Sedbergh School’s Head of English, Dr Gareth Downes, recently visited St. Mary’s, Melrose, to judge their 2014 Poetry Competition. Poems included Kipling’s ‘If’, Dahl’s ‘I Want it Now’, Owen’s ‘Exposure’ and Carroll’s The Jabberwocky.

Ellen Simpson, Head of English at St. Mary’s, said: “We were so pleased to welcome Dr Downes to St. Mary’s. Having listened to finalists in a Junior, Intermediate and Senior section, he gave the pupils excellent feedback on their declamations, including advice about participation in future competitions, which was keenly received.

Dr Downes attached great value to the competitors’ understanding and ‘feeling’ of their poem, and rewarded those who had been ambitious in their choice of text. Crowning victors in each section was an unenviable task, but based on these criteria, three superb winners emerged. Thank you again to Dr Downes for giving up his time and his wisdom on this cheerfully sunny day in the Borders – all in attendance thoroughly enjoyed the event.”

Of his visit to St Mary’s, Dr Downes said: “The declamations were of an exceptionally high standard across the board and it was an absolute delight to have the privilege of judging this competition. The range of poems performed by the pupils included challenging, anarchic narratives, tongue-twisting tales and a moving selection of traditional and contemporary lyric poems, some of which were in “braid Scots.”  

I was powerfully struck by the mature manner in which pupils performed their chosen poems. They had clearly felt and thought deeply about what they had read, enjoyed and been moved by, and this came across in their declamations.”

Dr Downes received his PhD from the University of St Andrews, where his doctoral research was on the influence of Giordano Bruno on James Joyce. He specialises in twentieth century Welsh and Irish literature and modernism and has published several articles and essays on James Joyce and David Jones in academic journals and critical collections.

In September this year he will be presenting a paper on Dylan Thomas and Modernist Pastoralism at the Dylan Thomas Centenary Conference at Swansea University.

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