Louise Johns-Shepherd: CLiPPA 2020

It was only about 10 days ago, when I said I would write this blog about CLiPPA in the time of lockdown.  My plan was to write about how we were defying the odds, taking to the internet and soldiering on with the only award solely for published children’s poetry in the UK.

How fast things change in this slowly moving time.

We have just announced that we are postponing the CLiPPA shortlist announcement for the time being and we don’t know what the time scale will be for the 2020 Award.

The reasons for this are manifold and like everything at the moment, complex.  The CLiPPA is always a brilliant interplay and partnership between poetry, poets, illustrators, performance, audiences, teaching and learning.  This horrible virus and the situation it has created has touched every part of our plans.

We’ve spent the last six years working to put children at the heart of this award.  The involvement of our schools in the shadowing scheme is a unique and important part of using the shortlist to build a poetry community.  With schools functioning very, very differently at the moment and teachers working round the clock to accommodate this, we don’t think that the shadowing would have the best chance of success.  And we can’t produce the resources that normally support the shadowing scheme right now.  We are a fiercely independent charity and around 85% of our income comes from revenue that we earn.  At the moment it isn’t possible for us to do that.  Our Centre and our beautiful Literacy Library are closed and more than half our staff are furloughed.  We can’t make videos, we can’t get to the books and we are concentrating the efforts of our remaining staff on supporting teachers who are teaching key workers’ children and on providing support for home learning.

The CLiPPA is always a team effort.  A key part of that team is the wonderful, selfless support we get from the National Theatre.  They have also had to close, they don’t know when they will open and they can’t possibly know what their schedule will be when they return.  We need to give them the time and space to work this out.

Our brilliant chair of judges for the 2020 award is Michael Rosen.  I’m sure you’re aware that Michael is currently ill with suspected coronavirus.  Our other judges have been meeting virtually and working hard but we want Michael’s focus to be on getting himself well.  We know that everyone will agree with this and will respect our decision to wait before proceeding with this year’s arrangements.

The reason CLiPPA exists is to promote children’s poetry.  Yes, there are wonderful winners but the shortlist is equally important.  We want to promote, to celebrate and to acknowledge the brilliance of all the books on the shortlist and to give them all the prominence and the publicity they deserve.  We just don’t think that will happen right now.

All of which is really rather depressing.  Yet there are also wonderful things happening that have made our hearts sing.  Our fabulous supporters and sponsors ALCS and Arts Council England have been amazing and nothing but helpful and supportive in every way.  Our brilliant partners like National Poetry Day, Poetry Archive and Poetry by Heart have been so lovely they’ve brought tears to our eyes and the generosity of spirit from everyone we’ve had to tell has been wonderful.

And poetry is important right now.  And children’s poetry is SO important right now.  We’ve seen fabulous online initiatives from children’s poets like Laura Mucha, Matt Goodfellow, Joanne Limburg, Brian Moses, Roger Stevens, Irish Laureate Sarah Crossan and many more, bringing poetry writing, reading and listening into the homes of children.  We’ve seen the #PoemADay take off and visits to the CLPE Poetryline site have doubled in the last fortnight with thousands of children, teachers and parents watching previous CLiPPA shortlisters read their poems and talk about their writing.

So whilst this isn’t the blog I set out to write when I first took it on, it is hopeful.  CLiPPA 2020 will happen.  Like many things right now, it might be late and it might not be quite what we planned, but it will happen and it will involve thousands of children and hundreds of schools. In the meantime we know that the wonderful children’s poetry community is still there and still working to bring the power of poetry to millions of young people because poetry heals, poetry helps and poetry matters.

Louise Johns-Shepherd

Before joining CLPE in 2013, Louise was the headteacher of two schools, a nursery school and a primary school and was also a senior leader in both the Primary National Strategies and the National College of School Leadership. Louise is the governor of a primary school and is a judge for a range of book awards including the Cheltenham Festival Reading Teachers, Reading PupilsAmnesty CILIP Honour Medal and the 2019 Brandford Boase. She writes articles and blogs for a range of publications. She tweets at @loujs.

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