The Thomas Hardy Society has published an anthology of student poems inspired by the work of the Dorset author. Laura Hanton spoke to academic director Dr Faysal Mikdadi about the pupils behind this novel creation.

OVER six months dozens of schoolchildren across the south west, including from four schools in Dorset, took part in a series of poetry workshops inspired by the work of Thomas Hardy.

The result was a published anthology of 134 poems exhibiting the budding poetic talents of more than 100 students, all aged between 10 and 17.

Dr Mikdadi, an Ofsted inspector from Dorchester who edited the anthology, selected schools which he knew well. He says: "I wanted a mix of capability and socio-economic background, and obviously focused on the south west region because of the connection to Hardy himself. The driving force behind the project was simply to encourage creativity in English."

Pupils from The Thomas Hardye School, Dorchester Middle School, St Osmund's Middle School and Bryanston School were among the individuals who took part in the series of special workshops, which began with readings of Hardy's 10 selected poems. The repertoire included The Self-Unseeing, The Orphaned Old Maid and The Fiddler, as well as An August Midnight, which proved to be a firm favourite amongst the young readers.

A broad discussion of reading and writing poetry was followed by a series of questions and reflections, before students were encouraged to let their creativity run free.

"One of the biggest challenges the students encountered was that the poems were just too obscure," says Dr Mikdadi, a published author who has worked in education for almost 50 years. "But once they realised how accessible poetry is, and how universal its meanings, they recognised that they could do it too."

Students were free to respond to the poetry however they chose, with many poems based recognisably on Hardy's works while others were completely original.

"The underlying principle was just to get them to write," Dr Mikdadi explains. "We emphasised that there was no good or bad when it came to poetry, no right or wrong. Out of the 100 students, I think only one stepped back and said, 'This is not for me.' But he still went on and wrote a poem about how he didn't like poetry, which was poetry in itself."

Otherwise, the response to the process has been overwhelmingly positive.

"One pupil wrote to me afterwards and said: 'I realise now that I am a poet,'" Dr Mikdadi says. "That was a tremendous triumph. I'm very, very proud of all the students."

A poet himself, Dr Mikdadi also hopes that the process will improve students' performance in exams, and is currently leading a research project at a school in Cornwall regarding the use of Thomas Hardy poetry to engage reluctant and disaffected students.

The success of the project means it will be repeated this year. The programme has been expanded to include schools across the country, including in Birmingham, Bangor and Cambridge, and other poets will be studied in addition to Hardy. Up to 20 schools are set to take part, with an estimated 200 students getting involved.

Also published within the anthology were the six finalists of the National Trust's Thomas Hardy Young Poetry Prize 2019. Entrants, who were aged between 13 and 18 and must have either lived or gone to school in Dorset, were encouraged to rewrite some of Hardy's classic poems, updating them for the present day and incorporating elements of and influences from their own lives.

The winner was Kitty Fisher from Colyton Grammar School in East Devon, while second prize went to Leonie Cobban from The Thomas Hardye School.


Thomas Hardy was born in 1840, in the isolated thatched cottage built by his great-grandfather at Higher Bockhampton, three miles east of Dorchester. He later spent time in London, before returning to Dorset with his wife, Emma, and living at Max Gate from 1885 until his death.

Perhaps best known for his novels, Hardy was also a prolific poet, publishing eight volumes of verse containing more than 900 poems over a 30 year period. His first volume, Wessex Poems, was released in 1898, followed by Poems of Past and Present in 1902.

Poems of 1912-3: Veteris vestigia flammae was written predominantly while Hardy was grieving the death of Emma, to whom he had been married since 1874.

The Thomas Hardy Society is an educational charity based at Dorset County Museum in Dorchester, which aims to promote and publicise Hardy's life and works. The organisation runS an ongoing programme of events including lectures, concerts, poetry readings and guided walks, inviting anyone from anywhere in the world to find out more about the famous poet and novelist.

Copies of Inspired by Thomas Hardy: An Anthology of Students' Poems 2019 are available by visiting or from the Dorset County Museum.


A verse from The Wind Watches, a poem by Leonie Cobban, a year nine student at The Thomas Hardye School:

[The wind] carries the first fledgings of the spring as they flutter fleetingly

Towards able parents, the wind a caring guardian.

In Grandma's garden, the breeze brushes against her washing;

Green skirts, blue dress, a spotty sock left by a forgetful grandchild.

Across the field, the new postman edges his way through the trees

Branches crackle under his feet and he feels the fresh breeze.

It is Spring. The wind lies quiet, tired after a long winter.