Rebecca Simpson-Hargreaves: Breaking Down Barriers

Poetry… it can feel like some mythical creature that you know is beautiful, but you’re not sure whether reading it will bring you untold treasures or that it will simply cloud your brain, leaving you feeling empty and confused. I’ve always been willing to take that risk, as a child reading as much poetry as I could get my hands on, enjoying the journey. However, I do remember a little moment of hesitation when a teacher I admired insisted we could never truly understand poetry if we did not appreciate classic poets such as Southey (who felt completely unrelatable). Left feeling like I was some kind of charlatan, I was saved by librarians and parents who quietened that teacher’s voice, and my confidence to enjoy poetry once again grew.

The experiences we have in the classroom as children have far reaching implications for us as adults, even more so if we are teachers. The willingness to teach poetry can be a real issue. Not because teachers don’t feel it’s important, but more because they don’t want to ‘let their children down’.  Whether you are experienced or new to the profession, the fear can be very real. The worry of not knowing what the poet was really thinking or feeling can leave us paralysed.

Midnight Feasts, chosen by A F Harrold, Illust; Katy Riddell, Bloomsbury Education.

In my role as a teacher educator I feel excited sharing the world of poetry with my students. When I cast my eyes over their sea of faces, I see some smiles, however the looks of trepidation are far more plentiful. So how do you break that barrier? I always start with a question about how they feel about poetry. If I want them to be able to teach it, they have to understand what could get in the way of them doing it and enjoying it! Year on year their histories all follow the same pattern; poetry experienced in school is usually completely unrelatable to what is going on in their lives and when given the chance to write they are vilified for not following some nonsensical made-up rule. I shudder to think how many hearts are broken by having to add in needless words using a purple polishing pen.

Being Me, by Liz Brownlee, Matt Goodfellow and Laura Mucha, illust: Victoria Jane Wheeler, Otter-Barry Books

During the session we look at a wide range of children’s poets’ work, visit subjects that all can relate to such as food or everyday life. A good place to begin are the works of poets such as A F Harrold, our Children’s Laureate Joseph Coelho or perhaps the poetry of Liz Brownlee, Matt Goodfellow and Laura Mucha. Trainees engage in activities that allow them to talk, really, really talk. I’ve yet to encounter a trainee telling me that they love a poem because it has at least three adjectives and an adverb in; it’s all about feelings.

Overheard in a Tower Block, Joseph Coelho, Illust: Kate Milner, Otter-Barry Books

So that is the way in. Just like the importance of having a wide knowledge of children’s literature, the same can be said about poetic forms. We visit lesser-known types such as the Hai (na) ku, a poem that is formed of three lines and only six words (no counting syllables needed). Trainees are encouraged to write alongside their children.

My refrain is that you cannot teach what you have not tried yourself. Children need a poetry rich diet to tempt and inspire them, fill it with music (poetry set to a melody), spoken word, rap, poetry from around the world, the possibilities are endless. Find what speaks to you and your children, what can they relate to? Which poems can open up the world to them? Relationships are fundamental. You don’t have to have a psychic hotline to the poet to ‘get poetry’. It’s all about the connection and that is the true secret to teaching poetry.

Rebecca Simpson-Hargreaves

Rebecca Simpson-Hargreaves is a Lecturer in Education at the University of Manchester. She is passionate about using children’s literature to develop children’s empathy and self-awareness. She enjoys discovering old and global forms of poetry and creating workshops around these for teachers. Her research is centred around facilitating younger children’s voices, particularly in the realm of human rights.

Natasha Ryan: About Us – Getting Back into Schools

Hi! I’m Natasha, Education Officer at The Poetry Society. Over the past year, The Poetry Society has worked on a project called About Us, one of ten commissions for UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK.  The project explores the many ways we’re connected to the universe, the natural world and one another.

A major live show toured the UK in spring 2022, visiting Paisley (Scotland), Derry-Londonderry (Northern Ireland), Caernarfon (Wales), and Luton and Hull (England). Combining projection-mapping technology, poetry and music, the show told our shared story from the Big Bang to the present. Watch it here:

An extensive learning and participation programme supported the show. A nationwide poetry and coding competition invited young people to respond to the theme of ‘connectivity and the universe’, with the winning entries incorporated into the show. And primary schools in the show’s locations received poetry and coding workshops.

At The Poetry Society, we’ve been running a Poets in Schools service for years and have some schools we regularly support to receive a poet visit, as well as others with whom our relationship is more ephemeral. About Us gave us the opportunity to reach a new set of schools we’d never worked with before – this was especially true in contexts outside England. For the first time ever, we delivered workshops entirely in Welsh and Irish.

Natasha with  The Poetry Society’s other Education Officers, Helen Bowell and Rachel Cleverly, at the About Us show in Luton. Image: Hayley Madden for The Poetry Society.

Of course, different contexts meant navigating different school systems, so this was also a chance to expand our organisational expertise. Working with many poets from across the UK who were new to us, we learned from their knowledge of their local contexts while also sharing our experience. Working with local poets was so important: not only did they have insider knowledge about the area, but because they lived only a few miles away from the schools, the children had real role models, showing them poetry is possible for people who look and sound like them.

For my own part, I visited the schools once the workshops had happened and filmed the children performing the poems they’d written. The moment I entered the first school in Paisley, I realised how much I’d missed being in a school environment: missed seeing kids’ drawings on the walls alongside healthy eating and bikeability posters; missed seeing young people excitedly sharing their poems; missed the way every receptionist offers you a cup of tea when you walk through the doors. Schools are such vibrant, versatile places, and this project reaffirmed my admiration for teachers. Despite the Covid chaos, every school went above and beyond to make this opportunity work for their students.

Once filmed, we exhibited the children’s poems on giant plinths as part of the show, giving the children a tangible goal to work towards when writing, and shaping each of the show’s iterations to the place in which it was delivered. The poems were collaborative so that each of the 1600 children who participated saw their own words celebrated in the heart of the community.

And the feeling of connection lives on. Because we now have a wonderful archive of films of primary school children performing their class poems. Browsing through them, the diversity of voices and backgrounds represented quickly becomes evident. But so too does the sense that all the children came away with a universal pride in their creativity. As the young residents of Derry put it: “It’s quite special our little city got picked to be a part of this project… I couldn’t believe for a single minute I’d get to recite the poem! I felt so proud.” Watch their poems here.

If you’re aged 4-18, there’s still time to get involved with About Us! The poetry competition is open for a second round until 31 August. Enter at aboutus.earth/competition

Natasha Ryan

Natasha Ryan is an Education Officer at The Poetry Society. She manages the About Us project and supports The Poetry Society’s slam projects and Artsmark, having previously worked on the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award.

Laura Mucha: The Belonging of Books

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the fact that people in power often don’t prioritise the needs of children.

HOW are school libraries NOT a statutory requirement?! HOW is CAMHS so pitifully underfunded? Given we live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, HOW are we also one of most unequal?

I was having one of these moments when UNICEF got in touch. Having worked with them on a YouTube series exploring the science of love in childhood, they asked me to write a poem-film on the subject.

The science of love in childhood. Summarised. In a poem.

My initial reaction was AHRGAHRGAHRGHAGRHAGRHAGRAHR.

I’m comfortable being asked to write poems about specific subjects. I’ve done it enough now that I have faith I can do it – even if it does take five reject poems before I write (and rewrite and rewrite) one I’m actually happy with.

But this was a BIG ask.

So I immediately emailed the very brilliant Robbie Duschinsky at Cambridge University, the consultant on a book I’m writing for adults about attachment theory. And Robbie emailed fellow world-leading thinkers and researchers on the subject. My question for them was – which images do you think best describe love in childhood?

(Full disclosure – I didn’t technically use the word love. I used the phrase ‘secure attachment’. According to his family, John Bowlby, the founder of attachment theory, wanted to use the word ‘love’ but didn’t as he was worried the scientific community wouldn’t like it… So love feels like an acceptable shorthand for what is an incredibly complex theory of human development.)

The world leading experts talked about the importance of feeling received, welcome, accepted – and suggested images including: the feeling of a parents’ hand around yours; being folded into a huge hug; bandaging a hurt knee; being helped across stepping stones; and reading a book together.

Just to be clear – some of the world’s best thinkers on the subject of love in childhood, people who work in leading academic institutions around the globe and have dedicated their entire lives to the study of the subject, cited reading a book together as an image that came to mind when trying to describe it.

I thanked the academics in a profuse yet professional manner. I finished the poem-film (see below). And I got back to my work with a renewed vigour.

But their words had reminded me of something important that’s all too easy to forget – reading with children can be an act of love.

Through poetry, words, and books, we can help young people make sense of what is going on with them and with the others around them. We can give words to things they themselves may not be able to. We can bear witness. Decode. Connect. We can help them escape. Laugh. Learn, imagine, rest. We can block out the ceaseless distractions the world has to offer and devote our uninterrupted attention. We can engender empathy. We can open up urgent but difficult conversations – conversations that say “it’s OK, this isn’t your fault” or “this is important, let’s talk about this” or “you’re not alone”.

In doing so, no matter what is going on with the people in power, through the simple act of reading a poem or a book, we can each take microsteps towards creating a society where all children and young people are welcome, accepted and loved.

Laura Mucha

Laura Mucha is an award-winning poet whose books include Being Me, Rita’s RabbitWe Need to Talk About Love and Dear Ugly Sisters. She writes for young people and adults and has several fiction and non-fiction books forthcoming with Walker, Hachette, Nosy Crow, Audible and Bloomsbury. As well as writing, Laura works with organisations such as the Royal Society of Medicine, National Literacy Trust and UNICEF to improve the lives of children.

Andrea Reece: The CLiPPA, Proving Poetry is a Must For Every Child

After a two-year absence, the CLiPPA, CLPE Children’s Poetry Award, stormed into the South Bank on 8 July, filling the Queen Elizabeth Hall with children’s poetry, children’s poets, and children. Even compared to previous CLiPPA ceremonies, the 2022 award had a special momentum; this wasn’t the first celebration of the year, but the third.

CLiPPA Shortlisted poets, Manjeet Mann, Laura Mucha, Kate Wakeling, compère Nikita Gill, Matt Goodfellow, Liz Brownlee and Valerie Bloom, with children who performed last year’s CLiPPA Poems. Image: Poppie Skold

The excitement began in May with the announcement of the shortlist at the Manchester Poetry Library at Manchester Metropolitan University, hosted by Kaye Tew and Becky Swain. Four of the six shortlisted poets took part, Valerie Bloom, Matt Goodfellow, Laura Mucha, and Kate Wakeling.

Valerie Bloom, Manchester Poetry Library at Manchester Metropolitan University. Image: Mike Frisbee

They were joined by classes of children from local schools, who had been reading the shortlisted collections and were partisan in their championing of their favourites. Here’s Poyvaz of Lily Lane Primary School summing up Being Me by Liz Brownlee, Matt Goodfellow and Laura Mucha perfectly, ‘I think this book should get an award because it is thought-inducing and it opens your eyes to the people around you. This book gives a voice to the people who don’t have a voice.’ Louise Fazackerley, Poet-in-Residence at Lily Lane, explains just what a special event it was, ‘The children were enthralled by the words of the world-class poets at this event.  They loved visiting the university and feeling that their opinions about books are important.  We saw the confidence of the children grow as they took their place onstage, just like their writing heroes.’ 

CLiPPA shortlisted poets: Laura Mucha, Manjeet Mann, Matt Goodfellow, Kate Wakeling, Valerie Bloom, Liz Brownlee (and Paddy, assistance dog). Image: Poppie Skold

From Manchester, next stop was The Globe in June, a CLiPPA showcase for the Poetry By Heart finals. All six shortlisted poets were able to take part, Liz Brownlee and Manjeet Mann joining Valerie, Matt, Laura and Kate. There too, of course, children were at the heart of the programme, ten-year-old Alfie giving a solo performance of Water from Michael Rosen’s 2021 CLiPPA-winner, On the Move,

Alfie, who performed from Michael Rosen’s 2021 CLiPPA winning On the Move, Walker Books.
Image: Sam Strickland

and eight-year-olds Jozef, Giulia and Muneef from Swaffield Primary School, Wandsworth giving a spirited performance of Cheers from Matt Goodfellow’s Bright Bursts of Colour. Swaffield are Shadowing regulars, teacher Jean Bennett says, ‘Our whole school waits in anticipation for the Shadowing scheme to be launched. There is a buzz of energy from Years 1 – 6, every class wanting their representatives to be selected.’

Jozef, Giulia and Muneef, Swaffield Primary School, performing from Matt Goodfellow’s CLIPPA 2021 shortlisted Bright Bursts of Colour, Otter-Barry Books. Image: Sam Strickland

And then on 8 July the CLiPPA rolled into the Queen Elizabeth Hall, bringing old and new friends together. Valerie, Liz, Matt, Manjeet, Laura and Kate were joined by Michael Rosen as show host. Chris Riddell returned to take up his pen and live-draw proceedings. Excitement levels rose as the Shadowing winners arrived, including the entire Reception year from Churchend Primary Academy, Tilehurst, who would wow the audience with their performance of Caterpillar Cake, title poem in Matt Goodfellow’s shortlisted collection; and eight students from Levenshulme High School, Manchester, stars of the shortlist event, who moved many to tears with their sensitive interpretation of 336 Days Before from Manjeet Mann’s The Crossing. An audience of 800 watched in person, while across the country, schools were glued to the livestream – CLPE estimate as many as 9,000 viewers in total.

Valerie Bloom, winner of the CLiPPA 2022 Poetry Prize for Stars with Flaming Tails, Otter-Barry Books. Image: Ellie Kurttz

That party that began in March in Manchester finally ended with huge, joyful applause for Valerie Bloom, announced as winner of the 2022 CLiPPA for her collection Stars with Flaming Tails, described by Philip Gross as ‘poetry that can go anywhere’. (Isaac in Manchester will be pleased, he made a strong case for Valerie being ‘one of the greatest poets in history’). Except we all know that’s not the end, because the experience of taking part, of reading poetry, learning poetry, and writing their own poetry, will enrich the lives of all the thousands of CLiPPA participants for ever.

Valerie Bloom with her winning book Stars with Flaming Tails and some starstruck poetry performers. Image: Ellie Kurttz

Andrea Reece

Andrea Reece worked as publicist on the CLiPPA 2022. She is editor of Books for Keeps, she reviews for Lovereading4kids and is director of the children’s programme of the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival. She runs the Klaus Flugge Prize and also works on the Branford Boase Award.

Roger Stevens: Making Books

Occasionally we repost a particularly good blog – this week we have an updated blog from a few years ago, by Roger Stevens, all about making books!

Making Books

I know very few poets who do not want their work to be published. Poetry is not the solitary communication with the Muse that it is sometimes thought to be. We poets are driven to express ourselves. We want to tell people how we feel. We want to share our writing journey. We want to show off.

For many of us, particularly those of us who write for children, this desire to share stretches much further than seeing our work in print. We also want to work with those young readers we are trying to reach.

As I often tell teachers when I visit schools to give performances and workshops, we are not trying to teach children how to be poets. We are helping them to improve their writing skills, to write creatively, to communicate and to express themselves, and to enjoy using words.

Of course, we want to pass on a love for poetry and thus motivate young readers to write. And we often succeed, our workshops producing a plethora of poems. And then what? Maybe the children read them to the class, maybe they go straight into folders – often that is it!

But why should these young poets feel differently to we older ones? Perhaps they would like their work to be published, too; to share their poems, not just with their classmates, but with the school, their family and the wider world.

We often see lovely displays in the classroom, in the school hall, in the school entrance hall and even in the local library. But one of the best and most satisfying ways to share poems is to make a book.

So please take note all teachers, but also anyone who has, or knows, talented children who write poetry – parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends. This is a great way to help these youngsters share their work.

I had a residency in a Basildon school for a few years. It consisted of one morning a week for one term with one Year 4 class. At the beginning of one term I announced we would write a book. I gave everyone in the class a free notebook, to start making notes and jotting down ideas. I explained that they didn’t have to share anything in the book if they didn’t want to. It would be private and personal to them. A couple of the children lost their books, a couple wrote nothing, but most of the children filled their books with all sorts of things, just as a ‘real’ writer would. We chose animals as a theme. And each week began working on different styles of animal poems.

Towards the end of the term we chose an editorial team, gathered together the best class illustrators, assembled a production group and lastly a sales team. We aimed to mirror the way a ‘real’ book would be made and marketed. We used the ‘old-fashioned’ cut and paste method. Poems were written on, or transferred to, computer and edited. Then printed. Then, finally, poems were cut out with scissors and assembled on the pages. Illustrators illustrated. We gave the book a title – My Name is Fire, wrote a blurb, invented a publishing house and decided to sell the books for £1 each – the money going to Comic Relief.

My Name Is Fire

The whole process was brilliant fun, the children loved it. There was so much creative energy. They were thrilled with the final product, everyone had at least one poem in the book, we photocopied 100 copies (it was cheaper than printing them). We sold every copy! And the book was a permanent reminder of the fun we had and the creative skills of the class.

I was telling this to a group of children at our local children’s book shop (the Book Nook) and a girl in the audience, Evelyn, aged 9, took it to heart. She went home and wrote a book of her own poems – The Magic of Poetry (illustrated with the help of her Dad, using images from the internet). She sold the books at £1 a time and sold 350 copies for Children in Need. I’m very pleased to say that I have a copy signed by the author herself.

I also love making small books. If I have a class for a day we can go through the whole book-making process from beginning to end. We write a poem. The book is A6 size, folded in half. The text is written on a single sheet of A6 paper folded in half, making four pages. The cover is a piece of A6 card, also folded in half. We write a blurb, invent a publishing house, make a dedication, add a pretend barcode, write a biography and so on. At the end we have 30 or so tiny books, and a whole new class library.

20220629_172014

Making home-made books is not just for children. If you’re an adult writer you can join in too! Either by using the photocopy method or splashing out and paying to have your work published by a small Press. Indeed, there’s a rich and noble history of writers, particularly poets, self-publishing their work. You must just be wary of vanity publishing – publishers who will tell you that your poem is akin to Wordsworth’s best and will offer to publish it (along with probably five hundred others) and charge you an exorbitant sum for doing so.

When I first began visiting schools as a poet, I’d had several poems published in anthologies, but I did not yet have a collection of my own work. So I self-published my own book, Never Trust a Lemon, to take into schools to share and sell. Nearly 25 years and 40 ‘real’ books later, Lemon is still one of my favourites and still sells!

Making books, especially with children, is great fun, and very rewarding for all who are involved.

Roger Stevens

Website for students and teachers: PoetryZone

Twitter: @poetryzone

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.

 

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.