project. It was wonderful to see how pupils who had at first responded with a shrug to the questions raised, soon became engaged. Over the 6 weeks we there many of them became capable of standing up in front of hundreds of people and a world leader to air their views in a coherent and confident way.

    As often happens, this was a process that impacted one of the most 'rebellious' pupils, the most. She, who had been initially banned by her teacher from taking part in the project because of poor behaviour (but was returned to the project on my request) produced a stunning and committed performance which had all her peers, teachers (and most of all herself) looking at her very differently. The artistic process empowers individuals to discover their own strengths and values.

Post Graduate Training
  • For older students such as those in the second year of the MA Course at Central St Martins, I’ve provided, for the last 3 years, a narrative skills workshop that helps them sell their designs to the world, by becoming more able to articulate the values that have informed their design.

  • One of my most intriguing educational commissions though, was in Transylvannia, for the World Youth Alliance Summer School. I was asked, 'Do you think you could help teach young Eastern European lawyers to access literature as a source of inspiration for their human rights work at the UN?' How could one not say 'Yes' and then see what happened? We had a marvelous time. There was a wonderfully erudite professor from Poland who provided a course on Philosophy Through Poetry, and there was a West End Theatre Director who succeed in getting the entire team to put on play in a medieval barn for the town of Tirgu Mores. We had 2 weeks, we pulled it off and we even sold all the seats!

    For the course, I performed some of my poem sets and theatre pieces and we interrogated the principles that govern my work and teaching at the Bard School.

    We focused on the use of the artistic process to reveal the complexity of the human person.
    Human rights exist to protect the dignity of the human person. This worth can often be seen in works of art, that witness to the extraordinary beauty and tragedy of much human existence. When this dignity becomes invisible because of oppression and injustice, a voice is needed once again to raise itself above the din of vulgarity, indifference or deception.

    As Solzhenitsyn stated - 'All forms of violence require the protection of the lie'.

Primary Schools - Drama, Poetry, Literacy and RE
  • 3 years of teaching Drama, Poetry and Religion at Rosecroft Preparatory School with Yr 2 to Yr 6 (1990 to 1993) taught me a great deal about the revelatory insights that children have when given space and encouragement to make connections at a deep level. Poetry classes in the gymnasium were popular, as was dancing to Mozart’s requiem. Which was an improvisation that produced some great story-making.

    We won 3 awards at a National Independent Schools Drama Competition for a medieval play I directed with Yr 6. The adjudicator said 'This play contained real theatre - never will I forget the look on the face of God as she watched Satan fall'. For God, we chose the smallest but most poised child in the school, who wore a glorious gold and crimson, green and purple sari, whose trimmings were echoed in the costumes of all the angels. The result was a testament to the children's dedication to the development of the subtext, which brought the ancient text fully alive.

    The bards had to know how to entertain everyone from the peasant to the king, so theatrical skills were very important.

Other Educational Work
  • Larmenier and Sacred Heart, Brook Green for Yr 3 to Yr 6 where I contributed performances and workshops for their Literary Festival 2010.

  • At Chalgrove Primary School, Barnet in 2008 the focus was on telling stories and encouraging them to write.

  • At St Joseph’s School, Gravesend, from Yr 2 to Yr 6, we looked at words as blessings and also listened to songs in foreign languages, to see what was conveyed by the atmosphere. They drew pictures that the songs inspired and wrote about what they had drawn. It is amazing how much is communicated by the spirit of a language and how children are sensitive to this. Time after time the pictures depicted the themes of the songs without the children knowing what they were. The ancient bards had to be skilled in many types of music in order to speak to the soul.

To explore how your educational project or course could be enhanced by involving a bard, then please do call Sarah de Nordwall on 07849 641 899 or email

Poetry workshops for community projects

I love performing and running workshops in varied community settings, because of the joy of seeing people amaze themselves and each other.

They become confident as they see their own words on the page, the wall, the stage and begin to recognise that they are valued. Often they learn to value themselves and each other in a whole new way.

The short performance at the start of a workshop provides a focus for the group and awakens the imagination. It brings the group together and provides material to start a discussion or elicit a creative response.

  • One visitor to a Women's Day Centre was listening intently to a story I was telling and afterwards she said to me, 'All my life, I've been afraid, but when I heard you tell that story, I was receiving'. Then she was silent for a long while. After that, with a little regular encouragement and some clues as to appropriate story structure, she started to write her own stories for the first time and she even applied for and completed an English course at a local college.

    I am often amazed by the responses to poems and stories that come from unexpected quarters. Sometimes a poem that has baffled an MA student will elicit a spontaneous cry from an ex-prisoner in rehab, who will call out, 'I know exactly what you mean! That’s me!' and then he’ll start to tell you all about it… and that’s when it all begins anew; the telling of a tale to someone who wants to hear…

  • Just outside the old city of Jerusalem, by the wall of separation, I gave a few creative writing classes to some of the elderly residents of a care home. One of the residents, on seeing her words on the wall, written out in 'good handwriting', called out 'It's too too beautiful' and encouraged everyone to come and see what she had written, which was a very touching piece called 'Sadness Day'.

    Another resident was thrilled when the title of her poem was written out and put on the wall in her own language, Amharic. The language of Ethiopia. For someone far from their first home, their own words in their own language can provide a welcome anchor.

  • At the Women’s Day Centre in Reading we had six months of creative writing and costume making, improvising and rehearsing. Some of the women had learning difficulties, whilst other's were elderly, but they all loved producing and starring in their version of 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs', with their carers and volunteers.

    On National Poetry Day this year I returned to reflect with them on my journey to Jerusalem and to write with them on the theme of 'Home'. This produced some very tender writing. One of the carers said afterwards, "It was so great the way everyone clubbed together today and helped each other… one didn't have glasses, one couldn't write, but they all helped each other. That's what I thought was great. Nice to see you laughing Deb! It was something special cos she said she couldn't write. It was something special".

  • The Courtauld Institute, Somerset House was a very different venue for writing in, but just as joyful. The family festival, Freetime, run by Joss Whitten was a demanding commission; 4 days of back to back creative writing workshops for parents and children whom I encouraged to respond to the paintings (from Cezanne to Kandinsky) by writing to their favourite and least favourite painting or sculpture and getting the artwork to 'write back'.

    The results were fascinating and the sponsors of the event were also delighted to see groups of families from very diverse backgrounds, reading out their writing to each other, fascinated.

  • For SureStart, I performed a set for International Women’s Day and then ran 3 creative writing workshops for teen mums in 2008. I was so pleased when some of them started to write with their children at home, whilst others re-discovered their motivation for projects that had been long-shelved. Writing can be like the digging of a well.

  • In collaboration with Pilgrim Hearts, a charity that promotes the healing use of the arts in the community, I completed two series of creative writing workshops with residents in rehab at Yeldall Manor. Residents are all ex-prisoners who are also recovering from addictions. It is a great privilege to hear poems by people who have read them to no one else. As you work together, you see them learn to trust and to enjoy their own creative process, which inevitably brings hope and a taste of the possible. Many other professionals are involved in helping them harness this hope before it becomes a steady path into a life of greater personal freedom, but the talent that some of them realise they have, can be the beginning of a real determination to value themselves and others differently. One young man read his poem about his love of nature in front of 400 people. He later trained to become a tree surgeon!

I am amazed by the resilience of so many people. When you hear the stories they've lived and the rejection that many people have encountered from the earliest moments of their lives, you can only wonder about the strange blending of strength and fragility that is the human heart.

Find out how your community project could be made more creative and memorable by calling Sarah de Nordwall on 07849 641 899 or email

Bespoke poetry workshops for churches & interfaith settings

  • For Christian Ecology Link Earth Day on 07/07/2007 I was invited to perform some poems and to run a creative writing workshop. The client said afterwards, "We were looking to unite our efforts with a spirit of joy and a sense of transcendence and you did it in two poems, thank you".

  • The Theology of the Body was retranslated by Prof Michael Waldstien. When it was launched in Westminster, I was commissioned by the Director of Pastoral Affairs to perform some of my poems, particularly 'God and Luci', which hints at the Incarnation and shares God's exhuberant enthusiasm for life. The lecture, by the professor, based on John Paul II's profound reading of the Song of Songs was introduced by music from the bards of the bard school - sections of St John of the Cross sung in Gaelic, followed by poems by the Holy Father in Polish and English. When the convenor of the event sang his closing prayer, everyone felt that truly the Muses had come to the Festival and the beauty of the academic theology had been framed and expressed by the grace of the arts.

  • As part of the Spirit in the City Festival there was one of those moments you dread, when 17 men in Horned Helmets (it's true) decided to invade the stage. Fortunately it was during the poem 'The Universe was not at Home' and the incident fitted perfectly!
    We also had a Bard Tent in Leicester Square to showcase some of the other artists at the Bard School - painters, writers and animators.

  • At Lawrence's Church in Reading were keen that their congregation's artistic talents be released and given a space in church, so in a collaboration with Pilgrim Hearts, a day of prayer and creativity saw the work of many parishioners brought into a new light.

  • Family Life Project in Osterley was another example of a creative writing event that helped people to surpass their own expectations. Given the space and the right spirit, long held fears can be released and spiritual gifts discovered that are sometimes held within an artistic expression.

  • St Mary the Boltons Church specifically wanted to look at the link between creative writing and contemplation. It was fascinating to see the work produced as we wrote with intuitively selected images of buildings and plants in the Old and New Testaments. A deceptively simple exercise elicited some profound experiences and insights. Participants commented that they had really been helped to pray with the texts more personally through this workshop.

    I wonder what CS Lewis means exactly by his phrase the baptism of the imagination. It is certainly mysterious how using the imagination in a prayerful setting can lead to beautifully expressed insights that do not seem to come exactly from our conscious minds.

  • The Ezekiel Project in Northampton booked me 2 years running to work with their trainee youth workers to help them see how you can help young people to engage with scripture and with their inner life using poetry. Again, some wonderful writing and some unexpected personal insights were the fruit of the weekend.

  • It was rather alarming but exhilarating, being invited to perform in front of 4,500 people at Spring Harvest and somewhat unexpected, especially since the venue we were performing at for the rest of the festival included changing in a room the size of a cupboard that already housed a large cardboard cactus. Ah the joys of the actor's life!

  • The Archbishop of Canterbury was a great audience though. He is an excellent poet and really appreciates what one is trying to say. I was delighted to have been chosen to perform one of my own poems 'I put out my poems on my hands, like food for the the birds' as well as the poem I had written for the Intermission project where I had been poet in residence for 2 years. Intermission is a wonderful initiative that welcomes artists to discover their vocation in the arts and to be nurtured in it.
  • Greenbelt is a great place to perform too, and I enjoyed very much the 2 performances and workshops at The Arts CafĂ© in 2006.

  • The Venue in Leicester Square is perhaps even more iconic. Having just returned from Croatia it was a joy to share the poems that had been inspired by the delights of the islands - 'Swimming in the Falling Star Cave' is still a favourite memory.

  • The theme of 'The Brightness of Water' was rendered with immense depth and symbolism by John Paul II. At the time of his funeral, I was invited by Canadian Television to share this poem and to say something of the effect his life had had on me. I was able to say that without his inspiration my life as a bard with a bard school would never have come about. He was an immense champion of the arts, the artist and the value of the life within, the mysterious dignity of every single person, that sometimes only an artistic expression makes evident.

    There are some theological insights, he once wrote, that only an artist can discover and reveal to us.

  • It was fascinating to be asked to do a show for a group called Christian Partners in Parliament, who turned out mainly to be Baronnesses. I was somewhat nervous at the thought that I had no idea really what they might want to hear, but as with any performance, the secret seems to be to start with what is most current for oneself. Then the authenticity and inherant comedy of our lives springs forth and resonates with others. They said they all felt much better afterwards as it had been an extremely tense and stressed time in The House of Lords.

  • First Friday Show was a series of 6 monthly one woman shows that I wrote for the chapel space in the Methodist Central Hall. I enjoyed the fact that it was so close to Parliament and that people engaged in politics and campaigning would stroll over for some poetry after work.

  • Caritas, a charity that engages in campaigning and advocacy asked me to provide a poem to go on the back of a lobbying leaflet. They thought that a page of statistics might be better balanced by a poem to express the plight of young runaways, for whom they were seeking further support. I was really happy to have such a bardic brief.

    Even more so was the invitation to provide a poem for the meeting at The House of Lords with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Conscience & Belief. Ms Asma Jahangir, Lord Brennan and the other interfaith groups, including The Humanist Society had all presented their submissions. It was honour and an opportunity to be able to close the submission process with some reflections and a poem on the dangers of the standardisation of thought that can come from the bureaucratisation of language. The poem was called 'The Container of Abandoned Minds', which is a phrase taken from Paul Hogget's insightful chapter 'The Institutionalisation of Shallowness'. The change in the atmosphere of the room and the ensuing discussions at dinner were a great bardic blessing. I was thrilled that the poem had touched a chord and brought differing groups together to share their thoughts.

  • The Muslim, Hindu, Sikh & Christian meeting in Slough was also a special opportunity to use a poem to speak to diverse groups who were all trying to express their concerns for the impact that 9/11 was still having on their communities. It was a little daunting to be the only woman on the panel and to realise that it was only poetry that had given me permission to speak; the gift of being able sometimes to heal with words that can speak beyond fearse fears into a place of shared hope. Being a bard is often about creating a space in which fears can be spoken and the unsayable said. Only then can the previously unhoped for be aspired to again.

If your group would like to have a bardic ingredient to a meeting or a project then, it would be great to explore the idea. Just call Sarah de Nordwall 07849 641 899 or email