Andrea Reece, National Poetry Day Manager at Forward Arts Foundation, describes some of the poets, events and resources available to schools.
‘Poetry literally breaks reading and writing into bite-size chunks. It is a fun, simple, non-threatening, yet suitably challenging way for children to become more literate. In poetry sessions I’ve: seen selective mutes stand up at the front of their class and read; been told by countless teachers that “that student never normally puts pen to paper”; watched children cry and laugh and think together.’ So says Joseph Coelho, award-winning poet and National Poetry Day Ambassador.
Joseph was one of a group of poets who took part in a special poetry festival in Hull schools earlier this year. It was a pilot project with Hull City of Culture 2017 in advance of this year’s National Poetry Day on 28 September, designed to explore the power of poetry to inspire and engage children and get them writing.
Over four days, poets Sophie Herxheimer, Chris McCabe, Shazea Quraishi and Kate Fox worked with 1,386 children to share and write poems. In assemblies, workshops, lessons, even while exploring their local parks and streets, the children set their imaginations free, and poems were read, written and then performed for friends and family at a big public performance.
When asked in a survey, sent out to 430 of the children, 95% of the them said that they enjoyed listening to the poets read their poems ‘very much’, while 98% claimed to have enjoyed writing poetry themselves. Here are some direct quotes:
- Jakub, age 10 (self-described as someone who really doesn’t like writing stories) said: ‘My favourite bit was when we said our sound poetry out loud’
- Macey Ann, age 9, said her favourite bit was: ‘Doing made up words and hering (sic) the German poewem (sic)’ (German poem = Karawane by Hugo Bal)
- Ruby age 9, said: ‘My favourite bit was when we compared somthing small (my dog Bella) to somthing big (the Statue of Liberty).’
Inspired by the poets, children were making poetry books of their own accord, and bringing them into school
Teachers described how children were of their own accord making poetry books at home as a result of their interaction with the poets, and bringing them into school. All the teachers involved commented on how useful they found the poets’ sessions.
Resources, lesson plans and poets
The sessions the poets devised are all now available for download from the National Poetry Day website. These include Joseph Coelho’s tried-and-tested poetry inspiration MORERAPS (metaphor, onomatopoeia, rhyme, emotion, repetition, alliteration, personification, simile), which never fails to start children enthusing about and writing poetry. It also includes Sophie Herxheimer’s fun Oulipo activity, inspired by French mathematicians, and a guaranteed poetry starter; and Chris McCabe’s Beowulf-inspired sound poems exercise (with additional thanks to surrealist Hugo Bal). Though developed with primary school children, the resources can be used with people of all ages.
You’ll find even more resources and lesson plans on the National Poetry Day website, which is packed with ideas for ways to use poetry in the classroom and to celebrate the 2017 theme of Freedom. These resources have been created specially by National Poetry Day partners including the Poetry School, the Scottish Poetry Library, the Betjeman Poetry Prize and publisher the Emma Press. They’re free to download and the site also features downloadable posters and reading recommendations for poetry fans of all ages.
Nothing beats the excitement and impact of a live poetry performance and the Poetry Society can put schools in touch with poets who will visit to work with pupils. In the meantime, there are films of poets performing poems on the theme of Freedom to view on the National Poetry Day website. Starring poets including Roger McGough, Valerie Bloom and AF Harrold, these were specially commissioned for National Poetry Day and filmed by CLPE (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education). Visit the Poetry Archive too, to discover a range of poems around the theme of or invoking feelings of freedom: listen, explore and enjoy.
For more information on National Poetry Day and its work with schools contact Forward Arts Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org.