On an actual in-person school visit earlier this year (I know, a rarity, right?), a teacher mentioned she’d spotted how many writers had a background in education. Off the top of my head, I can think of… Jan Dean, Brian Moses, Roger Stevens, Pie Corbett, Coral Rumble, Andy Seed, James Carter, Wes Magee, Rachel Rooney, Me, Sue Hardy-Dawson… I’m sure you can think of more…

So, why, in my opinion, is the teaching profession such a successful spawning ground for writers?

Aspiring teacher-writers are around their target audience all day – they read to them and can see first-hand what they like and what they don’t. There are plenty of opportunities to slip their own writing in – or I certainly did – to gauge reaction.

Teachers enjoy engaging with children. I hated the paperwork, pressure and ever-increasing workload of life as a teacher, but always loved talking to children – having a laugh, hearing what made them tick. It inspired poems…and still does. Teachers who want to write will have their receptors tuned in.

Also, the wannabe teacher-writer will (hopefully!) get to witness in full glorious technicolour those already doing the job – when I was a primary teacher, I was lucky enough to have writers including Jan Dean, Brian Moses, Tom Palmer, Nick Toczek and Wes Magee in school – and watched what they did and how they did it.  Some did assemblies, some didn’t, some only worked with KS2 classes, some did Q+As etc – they all had their own style – and I could cherry pick!

Those with a teaching background will be confident in pitching the level of work they ask children to do in their sessions – and, on a practical level, will have an awareness of how to organise a workshop session: what equipment will all classrooms have? How should a 30min/45min/1hr be structured? How much input is needed in order to get the children writing?

Teaching is one big performance! You can be the finest writer of poetry the world has ever seen – but stand in front of a 3-form-entry infant school, or a 4-form-entry junior school where the streetwise Y6s eye you with the utmost suspicion, and you realise that you have to be able to perform – entertain, engage and hold the attention of children (and the adults sitting round the side!). An audience of adults watching a boring performance will most probably remain polite…. 350 bored 5-7 year olds will immediately let you know they’re bored.

Alongside the day-to-day classroom ‘performance’, teachers will generally have a track record in delivering assemblies, the physical act of standing up in front of large groups of children and being the focal point. This doesn’t come naturally to everyone but those who’ve taught will have had to do it…and will have developed their own style. Even as a class teacher with no leadership responsibility, I was on a weekly rota for Key Stage 2 assemblies (and often had to cover whole school assemblies) – it was a time when the other class teachers stayed in their classrooms catching up on marking etc and crucially allowed me to deliver whatever official message I had to deliver…and then sneak some poems in to get them road-tested in front of mixed ages…what work? What doesn’t? What gets the Y6s joining in as well as the Y3s etc?

No wonder so many writers come from a teaching background!

Matt Goodfellow

Matt Goodfellow is from Manchester. He is a National Poetry Day Ambassador for the Forward Arts Foundation. His most recent collection is ‘Bright Bursts of Colour’ (Bloomsbury 2020).  

Cheryl Moskowitz: From The Raven to The Odyssey

From The Raven to the Odyssey

So here we are, a new year and schools closed again.

As a poet writing for children, I want to know: what it is like to be a child at this time? What is most boring, most interesting, most concerning about the current situation from a child’s point of view? How are they spending their time? What games are they playing? What stories and poems are they reading, and what do they themselves most need to write?

When the first lockdown began in March 2020 I spoke to children directly about the pandemic, about not being able to go to school or see their friends. They talked about their worries and frustrations, their wishes and hopes, and their visions for a corona-free world. I wrote poems in response to those conversations to reflect their experience. Back then the coronavirus was new. Scary perhaps but also different, interesting and maybe even for some, exciting.

Children from Margate class with their ‘Poetry Passports’ at The Beacon, a foundation special school in Kent 

Since then we have been through many rule changes, loosening and tightening of restrictions and at the time of writing, we have just entered a new national lockdown and Covid-19 is no longer a novelty.

The pandemic is not the only thing going on in children’s lives – new things happen all the time. Fresh experiences that need processing. That’s why conversation is so important. To converse means literally to ‘live among’ or to be ‘familiar with’ and it is how we exchange important feelings and ideas. Social distancing puts up barriers to conversation, so we have had to find new ways to converse meaningfully, particularly with our children.

Last Autumn, when schools were in attendance, I was fortunate enough to take part in Pop Up’s SEND Festival, usually a hands-on literature programme for pupils in special schools. This time the ‘hands-on’ element needed to be virtual rather than actual but that was an exciting and interesting challenge.

My first task was to find a way to familiarise myself with the children and them with me, before my online visit. Key to this was talking to teachers about their pupils, finding out about individual quirks. I also made a video in which I introduced myself and set the pupils a task of making a ‘poetry passport’. They had to choose an alias instead of their name, identify a distinguishing characteristic, state a like and dislike, a dream, an ambition, and something they would never do. 

This ‘sneak peek’ I had of the children’s personalities, dreams and dreads enabled me to write a riddle-type poem containing hints of all their identities and proved to be an engaging way to start the session. Having recognised themselves in the poem I’d written, they were much more willing to engage and write revealing and moving poems of their own, even though (or maybe because!) I was on one side of the screen and they on the other. 

When we share a piece of writing or a favourite poem with one another this is also a form of conversation. During these past months I’ve been mentoring a 9-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy in creative writing. It has been revelatory to let these young people set the agenda. The boy, who loves dystopian fiction, led me to ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe which, with its powerful incantation Nevermore, is a poem about living with loss.

The girl has steered me towards Homer’s Odyssey and we are still puzzling together whether the eponymous hero should be held responsible for so many of his fellow men’s deaths. There could not be two better metaphors for our times. Schools may be closed but children’s minds are most certainly not.

Cheryl Moskowitz

Cheryl Moskowitz is a poet and educator. She writes for adults and children, runs workshops regularly in schools and is passionate about getting teachers and pupils to write their own poems. She runs writing projects in a wide variety of community settings often working with the most disadvantaged and vulnerable. She serves on the Creative Council for Create Arts and is working with Pop Up on a three-year project to develop creative resources for use in SEN schools across Kent.

Teresa Cremin: A 2021 Poetry Pledge

A 2021 Poetry Pledge

As poetry and fiction have their roots in everyday speech, our first experiences of poetry are often aural. From our earliest years we take pleasure in the playful, rhythmic nature of language which is poetic in nature.  This ‘memorable speech’ (Auden and Garret, 1935) often entices young children to participate orally in word play and encourages them to experiment with and absorb playground rhymes, songs, football chants, jingles, jokes and lyrics.

So as a New Year’s resolution, I invite you to commit to celebrating the power and pleasure in  poetry more regularly. Perhaps, like me, you’ll pledge to read a poem aloud each day during January? I’m going to give voice to verse daily, bringing ‘dead’ words on the page to life and tracking the consequences of this simple act on myself as an adult reader and on those around me. If you’re a teacher, as many readers of this blog are, I wonder what the impact of reading a poem a day will be on the young people? 

If you agree to join me, then I suggest making such a plan public – with the children, with family and even on social media- this is likely to ensure we sustain our commitment and help us pay close attention to any emergent consequences.

Might you set a particular time aside for this? I think I’m going to read aloud a poem just before or after supper, Mark, my husband, might listen in then. In classrooms, (in person or virtually),  I recommend selecting a space that has the capacity to stretch over time, i.e. not at the close of the day or just before a break – who knows what might happen?

What might you read? Personally, I’m going to make a pile of some old but gold, alongside some new and bold poetry collections, and revisit a range of forms and styles, seeking to move well beyond those which are explicitly created/framed to be read aloud.  In schools, maybe themed weeks will develop with female poets or verse about particular topics of interest – food, animals, injustice – and a recommendations table with teachers and children’s favourites bookmarked for reading time.  I guess I’ll be re-reading some too, to discern their nature or to taste them on my tongue again.

How might you share this time with others?  I imagine Mark will browse my collection if I leave them lying around, and my reading will prompt discussion, just as in school. Soon enough, I expect teachers will find children making requests and offering to read aloud too. If this doesn’t happen naturally, I’d trigger it and invite pairs or groups to volunteer to prepare readings or mini performances to share with the class. Developing this idea, Sadie Philips from a London primary school, brought in an old twig tree, introduced it as a special ‘Poet-Tree’ and invited children to copy their chosen read/performed poems onto a leaf ,(later laminated), for others to enjoy.  The children’s ownership of their Poet-Tree had consequences and triggered increased awareness, pleasure and engagement in the form.

Poetry deserves to be heard. Voicing a poem each day will help build poems ‘in common’ in homes and classrooms. Our research suggests that we live through such ‘texts in common’  together and when they are offered for the sole purpose of  shared enjoyment, they represent a rich resource for repeated readings, conversation and connections.  In addition, they nurture our pleasure in reading and play a particularly resonant role in helping build reading communities (Cremin, 2018).

Will you join me?

Teresa Cremin

Teresa Cremin is Professor of Education (Literacy) at the Open University. An advocate of developing teachers’ creative artistry, Teresa researches teachers’ and children’s literate identities and practices. Her most recent books include Children reading for pleasure in the digital age: Mapping reader engagement (with Natalia Kucirkova, 2020) and the forthcoming Teaching English Creatively (3rd edition).

Teresa leads a professional user-community website that supports over 100 OU/UKLA Teachers’ Reading Groups and 30 HEI partnerships across the country in order to support the development of children’s and teachers’ pleasure in reading. @TeresaCremin

Christmas Poems

A huge thank you to all the poets who have contributed to this week of Christmas poems. A very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Better New Year to all our Readers.

Illustration: Sue Hardy-Dawson

Reindeer

One white winter dawn with a crystal glow

a small child asked

what do reindeer do?

Dance on clouds,

said his mother,

drink river’s freeze

gild gem-cloven lawns with their glittering toes.

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One crisp, brittle noon with a sun that froze

a small child called

how do reindeer grow?

Branches,

said his father,

from icicle trees

bound in the bud of a grizzled, dry rose.

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One twinkly night with a rattle and blow

a small child cried

but how do you know?

We listen,

said his sister,

deep into sleep

for tinkling of bells and a dusting of snow.

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Sue Hardy Dawson

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Painting: Jan Dean

One Star

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Mary’s son

Just begun

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Straw  bed

Tiny head

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Shepherd’s keep

Sleepy sheep

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Dark night

Angel light

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Sent them

To Bethlehem

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One star

Travelled far

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Three kings

Brought things

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The light of heaven’s starry skies

Shines in this small baby’s eyes.

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God is born for you and me

A blessing and a mystery.

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Jan Dean

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For a Hard Winter

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When all around you seems to fall away

and, short of breath, the damp air snaps and bites.

When what was once alive sinks in decay

and shadows loom in places that were bright.

When joy and hope and spirits fade to grey

and spring and summer colours shrink from sight.

When daytime seems no different from dark.

Remember, child: within you glows a spark.

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Shauna Darling Robertson

Christmas Poems

Illustration: Elaine Hill

Christmas Cat

……………….

The Christmas cat sits still and sleek;

The Christmas cat is wary.

She’s been in trouble twice this week;

She’s finding Christmas scary.

……………………………..

The Christmas cat tried to join in;

She played with Christmas lights.

She pulled the tree right off the stool

And gave them all a fright.

………………………..

The Christmas cat likes Christmas food;

She likes the Christmas meat.

She likes to lick the turkey fat

And get between our feet.

……………………

The Christmas cat is shut outside:

She’d grabbed the Christmas fairy.

She’s been in trouble twice this week;

She’s finding Christmas SCARY!

…………………………….

Trevor Millum

……………………….

The Star’s Story

………………………………………………..

I am a wandering star,

An astronomical event,

Surely not a portent

Of some heavenly god’s descent.

………………………………..

I may travel where e’er I wish

Across the reach of space:

It is my whim to stop and rest

Above this silent place.

……………………………

And what of these three learned men

Who trail me through the skies?

It’s whispered that they’re noble

But should I think them wise?

………………………………..

Yet, somehow, I feel it’s right

To light this stable lowly

And watch as shepherds pay respect

To a child they say is holy.

………………………………………………………….

John H. Rice

Three Slow Visitors

………………

When Christmas is over

And New Year is past

We three slow visitors arrive at last.

……………….

Too late for the angels

We wonder and long

For the piercing white beauty of feathery songs.

……………….

We wandered the wastes

Where the wind and the sand

Whispered and shifted and re-made the land.

………………..

And now by the Maker

Of all things we stand

Mysterious gifts in our trembling hands.

…………………..

The gold and the incense

Are all fine and good

And the myrrh has its meaning too – all understood.

……………………..

But here – at our mercy

Lies God – and we shiver

Just what is the gift here?  And who is the giver?

…………………….

Jan Dean

Roasting the Phoenix

………………………

This year we’re having Phoenix

for our Christmas dinner,

and if Mum doesn’t burn it,

it’s sure to be a winner.

……………

Oh no! The oven’s smoking,

our dinner is on fire.

it’s a raging furnace,

a Phoenix funeral pyre.

………………..

Mum puts on the oven gloves,

and she lets out a roar 

“that Phoenix has grown feathers,

it’s fluttering at the door.”

…………………..

Help! Somebody let it out!

This is a job for Dad.

Mum’s sorry that she stuffed it.

It’s looking really mad.

………………..

So Dad opens the oven

and the bird soars off in flight.

Mum has to have a sherry,

she’s had such a fright.

………………

It rose up from the ashes,

so dinners off, I fear.

I wish we’d had a turkey

like every other year.

………………..

Jane Clarke

…………………….

*Just a Few Sleeps to Go*

………………….

How’s it going, Father Christmas?

“I’m snowed under,” he says,

“still busy sorting toys

to pile upon my sledge.”

…………………..

“The stars are all lined up,” he adds,

“in time for Christmas Day.

So be good girls and boys and

I’ll soon be on my way.”

………………

The little elves are helping

and Rudolph’s at the ready.

Just a few sleeps left to go,

so snuggle down with Teddy! 

…………………

Celia Warren

Christmas Poems

Painting by Jan Dean

The Shepherd’s Story

Snow.

Just as it was growing dark – snow.

Soft flakes fell

White and glossy

Thick as swans’ feathers

Slowly, slowly,

Until the world was put to bed

Under this white quilt

Slowly slowly drifting

Into sleep…

Then.  In that silence

The sky was suddenly alive

With angels bright as fire

Their wings burning with such golden light

Their songs like thunder and like ice,

Like bells and like the deep and sonorous sea.

Their message stranger

Than any other I have ever heard.

‘God is born,’ they said.

‘The God who spoke and shaped the world

The stars, the universes

And the soft black deeps of space.

Is born.’

There on that hillside

In that snow

I heard them say it.

Then just as quickly they were gone

The sky was dark again

No echo lingered

Nothing

But the white white snow

The secret white white snow

Nothing has ever been a greater mystery

Than that night.

With angels.  Snow. 

A million different kinds of light

I knew then that the world is not an ordinary place

When heaven shone from one small baby’s face.

Jan Dean

Christmas Baubles

Baubles
fragile, fire-bright
hanging, hovering, quivering
reflectors of tiny, glinting tints
tree treasures

Kate Williams

Chris-mas

Please try to remember, whatever your age,

That Christmas is spelt with a T                                                 

If you try to have Christmas without it 

There’ll be gif-s placed under a -ree

For dinner, you’ll have to eat -urkey

With s-uffing and maybe some sprou-s

And there won’t be much glitter or sparkle

If it’s -insel you’ve hung in your house

And when San-a Claus visits at midnigh-

He’ll find it most dreadfully shocking

If, instead of his usual cookies and milk,

He’s met with a right Chris-mas s-ocking!

John H. Rice

A Big Surprise

For my presents, I said I’d like
computer games,
a mountain bike,
an electric train
or a model plane
but most of all
I’d like a bike.

I opened my presents
and what did I find there?
A hand knitted hat
and a squeaky bear,
more underpants from my aunts
and socks (grey, one pair).

I said ‘thank you’ nicely,
I tried to smile
but what was I thinking
all the while?
I was thinking
I wanted computer games,
a mountain bike,
an electric train
or a model plane
but most of all
I’d have liked
a bike.

“There’s just one last thing
to unwrap,” they said.
“It’s a big surprise
we’ve kept it in the shed.
It’s special, it comes with love
from the lot of us…

Now I’m the only kid in school
with my own hippopotamus.

Michaela Morgan

The Way

Some snow knows

just where to go

drops straight from sky

to be as one

with other snow           

some snow floats

like feathers, lifts

with air and drifts

no rush to get

from high to low

but each and

every downy flake

in silent flight

each one unique

yet like in white

can find its way

to gently change

transform with light

by simply settling

to unite

Liz Brownlee

Christmas Poems

Last Christmas we finished our blog year with some festive poems, which were very popular. This year we will have a few each day leading up to our normal blog day – Christmas Eve. Thank you to all the poets who contributed – more poems tomorrow!

Liz Brownlee

The sky exploded

……………………………

Night turned inside out

and suddenly was all ablaze

across the blue-black sky

like diamonds.  It was day,

with rainbows sparkling in salt spray,

or waterfalls of light…

not any sort of night

that anyone had ever seen before

–  or since. 

the shepherds on the hill

screwed up their eyes against it

–  so bright it made them wince.

They heard the singing,

felt the wind of wild wings beating,

–  white and gleaming thunder

high in God’s heaven.

…………………………….

All this. 

All this fanfare-fuss, this mad amazing energy,

on this high hilltop,

this was not the main event.

That happened quietly behind the pub

in a shed they kept the donkey in.

There God was born

not in a palace to be claimed by kings

not in a rich man’s house awash with things.

Not even underneath the angels’ shining wings

but in a shed.  With stuff.

For us.  For ordinary us.

Jan Dean

The Last Mince Pie

Who ate the last mince pie?
It was on the plate last night
I wonder, was it Grandpa?
Did he take a crafty bite?

Who ate the last mince pie?
I wonder, was it Mum?
Did she sneak into the kitchen
And gulp it down in one?

Who ate the last mince pie?
Couldn’t Sister Sally wait?
When nobody was looking
Did she pinch it from the plate?

Who ate the last mince pie?
Who, I wonder, could it be?
I know – but don’t tell anyone!
It was…

Father Christmas!

Roger Stevens

Hanukkah

……………………………..

Light the candles

Me and you

One, two

……….

Pray for peace

Evermore

Three, four

Hold hands

Hug and kiss

Five, six

Always love

Never hate

Seven, eight.

Andrea Shavick

Tell Christmas

Tell the winter mist hiding the valley,

Tell the dew on the grass,

Tell the words that I mean to say,

Tell the hedgerows and the lanes,

Tell the windows and skeleton trees,

Tell the homeless asleep in doorways,

Tell the robin with his fiery breast,

Tell the children up too early,

Tell the sleepy world to wake up,

Tell her citizens that it is time

For the kindly sun to warm her skin

Abused by many for so many years.

Pie Corbett

Christmas All Year

You’ve got to admire

anyone wacky enough to leave

their Christmas lights up all year!

But in our street

that’s what they do.

In our street it’s Christmas

any time of year.

Even in the hottest August heat

it’s Christmas in our street,

a time-warp Christmas, a leftover Christmas,

an out-of-place, in-your-face

sort of Christmas.

In our street the sun never shines,

it’s always in shade.

Santa Claus beams from a doorway,

reindeers race for the rooftops.

It’s a street where snowmen never melt

and icicles never drip.

Maybe there’s some crumb of comfort

for the sentimental of the heartsick,

knowing that Christmas doesn’t go away,

knowing that in our street

there’s no January through to November,

for every day is Christmas Day,

every month December.

Brian Moses

Mandy Coe: Poetry as the Language of Child

Poetry as the Language of Child

Maybe this is why poets and poetry-loving-teachers encounter such enthusiasm in the classroom, maybe this is why poetry is a multigenerational conversation as jubilant as the dawn chorus! Like much of the arts, poetry is so child-friendly, that if adults present poems with even the slightest hint of invite-to-write, children will respond in kind.

How to best get poetry into the classroom is a common issue for educators; perhaps aimed at boys, reluctant readers, or those excluded from literacy. But what if the poetry is already there?  As we know, poems love classrooms – flapping through doors and fluttering down chimneys. In fact, the only way to keep poetry under control, is to use it as a club to whack-a-mole learning-targets (at which point it flies right out the window!). Hey ho, art is fickle, and a poem is as likely to start a fire as put one out.

But bring a free-range poem into the classroom and watch those writers set to – gnawing at pencils, until up goes the sea of hands, each child excited to be heard. Those who teach poetry have always known it as this: a two-way process of questioning and listening, bringing poems in and drawing them out. Even reading a poem is conversational: what do you think? the poem asks, inviting us to lay our thoughts in the spaces the poet left blank. Perhaps this is why poetry crosses boundaries of age, geography, culture and eras (even translation is dialogue), and perhaps this potential is down to commonality. Poetry as the language of child?

For children, life unfolds as an astonishing, hilarious metaphor of bamboozling goings-on; snow has a taste, animals have magic powers, colours speak and wishes come true, and let’s not forget the heartbeat rhythms and drowsy comfort of repetition. Where do most adults go, inside themselves, to write or read a poem (not the craft; that’s learned), what I mean is, where do we go to pursue the spark of it? Deep down and way back, that’s where. To a time when bees named themselves buzz and the world was a poem. Let’s face it, if children retained the copyright of poetry as a first-language, us adults would be left with catchphrases.

Belonging Street, Otter-Barry Books, Cover Art by Chie Hosaka

I write for adults and children, and on the occasions that I write myself to a point where the two paths meet, I feel… at home. In ‘Belonging Street’ I aimed for a place where this dialogue thrives, between nannas and children, parents and toddlers, between reader and poem (and the book is full of ‘invites-to-write’).

So, let’s keep up our end of the dialogue by taking poetry into schools (and us children’s poets need readers in these times, more than ever!). Poets, illustrators, publishers and librarians pride themselves on creating books perfect for schools: classic, contemporary, funny and serious, poems on nature, the universe and each child’s uniqueness – and not forgetting the call for more books reflecting the rich diversity of our communities.  

But this poetry-conversation centres on the child, and when access/funding to poetry and art in schools is cut again, I am not going to just shake my head, summoning resolve to create yet more projects proving without a doubt that poetry in schools is invaluable. After all, those who dictate curriculum-content have the same access as we do, to decades of research evidencing this to be so. Instead, I shall see it for what it is: censorship, a severance from mother-tongue, and silencing of dialogue. Let’s keep this mother-tongue spoken daily, children are not the poets of tomorrow; they are the poets of today.

Mandy Coe

Mandy Coe is the author of 9 books, and writes poetry for adults and children. She was a recipient of a Hawthornden Fellowship and is a visiting Fellow of the Manchester Writing School. Her poems have received a number of awards and have appeared on BBC television and radio programmes such as CBeebies, Woman’s Hour and Poetry Please. Her work on teaching poetry is widely published.

“It sings, so your heart does too.” Nicolette Jones, Sunday Times (Belonging Street)

“A gentle, relatable book full of humour and the wonder of being alive… finely observed poems to share between parents and children, and poems that can be used as models for children’s own writing….” Poetry Roundabout 5 Star review (Belonging Street)

Chrissie Gittins: Jill Pirrie – ‘All children are embryo poets’

I had intended to write about Jill Pirrie and her book On Common Ground: A Programme for Teaching Poetry, a book which inspired me when I began visiting schools. When I read that she died earlier this year it seemed even more reason to highlight her work.

A notice in The Eastern Daily Press states that she had a national reputation for teaching poetry, was an accomplished poet herself, and that she spent her life in service to the church and the teaching profession. She was the first of her family to have post-14 education and she received an MBE in 1987 for services to the teaching of English.

Jill Pirrie was Head of English at Halesworth Middle School in Suffolk for over 20 years and taught a mixed-ability group of 9-13 year-olds to write poems. In the mid-eighties her pupils won multiple awards in the WH Smith Young Writers Competition and an Observer Prize. In 1993 Bloodaxe Books published an anthology of her award-winning pupils’ work – Apple Fire.

Ted Hughes wrote the forward to On Common Ground. He writes that in order for children to write good poetry ‘teachers don’t need pupils with an ‘evident natural gift’. All they need is ordinary pupils’.

Steve Gardam, a former pupil, bears this out when he described Jill Pirrie’s classroom on Twitter 30/9/2020. It was ‘kind of old-fashioned, and also timeless … it wasn’t just about the ‘smart’ kids who did well in other subjects. It was every child being shown the tools, the way to use them to make magic from words. And we did.’

Asked by the TES if her pupils continued to publish poetry Jill Pirrie commented, ‘I’m not in the business of making poets. I’m interested in teaching mastery of language.’ In an interview with the Independent she said, ‘Poetry has the capacity to empower children to achieve mastery of all literary genres. It encourages reflection and the powers of criticism, for the child to be both intensely involved at the moment of writing the poem and then objectively detached, equipped with all the criteria for assessing the poem.’

In her introduction she talks about how asking children to imagine requires an intense kind of remembering. The pupil then stands back from her/his material in order to craft their poem. She favoured sitting in rows and liked her pupils to work in silence to encourage ‘focus’.

Her favourite nouns were apparently ‘focus’, ‘economy’, and ‘sparseness’. Her approach to poetry was always inclusive – ‘In so far as all children have memories, all children are embryo poets.’ Each chapter reproduces a wide selection of her pupils’ rich poems.

Many chapters draw on poems by well-known poets. The chapter on Process outlines the importance of naming – the verb being seen second in importance only to the noun. ‘Children must learn to write with economy and discrimination, and to guard jealously the power of their nouns.’ She underlines the importance of naming through the senses: ‘the senses are not only the means by which we explore the world and know that we are alive; they are also the means by which we remember’.

The idea I most often use in workshops is from ‘The Impossible Christmas’ section and is perhaps doubly appropriate at this time. Instead of bought presents we’re asked to think about capturing special memories to gift wrap – a special place, a favourite taste, a wonderful sight/sound/smell, a favourable turn of events, a remembered moment with a friend or relative. Using as many of the five senses as possible I ask for a list poem called ‘Possible Presents’.

Jill Pirrie died 12th September 2020 aged 81. R.I.P.

Chrissie Gittins has had three of her five children’s poetry collections as Choices for the Children’s Poetry Bookshelf. Two were shortlisted for the CLiPPA Award. She won the Belmont Poetry prize and was a Manchester Children’s Literature Prize finalist. Her poems feature on Cbeebies and the Poetry Archive. She has judged the Caterpillar Poetry Prize and is a National Poetry Day Ambassador.

Zaro Weil: A Glimpse; Adult Poetry and Children’s Poetry

A few years ago, after a talk about children and poetry, I was asked about the difference between adult poetry and kids’ poetry.

A Cheshire cat grin rolled over me. I didn’t have to think twice. ‘There really is none,’ I replied with a smile. ‘A good poem is a good poem is a good poem. Of course themes and language will be different. Age and emotional suitability may vary. But poetry for children is not – at its heart – different from other poetry.’

Let’s take a glimpse at the basics. Just a glimpse.

What is it we expect when we read a poem?

The first thing is simple. There is an invitation. Something in the title or opening line says, Come on in. I have an idea you’re going to like.

Sounds good. We decide not to close the book or turn the page. We read further. The poet is communicating a vision we intuitively like. He or she is talking to us the way a friend might.

Zaro’s Cherry Moon won the CLiPPA Award for Children’s Poetry this year.

From that first invitation a good poem offers, the child is often more than willing to suspend what they already think and allow themselves to be transported into another world. Indeed, kids are often more eager and open than adults to step inside and treat the poet as a new friend.

But the words themselves must also spark magic; the swing and sway of the rhythms, meter and sound need to be dynamic. And feel right. It is the poet’s craft with words which creates excitement and meaning for us. Because our brains buzz and light up when the exact right words both sound great and go together. Like they were meant to be.

As for sound musicality and language acquisition, these are the child’s very own domain; one filled with the joy of rhyme, the thrill of rhythm and the love of onomatopoeia to name a few.

And what is it the poet says to us? Is it clear and sunny enough that we can relate to it? Are the words bright enough in the lines we read for us to ‘get’ it.

Next we ask if this poem inspires us. Do we feel the poet’s unseen presence in his words? Does the poem burrow down to ignite those misty moon-lit thoughts we have but don’t know very well? The thoughts that are deeper and richer than our everyday words and ideas. The ones that allow us to imagine a new way of seeing things.

For imagination relies upon the senses; of what we have seen, heard, touched, tasted, smelled and remembered. A good poem creates the words and sensations that call upon the reader’s personal memory store and then graciously offers up the possibility to re-imagine, re-pattern and re-position the reader’s own understandings.

Children grow in the ambiguity of light and dark. In the bright logic of facts and ideas about the world. But they also grow in the belief that there is something else. Something unknown, dark and uncontrollable. Being close to and accepting the mysterious plays an important role in a child’s development. A child is open to being moved by a poem.

And precisely because children play and because imagination is the currency for this play, a good poem can ignite a child’s mind. And as children are close to both their sensory understandings and memories, a good poem has the potential to fly them into a universe pulsing with possibility.

To finish my reply to the question, I think we all, at every age, respond to the same human impulses; the ones which lead us to better understand and illuminate the world we find ourselves in.

And that is why my Cheshire cat can’t help but smile.

Zaro Weil

Zaro Weil lives in southern France with her husband and Spot Guevara Hero Dog, alongside a host of birds, insects, badgers, wild boars, crickets, donkeys, goats, hares and loads more. She has been a lot of things; dancer, theatre director, actress, poet, playwright, educator, quilt collector, historian, author and publisher. Zaro’s two poetry collections, Firecrackers and Cherry Moon were widely praised; with Cherry Moon being awarded the CliPPA Poetry Award for 2020.