Pick a Poet
Poetry is a niche genre, those of us who make a living as poets understand that. It is often a genre that is at best marginalised, at worst neglected, in favour of fiction.
Lists of recommended good reads often fail to include poetry books, but poetry can be a life saver for children who find pages of solid text quite daunting. Just as there isn’t one method of teaching reading that fits all, there isn’t one common path for a child’s reading journey once the mechanics have been mastered.
So why not invite a poet into your school to widen the reach that poetry can have among your pupils and staff?
Children do enjoy hearing poems read well, and the best way to do that is through direct contact with the person who wrote them. If children are to learn how to read with expression and to perform plays and poetry (as the curriculum stipulates) then this is vital.
The best visit begins to happen a week or so before the poet arrives. The teachers who explore the poet’s work via the Poetry Archive, the poet’s website or videos on YouTube and those who seek out any books or poems in anthologies that they already have on the school library shelves, will build up anticipation and expectation. There will then be a buzz around school before the poet even sets foot in it.
If children know something about their visitor and his or her work, they will become much keener to be involved on the day. (I once had letters from a class of children who informed me that they had been told to write to me and that they hadn’t read any of my poems but they felt sure they were very good!)
My aim is always to make sure that if there are children who say that they don’t like poetry at the start of the day, they will have hopefully changed their minds by the end of the visit.
Quite often too, teachers feel a little scared of poetry, that there must be some kind of magic formula that they haven’t quite grasped and this makes the teaching of poetry difficult for them. Maybe they had bad experiences with poetry and the way it was taught when they were at school. A poet in school can help to dispel that fear. Besides a performance of my poetry and percussion show, I run workshops for classes or year groups.
Mostly we start by writing a poem together. I draw out ideas from the children and show them how their ideas can form the basis of a poem. We work on the poem, in the way that writers do. We modify, cross out, find better words, change lines around, knock off the odd word or syllable, restructure the poem until we are satisfied that it reads well.
Then the children write themselves and hopefully teachers will then carry on the ideas in their own lessons so that children see a poem develop from initial ideas, through composing and editing, to proof reading and final copy. Better still, if finished poems can be displayed or published in some way.
At the end of the day I offer to do a signing session in the school. This ensures that children can have immediate access to copies of my poetry books if they feel inspired to read them.
I always say to children on my visits – you too can be writers. One day you could walk into a book shop and see your name on the front cover of a book. This is my job as a poet who visits schools and I take it very seriously. We all do. So how about inviting a poet into your school?
(In the interests of fairness, other poets are available!)
Brian Moses has been a professional children’s poet since 1988. To date he has over 220 books published including volumes of his own poetry such as Lost Magic and I Thought I Heard a Tree Sneeze, anthologies such as The Secret Lives of Teachers and the recently published Spaced Out, (edited with James Carter), plus picture books such as Beetle in the Bathroom and Dreamer.
Over 1 million copies of Brian’s poetry books have now been sold.
Brian also visits schools to run writing workshops and perform his own poetry and percussion shows. To date he has visited well over 3000 schools and libraries throughout the UK and abroad.
He is also founder & co-director of a national scheme for able writers administered by his booking agency Authors Abroad.
I Thought I Heard a Tree Sneeze (The Very Best of Brian Moses’ Poems for Younger Children) – Troika books.