Joshua Seigal: Poets and Social Media

With Twitter in the news a lot lately, and having been an avid Twitter-botherer for the last decade or so, I thought now might be a good time to share some reflections regarding my experience of the platform. These reflections are personal, but they might nonetheless be relatable to those of my fellow poets who are on social media.

For me, Twitter has been an indispensable way of making connections with other poets, as well as with teachers and other educators. As a consequence of this, I have been able to develop my network of contacts, and to get a good deal of paid work. As an introvert, Twitter has also been an extremely useful way of putting myself ‘out there’ in a way that feels manageable to me, and in a way that I wouldn’t be able to do in a room full of actual, physical people. It has given me the chance to say what I want to say, and also to delete it a few moments later. One can’t do that at a party!

Twitter has also been a highly useful way of garnering an audience for my poems. If I write a poem that I deem to be half decent, I will stick it on Twitter and see what kind of reception it gets. The level of response can be a useful barometer for whether or not a poem actually is any good, and can thus serve as a kind of informal feedback. Many poets might justifiably be hesitant to give their work away for free, but I look at it as being akin to a free sample, like those mini blocks of cheese with cocktail sticks you get at the supermarket – if someone likes a poem, they might be more likely to go and buy some of my books.

However, there is definitely a sinister side to social media, and as a poet this affects me in both a personal and professional capacity. Twitter is a great way of putting myself in the shop window, but sometimes it seems as though tweeting, and accruing likes and retweets, is the driving force behind the production of the poems. I can find myself writing with one eye on producing good work, but with the other eye keenly on how and when to put it out on the socials. I sometimes fall into the trap of measuring my self worth in terms of what kind of response my work gets, and if a piece doesn’t get the reception I think it ‘deserves’, well, I don’t lose sleep but it can often be a huge downer. One time I wrote a poem that, for personal reasons, I knew I could never put online at all. This almost made the poem feel worthless, which of course should not be the case.

There is also the dangerously addictive dopamine hit whenever someone follows me, or whenever a poem does get a response. This feels good, but is it a substitute for a real, physical social interaction? Is it as useful as actual money in the bank? Of course not. But sometimes social media can make it feel as though it is. It has the tendency to warp our perception of reality, and if we are not careful we may find ourselves living in a simulacrum.

What advice would I give to fellow poets, then? I would say to embrace social media (I use Twitter mainly, but obviously there are many options) but with extreme caution, lest your social, spiritual and creative wellbeing suffer.

Joshua Seigal

Joshua Seigal is an internationally renowned poet, performer and educator. His first book with Bloomsbury, I Don’t Like Poetry, was nominated for the Laugh Out Loud Book Awards in 2017, an award Joshua subsequently won in 2020. Joshua was also the recipient of The People’s Book Prize in 2022, and has performed at schools and festivals around the world

Please visit his website: www.joshuaseigal.co.uk, and FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER: @joshuaseigal

Rachel Cleverly: Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2022

I joined The Poetry Society as Education Officer in November 2021, just after the last year’s Foyle Young Poets award ceremony. The event was held online. I watched along from home, witnessing the nervousness of the winners melt away as they read, the joy of the judges as they read out the names of the 100 winners: a new group of talented young writers were becoming a part of the Foyle Young Poets community.

Despite not having an in-person event since 2019, the competition’s reach has grown dramatically. This year, more than 6,600 poets aged 11 – 17 submitted 13,500 poems. We received work from 100 countries and over 98% of UK postcodes. From these poems, this year’s judges Anthony Anaxagorou and Mona Arshi selected 100 winners, made up of 15 top poets and 85 commended poets.

Though I, like most, am tired of icebreakers and bad Wi-Fi connections, distracting backgrounds and software updates, the prospect of an in-person person event back on the cards for 2022 made me nervous. I would have to welcome hundreds of new faces into the poetry community, ask many of them to read for the first time in front of a large (although incredibly supportive!) crowd. What if they were shy? What if no one came? What about the train strikes!? It felt like there was much more to take into account when planning a live ceremony, and so much more potential for things to go wrong.

I shouldn’t have worried. From the moment the first writers arrived at the National Theatre, I could see they were buzzing to meet the other young poets. I heard them laugh and scream in recognition, at friends and acquaintances they had previously only met online. Everyone was much taller/shorter/more real than they appeared on Zoom.

Mona Arshi, one of this year’s judges, hosted the ceremony alongside poet Clare Pollard, with readings from former winners Phoebe Stuckes and Mukahang Limbu. Poet Laureate Simon Armitage and this year’s Foyle patron Savannah Brown also joined us.

The top 15 young poets read their winning poems, and the hosts remarked how different it was to hear the lines hit the air, to celebrate with whoops and cheers and the chance to be together. Judge Anthony Anaxagorou shared a message with the winners:

‘to witness such an open display of aliveness to the world, to the systems, inequalities and rhythms we live amongst confirmed the future of poetry as being vibrant, dynamic and restless’.

After many congratulations, the young poets were led to the National Poetry Library to receive a tour of the book collection. Some parents lingered behind, chatting excitedly about the event and the potential for their children to come together again and write. They praised the performers, remarked how surprised they were at the confidence of the young people: ‘They’re poets; I thought they’d be shy!’

The willingness and bravery of the 2022 Foyle Young Poets gave fresh energy to the event and reminded me of the importance of hearing from lively voices which have been cooped up in the digital space for too long.

Rachel Cleverly

Rachel Cleverly is a poet and producer. She is a Barbican Young Poet, an Old Vic Theatre Maker and works as an Education Officer at The Poetry Society, where she manages the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, and has been published by The North, Poetry Wales, SPAM, The Feminist Library, Ink, Sweat & Tears and flipped eye press among others, and has been shortlisted for the UEA New Forms Award and Winchester Poetry Prize.

The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is the biggest poetry competition for 11-17 year olds in the world. www.foyleyoungpoets.org poetrysociety.org.uk youngpoetsnetwork.org.uk

All photos © Hayley Madden, except the image of Rachel Cleverly, which is © Betty Laura Zapata.

Pie Corbett: Poems with Constraint

Those who do not write might expect that creativity starts with the blank page. However, writing with constraint, under specific instruction, pattern or imposition, often liberates creativity. The trick is to make sure that the constraint does not limit the possibilities but acts as a way of opening up, providing a scaffold rather like a coat-hanger for ideas.

Whilst I love the ballads of Charles Causley, as a model for writing they provide too sophisticated a challenge for almost every primary child. However, writing a number poem from 1 to 10 which uses alliteration is enough of a challenge to generate writing that demands thought:

One white walrus waggles a weary wand at a wonderful washerwoman.

Two testy trains tried to tackle a tremendous, tantalising tin of tomatoes.

 A moment ago, neither the walrus nor the washerwoman existed but the constraint forced me to sift ideas, dredge my mind for alliterative possibilities and use the underlying sentence pattern to bring something new into being.

Alphabets offer a structure that releases ideas as the pattern is sufficiently simple for everyone to use. This list is based on advice for a hobbit on an adventure:

Avoid alleyways which may appear useful as an avenue of escape but almost invariably are dark, poorly lit and have robbers waiting.

Bridges are usually manned by bridge elves and may have aggressive trolls underneath.

Caverns and caves offer shelter. However, goblins and dragons live underground…

The 1960’s OuLiPo movement used mathematical formula to produce strange and rather dull writing. However, adopting a writing form such as a recipe can liberate. This extract is from a recipe for the desire for beauty by Beth, year 6.

Pick an eyelash from Aphrodite’s lemon hair.

Grab a pair of emerald frog’s legs so you can leap Mount Olympus,

Rip a page out of Tom Riddle’s diary full of blankness and mystery,

Grind the lime tangled vines that reach out from the corners of your room…

Alongside the constraint of a recipe format, another challenge in this poetry workshop was to ‘name it’. This shifts from the general to the particular so that ‘an eyelash from your hair’ becomes ‘an eyelash from Aphrodite’s hair’. It is the difference between, ‘the man got in the car’ and ‘Boris Johnson got into the Skoda’. ‘Naming it’ helps to strengthen an image.

Another popular constraint requires the writer to write a passage and then swap all the nouns or verbs for fruit or vegetables. So that, ‘I woke up this morning, climbed out of my bed and brushed my teeth before running down the stairs’ becomes ‘I appled up this morning, lemoned out of my bed and pineappled my teeth before bananaing down the stairs’ or ‘I woke up this marrow, climbed out of my potato and brushed my runner beans before running down the cucumber’. What fun!

A recent and more challenging idea that I have been playing with involves exploring how one thing leads to another – poetic inevitability.

As a result of dark clouds – snowmen gather at dusk.

As a result of snowmen – no carrots for lunch.

As a result of lunch – empty fridge.

As a result of empty fridge – trip to supermarket.

As a result of supermarket – plastic wrappings in bin.

As a result of plastic – dead dolphin.

As a result of dolphin – sewn sea.

As a result of sea – dark clouds above.

The success of a poetry writing session is not just about an interesting idea, model or constraint – it also hinges around 3 key conditions: a class brainstorm; share write a class poem; and children writing in silence with a time-limit to create a sense of meditative concentration.

Pie Corbett

Pie Corbett’s latest collection ‘Catalysts’ has over 130 catalyst poems that act as models, offering patterns and constraints for writing. Ideal for primary schools and anyone interested in writing. Available from: https://shop.talk4writing.com/products/catalysts-poems-for-writing

Sue Hardy-Dawson: What Did the Poet Intend?

I remember having rather mixed feelings the first time I saw one of my poems used as in a teaching pack. My first thought was, wow, I must be a proper poet now – my work is being used in schools – but this was quickly replaced by my not being sure I wanted my poetry to be studied at all. More so as I didn’t want anyone to be put off my poetry because they had the impression there was only one meaning to a poem and it must be what I, the poet, thought or even what the author of the teaching materials thought I thought.

Because I passionately believe poetry, like all art, is a vehicle for how it makes its audience feel. Once it’s out there it takes on a life of its own. So by that measure a poem can never just be or mean one thing to everybody.

My initial poetry studies in secondary English lessons generated a love-hate relationship. I often argued the case for more fluid opinions with my teachers. I even dared challenge the idea that the opinions of my elders were the only valid ones. Needless to say it was not always a popular strategy. Yet, even then, I didn’t feel writing a poem could be condensed into such simple, linear processes.

Perhaps I’m not alone in thinking this through. Famously, Ted Hughes once offered to help one of his children revise when he and his wife Silvia were on the curriculum. His child’s response was that they needed to know only what the examination board thought he thought, not what he actually thought.

Quite true of course, where exams are concerned. Yet wouldn’t it be wonderful if, instead of trying to grasp the narrow parameters of one reading and meaning of poems, we asked instead ‘What does this poem mean to you?’ I know it would make marking harder but it’s no less complex, in fact it’s more so. You can’t learn this kind of answer by rote or repetition. It requires lateral thought and all of life’s juxtapositions. There may be answers which are too limited, simple or complex, but there are no wrong ones.

Don’t misunderstand me, I believe in studying poetry as much as any poet. It’s important BUT not at the expense of all joy and passion.  My study began as an adult and an already published poet trying to improve my craft. It was purposeful and self-led. It allowed me to find different ways of containing and exploring my ideas. Using a recognisable, regimented and accepted form also often had a dramatic effect on those ideas. Occasionally, even, something amazing would happen and I would know that a poem has found its home.

In fact very few of the poems I write end as they began. It’s that that makes writing so compelling and exciting. Mostly I write every day to limber up whether or not I have anything to write. But sometimes someone will say something or I’ll read something that becomes a catalyst. If you were to ask me about the process that lead to a particular poem you’d be rather surprised at how strange the connections in my brain are.  

So I’m not suggesting poets never get political or emotional and want to be heard, or that understanding is not important. Just that is not all poetry is.

Poets write because it’s what we are and do. It’s our gift not just to ourselves but to the reader. It’s not science, it’s art and as such the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts.

Sue Hardy-Dawson

Sue Hardy Dawson is a poet and illustrator. Her debut collection, Where Zebras Go, Otter-Barry Books, was shortlisted for the 2018 CLiPPA prize. Sue’s poems and teaching resources can be found on the CLPE website. Her second, Apes to Zebras, Bloomsbury, co-written with poetry ambassadors, Roger Stevens and Liz Brownlee, won the North Somerset Teachers Book Awards. As a dyslexic poet, she loves encouraging reluctant readers and writers. Her second solo collection, If I were Other than Myself is available from Troika Books.

Gaby Morgan: A Profile

As the first in a new series of Editors’ Profiles, we asked Gaby Morgan to talk about being a children’s poetry editor:

Who are you and which publishing house do you work for?

I am Gaby Morgan and I am an Associate Publisher at Macmillan Children’s Books.

How long have you been editing poetry for children and how many children’s poetry books have you published?

 I have been editing poetry for 29 years and have published more than 350 books.

How did you get started?

I joined MCB as an Editorial Secretary working across the whole list and especially enjoyed working on the poetry and non-fiction. Soon after I joined, Susie Gibbs published the first two titles on a brand-new poetry list – they were highly illustrated, pocket money-priced books of poems written for kids rather than at them.  They were hugely popular and the list is still going strong 30 years later. Macmillan has been particularly good at supporting the list not only through the high points but also (and more importantly) during the quieter times too.

What do you enjoy and not enjoy about working on poetry for children?

I love working with poets who write for children. They are friendly, supportive (especially of each other), enthusiastic and they know their audience.

Many of our anthologies are themed and it is amazing to see the different ways poets approach a topic.

There is always a poem that can help you express your mood or understand a moment in time – a birthday poem, a football poem, a poem to cheer you up or help you to understand how someone else is feeling. A poem can open your eyes to the world.

We work with incredible illustrators and they bring so much to the books and often provide a way into a poem or add a bit of extra context. Sometimes they just make you laugh. Martin Chatterton illustrated every cover for the first six years of the list which gave it a strong series identity.

It is not really a dislike, but clearing permissions is time consuming and can be a challenge. There is a lot of tracking down permission holders, waiting to hear back and negotiating fees. It generates an awful lot of paperwork. We spend a lot more time on this than on any other part of the editorial process.

Do you usually edit the poems and how do you decide how to order them in a collection or anthology?

An anthologist will send me a first draft and I read it through to see if any poems are doing the same job in the collection or if there are any gaps. Some anthologists send their manuscript in order and in sections. Some send a lovely pile of poems and I will suggest an order. This usually involves spreading them all over the floor, making small groups and then knitting the whole thing together. Most anthologies are a bit of both and we often commission a few new pieces too. I will suggest edits to the poems themselves, this mostly happens to new poems but occasionally I will talk to a poet about something that has already been published. It may be that a poem has more impact by being a bit shorter or a line or word might feel out of place, so I will ask them to swap it. It is amazing the difference these small changes can make.

What do you think are the current trends in publishing poetry for children and how has change in the bigger publishing world affected them?

Poetry can respond very quickly to world events and trends. Over the last five years there has been a lot of emphasis on kindness and empathy, on looking after our planet and publishing poetry from under-represented groups.

Have you any poetry writing advice you’d like to share with us?

It doesn’t have to be rude to be funny!  

If you are starting out, read all kinds of poetry.

Social media has been brilliant for poets and poetry and there is a wonderful band of lovely poets on Twitter who are well worth a follow.

Which are your personal favourites amongst the books you’ve published?

I could not possibly choose. 

Which book was most important in your career as an editor?

So many have been important but The Secret Lives of Teachers by Brian Moses and Tongue Twisters and Tonsil Twizzlers by Paul Cookson were the start of an incredible poetry journey and I am so happy to still be working with Brian and Paul.  Read Me: A Poem for Every Day of the National Year of Reading was an absolute blockbuster and the beginning of a decade of Read Me and The Works titles which brought so much poetry and so many poets to a generation of children. Allie Esiri’s brilliant anthologies have opened poetry up to everyone and I am very happy indeed to have just published The Big Amazing Poetry Book which contains 52 weeks of poetry from 52 brilliant poets, and stunning illustrations by Chris Riddell, to celebrate the first 30 years of the list.

Kimba: Pen Power

There is an inexhaustible power to reimagine ourselves and the world we live in, 24 hours a day. That power is called writing. It shapes the world whether we believe it or not, whether the change is immediate or in years to come. It eventually comes.

To a greater extent writing poetry offers the opportunity of discovering that power in each of our uniquely intuitive creative thinking abilities. We all have access to the same words, or we can do. But poetry showcases the genius of their use in original and often unorthodox ways. In addition, performance poetry, of which I have been a practitioner for ten plus years, personifies the breath of life that can cause those words to fly off pages into our imaginations and subconscious, and reside there for a lifetime.

Without any prior indication that I would, I fell in love with the world of words. Initially my youthful ambitions were to be a musician, architect and professional athlete. When learning an instrument and architecture seemed out of reach, along an exhilarating and at times deeply disappointing journey, I stumbled upon words with a poet named Saul Williams using them in ways I’d never heard before. I was intrigued in the same way I was when I first heard Slick Rick the rapper telling his Children’s Story.

Award-winning children’s author Lexi Rees and actor Alex Stedman whom I worked with at Polka Theatre for a youth writing program called ‘ Write Here Right Now ‘

This time the words alone were the music. And my heart was beating to the drum of their cadence. Writing took new precedence in my life. I was a young student at university and suddenly all the margins of my classroom notepads were filling with poetry unrelated to the lectures. Something changed. Most of my childhood anxieties about being in front of people, and questions about my lack of ability to succeed in life, diminished.

It’s now been replaced by a love of learning and sharing all for benefit through writing poetry, and art and performance. It sounds a cliche. But writing poetry changed my life. And that change broadened recently with the publication of my first book of poetry Write the Wrongs with Authors Abroad who’ve bestowed on me the honour of teaching poetry in schools globally. Writing the book, I re-lived moments in a way that revealed their significance in my life and how they shaped me. Now seeing the work that young students produce from understanding simple concepts in figurative speech has been a wonderful world of exploration and empowerment.

Excerpts below.

Cerita The Cheetah

from ‘ Write the Wrongs ‘ by Kimba

She was a cheetah

Easily spotted in our city for her speed

The track team had stars

But she was from another planet

No one could see her

when she took off

she did damage

To what we thought

girls could do

Boys ate the dust off her feet

The souls of her shoes

Flattened them one by one

Till there was none left

In each crew

Boys were no competition

Though they often tried

Victory after victory

She softened the toughest guys

If you thought you could take her

You were in for a rough ride

This feline was so stream-lined

And had so much pride

A champion of sorts

She had no remorse

In leaving the hopes of boys

Stiff as a corpse

The hunter the predator

She was always on course

She had the eye of the tiger

And opponents’ hearts on a fork

Untitled

by Maria from Sacred Heart Girls School, Middlesex

Uncertainty, smiling maliciously

A rough cut stone impeding my path

I try, persevere

So that I may rise out of its flames

But a thousand are running through my head

Kimba

Kimba is a devoted husband, father, poet, and musician originally from Trenton, New Jersey, now residing in London. He’s been featured at the V&A, Tate Modern and the Houses of Parliament. His first published poetry book is Write the Wrongs.

Shauna Darling Robertson: Poetry and Mental Health

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something — a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things — that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.”

These words are Alan Bennett’s. The story that follows is mine. It’s about how the hand that came out and took mine when I most needed it came in a way I would never have suspected, through poetry.

At school I had zero interest in poetry. In fact, I actively disliked it! Poems were illogical. Metaphors mystified me. Why didn’t people just say what they meant? I wanted things black and white, right or wrong, either/or. Turns out there was a reason for that – I was lost and grappling for a sense of safety and certainty, but I didn’t know that yet. I was about to, though.

As a young adult my mental health wobbled then imploded. I became incapacitated with depression. Out of nowhere, and in some of my darkest hours, I started writing poems. In literary terms they were awful but, in personal terms, pure gold.

The poems came at a time when I could hardly communicate – with myself or with anyone else. Thoughts and feelings howled around me like tsunamis, wild animals, demons, whirlwinds, like surreal nightmares too dark and complex for reality. In ‘normal’ language I couldn’t process them. But poems could hack it. Suddenly, I had a way of expressing the inexpressible. Poems were up to the job. Poems became my allies and guides. They accompanied me to the shadowy places and shone a flashlight. They slowed everything down, took things one step at a time. They found images and sounds and words for experiences that were frightening and didn’t make sense. They stepped back and eyed it all from a safer distance.

As soon as I felt well enough to go out, I ventured to the library in search of ‘real’ poets and poems, hoping to maybe find – at long last – one or two I could actually relate to. Who knew there were so many! So many different hands and voices coming out and telling me – no, showing me – that I wasn’t alone, broken, hopeless or beyond help (as my mind often liked to have me believe). I was, however, a rotten poet and much later I threw myself into learning how to get better at it, largely by continuing to read as wide a range of poets and poems as I could.

Fast forward a couple of decades and I’m finishing off work on my second collection of poems for young people. It’s called You Are Not Alone, it’s aimed at teenagers and young adults and it explores multiple aspects of mental health and wellbeing. The poems in the book look at the topic from a raft of different perspectives – from personal experiences of living with diagnosed mental health conditions, to the everyday challenges faced by young people, and also how various aspects of our society might help or hinder our collective wellbeing.

The book will be published in January, in time for Children’s Mental Health Week 2023 (6-12th February), and in a period when young people’s mental health has never been so high on the public agenda. On the plus side, our attitudes towards mental health are changing and there’s much less stigma than when I was a child. But it’s still far from easy to talk openly about our personal challenges, or to access the help we need to address them. Here’s ‘Jamal’, from the book:

Shauna Darling Robertson 

Shauna Darling Robertson grew up in the north-east of England and now lives in the south-west. Her first children’s collection, Saturdays at the Imaginarium (Troika, 2020), was a National Poetry Day 2021 selection. She also has two adult chapbooks, Blueprints for a Minefield (Fair Acre Press, 2016) and Love Bites (Dancing Girl Press, 2019). Shauna’s a keen collaborator and her poems for adults and children have been performed by actors, displayed on buses, used as song lyrics, made into short films and turned into comic art.

www.shaunadarlingrobertson.com

Shauna is grateful to have received funding from Arts Council England‘s ‘Developing Your Creative Practice’ programme to support work on You Are Not Alone (Troika, January 2023).

Christina Gabbitas: Poetry is for Everyone

As a child, I loved to read anything that rhymed; rhyming was fun, energetic, imaginative, engaging, bite-sized. One of my favourites was reading Spike Milligan’s A Children’s Treasury. Ok, I was captivated by the rhythm and the way that anything could be expressed through poetry.

Life took me in a variety of directions after school and whilst I enjoyed writing for pleasure, I never considered sharing my work. When I had my own children, I decided to write some stories particularly focussed on helping them overcome their fears and the fears that I had, had as a child. The stories were rhyming stories about everyday things that I saw around me. I put them in a box file and resolved one day to do something with them and that is where they stayed for a number of years until, in 2012, Welcome to the World of Felicity Fly was born. The book became a series and there are now four books, featuring over a dozen characters across the series.

But this was just the start for me; I wanted to share the joy of poetry and encourage children across the country to have a go. In 2013, I launched an eight-line rhyme initiative, which had the support of the then Education Secretary. The initiative takes the form of a yearly competition with children of primary school age encouraged to write poems on a particular topic, which are then judged by poets, authors and illustrators. The short eight-line format makes the initiative accessible to children as young as seven and provides an opportunity to practice and promote phonics skills.

The best poems are published in a book each year. I love visiting schools to inspire the children. I was invited independently to the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival for three consecutive years where the children entered the initiative too.

During the pandemic, I launched an initiative to encourage children to write poetry as a way of expressing what they were experiencing. The winning poems were published in an anthology, #Lockdown Life in the autumn of 2020. I was moved by both the volume of entries and the heartfelt emotions expressed in the poems by children and adults alike.

I have written a number of individual rhyming stories on important topics to educate children, including Share Some Secrets, which addresses the issue of abuse, by teaching children the difference between good and troublesome secrets, and Save Us, which looks at the problem of plastic pollution in our seas and oceans.

One of my most recent publications is not a rhyming story, but this hasn’t stopped me using the power of poetry to educate children in a fun and interactive way. No More Knives or County Lines is a comic-strip style story about a group of friends groomed into county lines, who suffer the consequences of carrying a knife. The book was initially commissioned by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Humberside, but, since its publication, I have worked with other police forces, including North Yorkshire, and visited schools across the country supported by community police personnel. In addition to discussing the themes in the story, I run workshops to help the children write a class poem about the dangers of drugs, county lines and carrying knives.

Writing and poetry has given me so much and has been my full-time career for ten years now. I firmly believe in ensuring that children understand poetry is for everyone, and how it allows us all to express what we are feeling and thinking in a fun, energetic and thought-provoking way.

Links of children reciting poems:

Primary Children Reciting our Class Poem which we wrote together.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5jvj-XsVZM

Children Reciting my poem ‘Save Us From Plastic’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWYe1MM2aYo

Christina Gabbitas

Christina Gabbitas is an author and director who has encouraged over 25,000 children nationally with an annual poetry initiative, picking up a Dame Beryl Bainbridge award in 2015 for her work. She is the founder of Children’s Literature Festivals charity whose mission is to give children from deprived areas access to free literature festivals. Christina also picked up a national book award and was made an Honorary Member of the NSPCC Council for the work that she has undertaken in safeguarding children. Her Believe in the Magic of story has received many testimonials including from actress Jenny Agutter OBE, likening the story to E.Nesbit, Lewis Carroll and Narnia.

https://www.childrensliteraturefestivals.com/ Children’s Literature Festivals

Teresa Cremin: Becoming Poetry Detectives

Outside the classroom, children’s lives are packed with poetry. They freely engage in language play, experiment with jingles, jokes and lyrics and imbibe rhymes, songs, chants, often heard and voiced, as well as felt, in the blood and along the bones?

However, do they see this as poetry?

Do we?

Do we celebrate the rich diversity of poetry in life – online and off- in our classrooms?

Do we recognise poetry voiced both as spoken interaction and as word play and language pattern?

Or do we, as educators, tend to profile poetry as written – found in the printed pages of recognisably distinct and often separately shelved ‘poetry books’. 

As Michael Rosen (1989) argued long ago, poetry and fiction have their roots in everyday speech, and, from their earliest years, children meet poetry in word play, nursery rhyme, rhythm and song, taking particular pleasure in the playful and often subversive nature of poetic language. They hear the tunes and runes, the rhythms and patterns of language, and feel the beat on the street and in their homes and communities. On and offline they are treated to the cadence of others’ voices and their popular cultural worlds ring out with poetries of many kinds.

So, why not invite your class to become poetry detectives -hunting out the power and potency of poetry in as many places as they can? If you join in, then you’ll be going on an extended poetry hunt together. Once on the lookout /earout for poetry, they may well be surprised at the places and spaces it lives and breathes in. They might spot it – see it – hear it- feel it – for example:

  • in graffiti on the street
  • in adverts online and on TV
  • in slogans and word play in newspapers and magazines
  • in songs in community clubs and popular music
  • in clapping games and two ball chants on the playground
  • in the lyrics of hymns and patterns of faith texts in assembly
  • in picture fiction, hidden in the pages of Joe Coelho’s fabulous Our Tower or the more overtly rhyming text of Hannah Lee’s My Hair for example
  • in novels where the protagonist writes, such as in Stewart Foster’s Can You Feel the Noise? or Helen Rutter’s The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh
  • in verse novels such asSharon Creech’s Love that Dog and Hate that Cat
  • in performances at Poetry Slams, festivals or readings from the brilliant  Poetry Archive
  • and of course in their own class’s poetry collections.

The combined investigations of a class of 32 Poetry Detectives and one poetry teacher will make a stunning display! Such explorations are also likely to lead to renewed attentiveness to the sounds and succour of words and to conversations about the language of poetry, the aural and the written. Critically, they may also widen your own and the children’s conceptualisations of poetry, its form and nature. Why not become Poetry Detectives and see what you find?

Teresa Cremin

Teresa is Professor of Education (Literacy) at the Open University. An advocate of developing teachers’ creative artistry, Teresa’s research focuses on teachers’ and children’s literate identities and practices. Her new edited collection is Reading Teachers: Nurturing reading for pleasure  (with Helen Hendry, Lucy Rodriguez Leon, Natalia Kucirkova, 24 teachers and 8 colleagues). Teaching English Creatively is about to go into a 3rd edition (both Routledge).

Teresa is passionate about developing readers for life and leads a professional user-community website based on her research into volitional reading.

@TeresaCremin

Roger Stevens: Haiku, A Love Affair

My first ever published poem was a haiku:

When I write haiku

I always seem to have one

Syllable left o

This was back in 1998. Which makes that poem 24 years old. The only problem is, of course, it’s not actually a haiku.

My love of Japanese poetry began at art college in the late 1960s. I became fascinated with a book I found in the college library – Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps. This ‘collection of Japanese poems and stories’ immediately became a great influence on my writing, as well as on my art and music.

Back then it didn’t occur to me that the haiku in that book didn’t each have 17 syllables arranged in lines of 5,7,5. Later, I realised this was because they had been translated into English from the Japanese. But they maintained the essence of haiku by saying so much, so sparingly. One of the great haiku masters is Matsuo Basho (1644-1694):

The old pond

A frog leaps in.

Sound of the water

When I became a fully-fledged children’s poet, I would include what I thought were haiku in my own collections and anthologies I edited and found the 5,7,5 format great fun to share with children in workshops when I visited schools.

It’s a great discipline and children enjoy trying to fit their ideas to the form. I remember the teacher who couldn’t believe the enthusiasm of two boys in her class, who had hardly written anything creative before, writing verse after verse… because it involved counting.

I often still write poems in the 5,7,5 format. But I now like to, more accurately, describe them as ‘written in the haiku style’.

Because, in 2012, I attended an online haiku writing course, along with Liz Brownlee and several other well-known children’s poets, given by Alan Summers, a haiku specialist who has won awards in Japan for his poems and is the president of the United Haiku and Tanka Society.

And it turns out that haiku are much more complicated than I first thought. I haven’t the space to list all the rules and subtleties of writing haiku here. But to begin with, a haiku must have three elements: a reference to nature (kigo), two juxtaposed images and a kireji, or ‘cutting word,’ which marks a transition in the verse and pulls the poem together. An individual image must occupy lines 1 and 2, with the third line containing the kireji. During the course, I only managed to write one haiku that passed muster:

sky before rain

a Rackham tree

catches a hat

I also discovered senryu – and found these were what I had been writing all along. Because while senryu obeys many haiku rules, they can be about people, or society and are often satirical or funny. I know now that my first published poem was, in fact, a senryu.

I like to think that, along with the mesostic, I’ve done my bit as a poet, anthologist and educator to popularise senryu. I devote some time to discussing these Japanese forms in my book Is This a Poem (Bloomsbury, 2016.)

Is This a Poem?, Roger Stevens, Illustrated by Spike Gerrell, Bloomsbury

I do enjoy the challenge of writing true haiku; so few words say something that exactly catches a moment, an idea or a feeling. A good haiku brings out the sun, just for a moment, on a grey, rainy day.

Roger Stevens

Roger Stevens has had nearly 40 books published: novels, numerous solo poetry collections and edited poetry collections. When not writing, he visits schools, libraries and festivals performing his work and running workshops for young people and teachers. He is a National Poetry Day Ambassador for the Forward Arts Foundation, a founding member of the Able Writers scheme with Brian Moses; and of course runs the award-winning and most excellent poetry website PoetryZone.