Charlotte Hacking: The Power of Poetry to Reflect, Share and Broaden Children’s Realities

Poetry has the potential to help children to see themselves reflected in literature and to express themselves through their own writing. It can open doors to children’s own desires to read and express themselves through poetry. Poems shared can reveal what this genre can offer to children as a medium in reading and in writing.

IMAGE: Ellie Kurtz

Everyone can see their place in poetry, but only if it is showcased. Children need to see the universality of poetry and that poetry is for them; it transcends age, culture, race, religion. The poet videos on the CLPE website contain a wide range of poets performing a wide range of poetry and are added to each year in line with CLPE’s poetry award, the CLiPPA.

2021 CLiPPA Shortlist – image by Ellie Kurtz

Such resources are particularly important in opening up children’s perceptions that poetry can also be for them. One teacher on our Power of Poetry project had shared Valerie Bloom’s ‘Haircut Rap’ video with her children. One of them remarked, ‘I didn’t know poets can be black people too. I thought Valerie Bloom was white.’ We keep access to our poetry resources completely free to expand the range of poets and poetry used in classrooms, ensuring these reflect the realities of all children so they can see themselves in the world of poetry and that it is a space for them.

Image: Ellie Kurtz

Poetry is a carrier of culture. It marks, shares and shapes who we are and our feelings and experiences of the world and is an important vehicle to explore individual identity and the identity of others. Hearing poets like Jackie Kay, Nikita Gill, Matt Goodfellow and John Lyons enables children to hear a variety of voices and broadens their understanding of language as a whole. As one school, who worked with us at CLPE, reflected, ‘The children are now more engaged with poetry. They were a particular fan of Matt Goodfellow and never realised a poet could be ‘so cool’! It was great to introduce them to more female poets too. Now when asked ‘What does a poet look like?’ they respond by saying ‘any one of us’, which is wonderful to see. As Emmie (one of the children) put so beautifully ‘Poetry has no limits’.’

Image: Ellie Kurtz

If poetry is not given a voice, if it just stays on the page, it is not going to come alive for most children. CLiPPA has a shadowing scheme attached to the award that encourages children to do exactly this. Groups of children put together a performance of a poem from one of the shortlisted collections. The winners are invited to perform at the event and feel the excitement of seeing poetry performed live. Some incredible responses have been seen since we started the scheme in 2015, such as this outstanding interpretation of Karl Nova’s The Dancer by Quincey, a Year 6 pupil.

Image: Ellie Kurtz

Poetry gives you a voice to express what you want, in your own way. Children need to see that poetry can be used to encapsulate moments that are new, funny or familiar or as a more cathartic experience to express feelings such as guilt, sadness or loss. Being Me: Poems About Thoughts, Worries and Feelings by Liz Brownlee, Matt Goodfellow and Laura Mucha has garnered the most entries in the shadowing scheme this year, perhaps because it bears witness to children’s thoughts, feelings, experiences and emotions in a way that genuinely offers recognition, affirmation and hope. The poets have worked in perfect harmony to create a collection that shows child readers that their emotions and experiences matter, as well as demonstrating how writing about such things can help them make sense of their own thoughts and feelings. As a teacher reflected: ‘Poetry gives the children an increasingly rare opportunity to express thoughts, feelings and ideas about their world; to feel like a writer, to be a writer. Writing poetry is a place where their thoughts, feelings, ideas and humanity are valued and recognised.’

Charlotte Hacking

Charlotte Hacking is the Learning and Programme Director at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education. Charlotte led and developed the CLPE’s Power of Poetry research project and the poetry courses and webinar programme at CLPE. Charlotte has been the CLPE judge for the CLiPPA since 2014.

Nabeela Ahmed: NLT Multi-Lingual Poetry Project

Following on from Fay Lant’s blog post in January, we are sharing an update on the multi-lingual poetry project in Bradford from poet and teacher Nabeela Ahmed:

This project has been a dream of mine for many years now and I have been excited about the chance to work with the National Literacy Trust on making it a reality. Being aware of research which taught us that incorporating mother tongues enhances the children’s ability to learn other languages and learn in general, we were keen to offer an opportunity where they didn’t leave parts of them outside the classroom door.

The multilingual strand follows the same pattern as the rest of the Young Poets project of the children visiting an inspiring venue, in this case it was the wonderful Brontë Parsonage and the moors. This was to be followed up by teachers supported with lesson plans and resources to help children write a poem incorporating their mother tongue and dialects.

As a team we had dared to see a dream in broad daylight and it was magical to see it transpire in front of my eyes:  the final poems included words from Urdu, Romanian, Gujrati, Slovak, Arabic, Latvian, Punjabi, Italian, Bengali, Spanish and Dutch; then words from Yorkshire and Mancunian dialects. The children wrote verses about food, places and things that mattered to them, emotions and people. The girl who had moved from Pakistan to Holland then to England, adding words from each of her three languages. The boy who wrote about his sister’s house as the place he felt loved and “hush” (happy). The Bengali girl who added “Naano”, her grandmother, and the girl who wrote about Moldova – “moldova mea ie jrumosa”. Arabic and Latvian phrases rolling off their tongues, leaving their classmates mesmerised and asking for what it meant and the oh! moments with full facial expressions and noises. One girl managed to capture the essence of the differences in attitudes to food from her parents to her generation in one sentence: “from roti and salan to enchalades and banoffee pie”.

Then there was the teacher taking notes, the one who said, “this project has made me think about speaking Punjabi and then throwing in words of English when speaking to my granddad”, and the one who shared her own poem with lots of Welsh in it.

One of my favourite moments was observing each class as I shared my Kashmir to Yorkshire poem and learning which children spoke Pahari from the reactions on their faces – the involuntary smiles and giggles, the wide eyes locked on me, as though saying, “you are saying that here, in school, in the classroom?”.

I am thankful to the National Literacy Trust’s Young Poets and Bradford Hub teams for their openness to new ideas and the support they provided me throughout. The project would not have been possible without the amazing teachers and fabulous librarians who joined the trips to the Brontë Parsonage and encouraged each child to perform. They told me how the project gave them the confidence to use their own and the children’s languages and dialects in their teaching.

We are all looking forward building on this in the years ahead.

Nabeela Ahmed

The National Literacy Trust is dedicated to transforming the lives of children from the UK’s most disadvantaged communities through literacy by improving their reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. The Trust’s research underpins several programmes, campaigns and policy work which have supported the literacy skills of 268,490 children during the last year alone.

Alex Wharton: About Poetry

Image: ©Billie Charity

I’m in the shack, a pallet-built shed with a concrete deck – home to a lovely old log burner. I’m happy, because I’ve just lit the fire with some flint and steel that I ordered online. Using the internet so that I can live in a world that is less, well, internet… We’re sheltering from the rain, the dog and I. The horses are fed, the hens, geese and ducks are scratching about, flapping about and squawking their joy into the valley’s quiet mist.

I’m thinking, as poets do. But poetry is about thought, and how we observe the living, the everyday – how much of it we absorb, let in. And tell again, again and again – until it’s something that satisfies our soul. I love the editing, the carving and splitting, dusting, polishing. Poetry is not unlike any other built thing. There’s a process of carefulness, artistry and patience. Stepping back, letting things be. Returning, fresh of thought – new ideas, feelings.

Inspiration is endless, as long as we stay open to the moment, the living and learning. And open to people, in many ways we are shaped by our surroundings, people and place. But we are unique amongst it all. And I deeply encourage this when working with children. I’ll ask them: “Would anyone like to tell me something about their life, just a little something you feel might be different to someone else, it doesn’t have to be epic or crazy, just – anything?”

My Nan taught me how to catch bumpy’s? Said a nine-year-old boy in the Rhondda Valleys.
Me: What’s bumpy’s?
You know, the little fish in the river, bumpy’s.
We catch ‘em with our bare hands like this
(he shows me) 
Oh I see, are they trout or something?
No, bumpy’s, you know em mun.
Well I’ve never heard of em, but it sounds awesome. “Anyone else’s Nan show them how to catch bumpy’s? No? Well there we have it, a unique story. Put it in your poem, my friend.” His eyes lit up, his friends were impressed, inspired!

Accessibility. Finding common ground. This is where I feel poetry most benefits the children I visit and work with. I move them away from structure and more towards feeling. Does it sound like you when you say it out aloud? Do you even want it to?  Poetry is such a dynamic thing, imaginative, living. I want children to know of its looseness, playfulness and freedom. But also of its power to change lives, save lives. It’s true – I mean, those of you reading this, know of these qualities, I’m sure. But the experience, well, I’m not sure what was happening in my own life when poetry swooped in. Fragile maybe. Confused, complicated. Too many thoughts without a space to place them, to shape them and move on.

Daydreams and Jellybeans by Alex Wharton, illustrated by Katy Riddell, Firefly Press

I didn’t know I needed it, but since, I haven’t been without it. So perhaps it was always there. I think being a poet is less doing, and more feeling. And the way in which we feel and absorb the world around us moulds the way we create. Which of course is ever-changing. I’m in the business of creating lovely things. That inspire, shed light, soothe and find the people who need them at the time.

Poetry Hill

All is still on poetry hill,

the horses dip their heads.

The geese are safe within

their sheds and ducks

are tucked in beds.

All is still on poetry hill,

the flowers closing in.

No sound of cars or

engines, just the sound

of quiet things.

Like moonlight on the

meadow, and shadows

shaped as trees. And silent

cats all inky black that tip

toe through your sleep.

All is still on poetry hill,

The poet doesn’t speak.

He piles his thoughts into

a heap and slips into

his dreams.

From Alex Wharton’s forthcoming collection of poems, to be published by Firefly Press.

Alex Wharton

Alex Wharton is an award-winning writer and performer of poetry and has led Writing workshops in schools throughout the UK. His first book of poetry, Daydreams and Jellybeans was published with Firefly Press in 2021. He is one of eleven writers that collaborated on a retelling of the Mabinogion called The Mab, which will be published in the summer of 2022 in both English and Welsh language.

https://alexwhartonpoet.co.uk/

Rachel Piercey: Tyger Tyger Issue 2 – Meet the Poems

I am delighted to introduce the second issue of Tyger Tyger Magazine, which launched on 16 May with twelve leaping, loping, kicking, crawling, slithering, splashing poems on the theme of Animals. We’re also calling for submissions for our next issue – see below for further details.

There is lots to learn in this Animals edition. ‘Tightrope Walk Team’ by S. J. Perillo is a mischievous list poem which revels in the unusual and exquisite names of different species. In his poem ‘Is a zebra like a horse?’, Will Birkin decisively answers the question of whether you can ride a zebra in a funny, rhyming investigation. And Sue Lancaster’s ‘Tail Tales’ invites us on a hugely enjoyable whistle-stop tour of different animals and how they use their tails, from squirrels to geckoes to kangaroos.

There are questions to ask, too. L. Kiew’s ‘Otter Questions’ wonders about the life of an otter, plunging us into her world using rich language and resonant kennings. And Annie Fisher challenges us to guess the slow, gooey creature whom gardeners fear, in her riddle poem ‘Who?’…

Cats are well represented in the selection. ‘The School Cats’ is a deeply imaginative and playful trio of poems by Catherine Olver, introducing us to three mysterious resident cats who have merged with their school environment. ‘Honey, best cat in the world’ by Michael Shann is a warmly lyrical and conversational poem about a beloved lost pet who helped and still helps the speaker through difficult emotions. And there’s a stray dog too, a noble and heroic character looking for a friend in Zaro Weil’s moving mini epic ‘Stray Dog in Havana’.

‘I Am Fionnula’ by Sophie Kirtley is a beautifully lyrical lament, a fresh take on the age-old theme of human-to-animal transformation, based on the Irish legend of The Children of Lir. Fionnula has been changed into a swan, but she still has her voice… Imaginative transformations also take place – suddenly and thrillingly – in Julie Stevens’s ‘Tickets to Ride’. The poem lets us in on a secret: that you can travel anywhere, to any animal habitat, if you use your imagination and creativity to find the ‘tickets’!

Mark Granier’s haunting poem ‘The ____saurus’ echoes with the roar of a mysterious, nameless dinosaur, still burning bright in our dreams. Meanwhile, at the other end of history, Jacqueline Shirtliff gives voice to a range of sea creatures urgently requesting that we sort out the issue of plastic in our oceans, in her rallying environmental poem ‘Too Many Bottles’.

Thank you to my fantastic editorial team, Rakhshan Rizwan, Helen Steffens and Kate Wakeling, and thank you to the poets for their wonderful poems. As before, all of them are available as free poem-posters, which you can download and print out. There are also free teaching resources to accompany ‘Tightrope Walk Team’, ‘Tickets to Ride’, and ‘Who?’, all aimed at children in Key Stage 2. There are ideas for exploring the poems and inspiring creative responses, and stylish templates to print out so that pupils can write up and display their finished poems.

Tyger Tyger Magazine is also currently open for submissions of new poems for children on the theme of The Colour Spectrum, until 30 June. This will be our autumn edition and we wanted to nod to the famous seasonal colours whilst keeping the theme open to every hue, and any approach. Send us poems of art, science, history and emotion – we can’t wait to read them!

Rachel Piercey

Rachel Piercey is a poet and tutor, and the editor of Tyger Tyger Magazine, an online journal of poems for children. She has co-edited three children’s poetry anthologies with the Emma Press, taught several courses on writing children’s poems for The Poetry School, and regularly performs and runs poetry workshops in primary schools. Rachel has written a poetry search-and-find book, If You Go Down the Woods Today (Magic Cat, 2021), and three pamphlets of poems for adults.

Michaela Morgan: A Profile

We asked poet Michaela Morgan to talk about being a children’s poet

Who are you?

Michaela Morgan is my name. I am a wordsmith, a dreamer, someone who loves the taste of words. Someone who likes to imagine, find facts, play with words, make up stories and poems – and share them by putting them in books or performing them

How long have you been writing poetry for children?

I have been writing for a long time! My first books for children were published in 1988! They were picture books – but picture books share the poetic qualities of power, economy, and rhythm. In a picture book no words are wasted, every word should count. It’s the same with poetry.

How did you get started?

My first published poems were included in anthologies put together by John Foster and Oxford University Press. After that I had my poems included in many anthologies.  These anthologies were valuable starting points. Typically, I would be approached to see if I could write a poem on a given topic. This provided me with focus and motivation – and resulted in making me much more productive.

There was a golden age when there were lots of anthologies such as The Works series published by Macmillan. These were so valuable, inspirational and helpful. They were loved and appreciated by participating poets, children and their teachers. They still are!

What do you enjoy writing?

I like the first frenzied phase of writing – scribbling down ideas, leaping at words and connections. Then I enjoy the slower phase of polishing – attempting to perfect the writing.

I write poetry, but also fiction and non–fiction. I write for an enormous age range, so my enjoyment of writing is widespread.

Which book was most important in your career as a poet?

Wonderland: Alice in Poetry has a special significance for me. It celebrates Lewis Carroll – particularly his poems. He took and twisted existing verses which children of his time were routinely made to learn and recite – and which were intended to teach them solemn life lessons.

So he took ‘Against Mischief and Idleness’ which starts:

How doth the little busy Bee/ Improve each shining Hour,
  

Lewis Carroll, who had a taste for mischief, turned it into:

How doth the little crocodile/ Improve his shining tail…

I passed the poetic baton on to contemporary poets. Roger Stevens produced his reflections of How the Scary Centipede whiles away his idle hours (playing hopscotch and watching Arsenal apparently). Children reading this book can then pick up the baton and add their poem to the chain.

I wrote my share of contributions to this collection but was honoured to be joined by many others – Roger McGough, John Agard, Rachel Rooney, Joshua Seigal, Liz Brownlee, Tony Mitton, Jan Dean, Grace Nichols, Cheryl Moskowitz, Joseph Coelho, Shauna Darling Robertson, Vivian French, Nicholas Allen, Sue Hardy- Dawson. I would have loved to cram even more poets in, but time, space and budget impose their limitations.

As a lifelong fan of the Alice books, this collection was wonderful for me to work on.

It was particularly powerful for me as I was taking my first steps forward from a period of trauma during which I had been unable to read or write anything. To return to reading a book that had supported and entranced me in my childhood – and stayed with me all my life – was magical. To find poetry friends willing to contribute new poems and to turn up and perform them at the wonderful launch of the book offered consolation, confidence, companionship – and fun. The collection was shortlisted for the CLiPPA – and so featured on the stage of the National Theatre. Who could ask for more? But actually, I did get more. While I was working on the collection, I became a grandmother. Entirely coincidentally, she was named Alice. An historic celebration of Lewis Carroll was also an historic book for me.

Which is your favourite amongst the books you’ve written?

This is like asking someone to name their favourite child! My books are very varied. Some are for the very young. Some are read by adults. Some are fun. Some are poignant. Some will make you think. Others will make you shout out loud and join in.

My favourite book has not yet been published but I intend to collect all my poems and put them into one volume so that at the end of a performance or a school visit there will be the perfect book to buy and take away. That will be my favourite – because it will have all my most popular, loved poems in it.

I’d take it to my desert island and perform it to the palm trees and the parrots. The parrots might even be able to join in.

Joshua Seigal: What is Children’s Poetry?

Ah, that old chestnut. Many gallons of academic ink have doubtless been spilled in the attempt to proffer some kind of answer. I say ‘academic’, because a satisfactory crack at the question invites a labyrinthine discussion about what poetry is, and what ‘children’ means, and so forth. What I have to offer here will not be an academic discussion; rather, I will adumbrate some thoughts based on my ongoing writing of two poetry collections, one ostensibly for grown-ups, the other to be marketed to children.

The main thing I am learning is that the boundary between children’s poetry and other poetry is incredibly murky. It can’t really be delineated by an appeal to theme as, in my experience, many adults appreciate poetry that deals with light-hearted themes, whilst children can certainly access poetry that tackles big, deep issues. Nor will an appeal to style suffice: children often love jaunty rhythms and rhymes, but then so do plenty of adults.

One might think that the two types of poetry make use of different lexicons, and that ‘grown up’ poetry uses words and allusions that children wouldn’t understand. This may be true in some cases, but the pair of manuscripts that I am currently working on subverts this expectation somewhat: in the children’s book I go all out with my vocabulary, and the introduction even includes a recommendation that children read the book with a dictionary, or Google, ready to hand. In the grown-up book I very much aim to pare down my vocabulary, and to resist the inclination to use a fancy word where a common one will do. I sort of aim to encourage children to reach for the stars, whilst bringing adults firmly down to earth.

Ultimately, I think that whether or not a particular piece counts as a ‘children’s poem’ comes down to context. Notice how I very deliberately used the word ‘marketed’ in the opening paragraph. In many cases, this seems to be the determining factor. If you show a poem to children, and they get something out of it, then it is a children’s poem. Similarly with adults. Indeed, there are a couple of poems that I hope to use in both the children’s and grown-ups’ books. I know that children and adults might well take slightly different things from the poems, but I hope they will each take something. Here, then, is a poem that appears in both collections.

I Found It

on his desk last thing

on the Friday afternoon, and assumed

it was from his kids, or wife.

Glancing inside, however, I read –

Happy Birthday Jack, Love Mum.

Only then did I see him in a different light,

the crumpled trousers and wonky tie

no longer those of a teacher

but of someone’s child.

His name was Jack and he had a mum,

a mum who gave him birthday cards.

I figured he must have put it there

to remind himself, through the fog

of our cruelty, of the lighthouse of her love.

We, all of us, are children –

I touched this truth and felt it burn

as I snuck from the classroom

out into the sun.

Is this a ‘children’s poem’? Well, ‘[w]e, all of us, are children’; children are hopefully elevated by the knowledge that, poetically speaking, they are no more ‘little’ than adults; adults meanwhile have their ‘grown up’ pretensions quashed. Poetry is the leveller.

Joshua Seigal

Joshua Seigal is a poet, performer and workshop leader based in London. His latest collection, Welcome To My Crazy Life, is published by Bloomsbury, and he was the recipient of the 2020 Laugh Out Loud Book Award. Please visit http://www.joshuaseigal.co.uk for more info.

Sue Hardy-Dawson: What is Poetry?

Perhaps you’re already a fan of poetry? As you’re reading a poetry blog, it’s a fair assumption. However, undeniably, it remains the marmite of literature. Why? I suspect part of the problem is that unlike other models for writing it’s hard to define exactly what a poem is.

It’s true there are many different forms and styles of poetry, as many as poets past and present have and continue to think up. In fact, poetry by its very nature welcomes experimentation and innovation. BUT, whilst it’s a wonderful open field to play for poets, it can feel a bit daunting to those, as yet unconvinced, endeavouring to teach it.

Like all else it requires first and foremost a degree of immersion. Even if you have read and yes reread at least some if not a lot of poems by different poets contemporary and historical, a satisfying definition that fits all models, much less how to write poetry, remains elusive. Add to this an educational zeitgeist of deconstruction and poetry risks becoming a fearfully complex thing. Right?

No, it doesn’t need to be. Naturally, as a poet, I know a fair amount about poetry. Yet, like every child everywhere, almost all I know I learnt a long time after I began writing it. My first poems were largely mimicking poetry I’d enjoyed. I’m grateful my youthful attention wasn’t required to identify similes, metaphors or alliteration. Not, at least, until secondary school and university.

So here’s the thing, poetry needn’t be scary, you can know very little about its constructs and still embark on a joint voyage of enjoying poetry with children. The single most important teaching tool you can bring to the party is a genuine passion. Better still you can experiment and invent your own rules. There are no poetry police or they would have carted me away at birth. So poetry provides endless opportunities for wild creativity. You can arrange it solely by syllable counts, write it rhymed or unrhymed, play with and have lots of punctuation, or none at all. You can mimic other forms of writing. There’s very little a poem cannot be from an epic to a single word.

‘Ah’ you say, (well probably not you, but many teachers and parents I’ve come across) ‘but I don’t like poetry.’ And who can blame you? We’ve all felt dislike for something. The book we dread at bedtime, the irritating song you find yourself tragically humming on the bus. For me it’s competitive sports and computer games. I understand. So, if you aren’t already, can I ever make a poetry fan of you? Well, I believe it’s possible. Familiarity is key and it doesn’t even lead to contempt.

Consider opera, music’s marmite, yet after the world cup who hasn’t found themselves humming Nessun Dorma? If not launching into full-blown song in the bathroom and scaring the neighbours? Just me then? Nevertheless, it proves we can all learn to love new things and, if we don’t have to be experts in Italian or opera to feel opera’s joy, why not poetry?

So if you don’t like or are even fearful of teaching poetry, children’s poetry is a good place to start. It’s accessible and often fun. Don’t let poetry become just an exercise in studying language, though, let contextual osmosis work its magic, learn poems as you would a song. Watch videos of poets performing or go and see one live. Why? Because enthusiasm is addictive and children have inbuilt primeval, adult-engagement sensors. Open their hearts and love – and even understanding – will grow on its own.

Sue Hardy-Dawson

Sue Hardy Dawson is a poet & 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 out now with Troika Books.

Laura Mucha: In the Face of Uncertainty

Here is another look at a favourite, and still pertinent blog from 2020:

I was hit by a car when I was 29. I was left virtually bedbound for years and after six months or so, I found myself writing poetry. Somehow, it was a place where I could process thoughts and feelings, a code that allowed me to access parts of me that were otherwise out of bounds.

I also devoured poems. I read this excerpt of a poem called New Every Morning by Susan Coolidge every day for at least two years:

 

Every day is a fresh beginning;

Listen, my soul, to the glad refrain,

And, spite of old sorrow and older sinning,

And puzzles forecasted and possible pain,

Take heart with the day, and begin again.

In the face of the stress and uncertainty of the global pandemic, I wanted to use poetry to help young people process what was going on and express themselves. Normally I would work face-to-face with them, getting them to improvise, come up with words and lines, vote on changes and perform – but as we were in lockdown, I had to figure out how to do all of these things via little boxes on a screen.

In my first session, 7-11 year olds were coming up with lines like ‘I’m going to use all the bog roll’, ‘get me out of here’ and ‘my dad’s talking about Boris’. It was fascinating to see how the pandemic was impacting them and help them articulate that in a poem. They told me they appreciated the chance to have a voice, collaborate, be creative and learn – and many parents said that this was the highlight of their children’s lockdown.

I decided to run a series of workshops to co-write a thank you poem for key workers. I enlisted the help of a brilliant friend of mine, Ed Ryland, who normally produces some of the best TV on our screens. I advertised free poetry workshops, messaged everyone I could think of – from every school I’d ever visited to friends I hadn’t seen in years – and prepared a Powerpoint outlining who key workers are and what they do. And off we went.

More than fifty young people role-played, imagined being different key workers, thought about how they would feel, what they would be doing, what difference they would make. And they wrote everything down, sharing hundreds of words in a couple of minutes. I collated them all with the help of teaching assistant and poet, Meg Fairclough, then we worked as a group to create a first draft.

I spent the weekend reflecting and editing (filming my editing so I could share this in the next workshop) and asked for comments from my agent, editor, and four professional children’s poets. In the following session, I showed all of this to the young writers and asked them to vote on the suggestions. “It’s your poem,” I said. “Only accept the comments you agree with.” They rejected many… Then we discussed what costumes or props they had, allocated lines and planned how we would perform the poem.

One thousand videos later – and countless emails and calls with Ed and numerous parents – and we had a film. More than 80 children from the UK, US, Australia, China, Italy and Uruguay took part. It had thousands of views in a couple of hours and made its way onto CBBC’s Newsround.

I know I’m a poetry evangelist. But poems are an invaluable way to process and communicate – particularly in times of difficulty. And as difficulty looks like it will be here for a while, I will continue to evangelise.

Poetry is important. And poetry is for everyone. So please write it.

Laura Mucha

Laura Mucha has won two international prizes for children’s poetry (the Caterpillar Prize and the YorkMix Prize) and her poems have been featured on BBC Radio 6 Music, BBC Radio 3, Classic FM and CBBC.

Her debut non-fiction book, Love Factually / We Need to Talk About Love (Bloomsbury) was published last year and Richard Curtis describes it as ‘much better and more useful than my film’. Her debut collection, Dear Ugly Sisters (Otter-Barry Books) is out in August, and her debut picture book, Rita’s Rabbit (Faber & Faber) in 2021. You can read more of her work at lauramucha.com. @lauramucha

Brian Moses: A Profile

As the first in a new series of poets’ profiles, we asked Brian Moses to talk about being a children’s poet.

Who are you?

Brian Moses, Poet, Picture book writer, anthologist, writer in schools, percussionist.

How long have you been writing poetry for children?

Since I became a teacher in 1975 and started getting children to write poetry. I used to read them all my favourite stuff by Michael Rosen, Roger McGough and later on Kit Wright and Wes Magee. Some of the time I couldn’t find suitable children’s poems for the class topics that we were studying so I started writing them myself and using them with the children. Their responses were often quite favourable, probably because I was their teacher and they were being kind to me. But it did encourage me to keep writing more and more.

How did you get started?

I was drawn to poetry through my enjoyment of the lyrics of rock music, particularly singer/songwriters like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and The Doors. The poetry I was offered in school made little impression on me at the time and it wasn’t until I picked up a book of poems by the Liverpool Poets – Adrian Henri, Roger McGough & Brian Patten – that I realised that poetry could be fun, that it could speak to me in  a language that I understood and that it had relevance to my life as a teenager. I wrote my first poem at the age of 16 to try and persuade a girl who lived near me to go out with her. It failed to achieve its purpose.

What do you enjoy about writing?

I love words and the way that poetry allows me to string words together in a variety of ways. I love the rhythms of poetry and being able to underpin those rhythms with a range of percussion instruments. I like the way in which poems can sneak up on me when I least expect them too, the way that they nag at me till I take time to pin them down. I like being able to write in many different places and not being confined to my desk, although that’s where the poems are usually completed.

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

Keep a writer’s notebook and always listen in to other people’s conversations.

Which is your favourite amongst the books you’ve written?

It has to be my Best of ‘Lost Magic’ as it contains my hundred favourite poems. The hardback edition from Macmillan with a brilliant cover by illustrator Ed Boxall is something I’m so pleased to have on my shelves. I’m also looking forward to my new book ‘Selfies with Komodos’ which Otter-Barry are publishing in January as it has poems written over the past six years that I’m really pleased with.

Which book was most important in your career as a poet?

I sent poems to Cambridge University Press in 1993 hoping they’d be keen to publish a book and was pleasantly surprised to find that they wanted two books from me, one for younger readers which became ‘Hippopotamus Dancing’ and the other ‘Knock Down Ginger’ for older ones. These were published in both hardback and paperback and were my first poetry books from a major publisher.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself?

Over the 34 years that I have worked as a professional poet, it’s the unpredictability of the job that has kept it exciting and rewarding. I’ve never known what was going to happen next or where I’d be invited to go. I’ve performed my poems in many different locations including Iceland, the Edinburgh Festival, Prince Charles’s Summer School for Teachers, an open prison, a New York bookshop , the United Nations Building in Geneva and RAF schools in Cyprus

Anything else you’d like to say about children’s poetry?

Yes, please buy my books!

Roger Stevens: Poetry Forms

There are some very strange and beguiling forms, styles and varieties of verse out there in Poetryland. I’ve always been fascinated why this should be so and how different forms of poetry come about.

Take blank verse, for example. Its first recorded use was by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, in his translation of the Aeneid around 1540. Not so very long after, in 1561, the first play in blank verse, Gorboduc, was written by Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville. The work of Shakespeare and Marlowe show how they then adopted and adapted this form.

Shakespeare, ever the innovator, developed blank verse in many interesting ways, using enjambment and feminine endings, for example, as well as using the potential of blank verse for abrupt and irregular speech. In this exchange from King John (3.2) one blank verse line is broken between two characters:

My lord?
            A grave.
                        He shall not live.
                                                Enough.

Believe it or not, one of the oldest poetic forms is the acrostic. The word was first applied to the prophecies of the Erythraen Sybil, of classical antiquity, which were written on leaves and arranged so that the initial letters on the leaves always formed a word. Many writers and poets have had fun with this idea over the centuries. Notably Lewis Carroll in his poem for the “three Misses Liddell” whose names are spelt out by the poem.

My favourite variety of this form is the mesostic, where letters in the middle of the poem vertically spell out the poem’s title. Mesostics were invented by the Fluxus artist John Cage in the 1960s and work much better in the classroom than acrostics, causing children to try a little harder for their poem to make sense and giving a more pleasing shape when written down.

Taking the idea further, there is the horizontic:

hope Or a mirAge, Shimmering In the deSert

This and other unusual acrostics, as well as examples and explanations of many different kinds of poetry, can be found in my anthology Is This a Poem? (Bloomsbury, 2016).

Haiku poems emerged in 13th Century Japan as the opening phrase of the Renga, an oral poem generally 100 stanzas long, which was also composed syllabically. The much shorter haiku broke away from its parent in the 16th Century. And was distilled a century later by the haiku master Matsuo Basho.

the old pond
a frog leaps in
sound of the water

No modern children’s anthology, it seems, can do without at least one haiku – which should really be about nature – or its cousin, the senryu, – which describes human behaviour and is usually satirical.

After having attended a course on writing haiku, as an anthologist I now describe all these types of poems as ‘written in the haiku style’. Proper haiku poems are very complicated beasts indeed and are typically serious. I broke that rule with the very first poem I had published, way back in the early 1990s:

When I write haiku
I always seem to have one
Syllable left o

Roger Stevens

Roger Stevens has published over forty books for children. He is a National Poetry Day Ambassador, a founding member of the Able Writers scheme with Brian Moses and runs the award-winning website www.poetryzone.co.uk for children and teachers, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2018.  A Million Brilliant Poems (Bloomsbury) was shortlisted for the CLPE prize and his book Apes to Zebras – an A to Z of shape poems (Bloomsbury) won the prestigious NSTB award. This year he published his best-of collection Razzmatazz (Otter-Barry Books) to excellent reviews.