Teresa Cremin: A 2021 Poetry Pledge

A 2021 Poetry Pledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will you join me?

Teresa Cremin

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

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