Poetry possibilities this summer
How recently, I wonder, did a colleague recommend a poetry book to you or read you an extract from a poem?
Maybe as you’re a reader of this blog, you’re positively inclined towards poetry, associate with other enthusiasts, and do receive such recommendations. Nonetheless, I suspect you know friends and teachers who are not so well versed in the living language of poetry.
Certainly, over the last year, working with teachers from 40 schools (from Birmingham, Sheffield, Rotherham and Derby), it’s been noticeable that in audits of professional knowledge of children’s texts, poets and poetry remain the poor relation. The forgotten uncle. This reminded me of the Teachers as Readers survey (Cremin et al., 2009) in which we found 22% of 1,200 teachers from across England were unable to name a single poet – dead or alive!
It appears primary teachers’ professional knowledge of poets continues to be dominated by a few well-known writers such Michael Rosen, Benjamin Zephaniah, William Blake and W H Auden. But as we all know, myriad other talented poets are writing for children today; their work also deserves to be read, heard, discussed, dramatised and delighted in.
We could spend time debating why and how this sad situation seems to persist, (and there are stunning exceptions), but surely far more important is to find ways forward. So, in this last blog of the school year, I’m offering a few possibilities, and inviting you to select one that will not only enrich your own knowledge, pleasure and understanding of poetry, but critically that of others.
~ Join the Teachers’ Reading Challenge run by the Reading Agency and The Open University and set yourself a target of reading 6 poetry books. Sharing your Certificate and the poetry read.
~ Devour a Poet each week, read their work, check out their website and share their unique voice with others.
~ Re-voice Poems in person or virtually to at least 4 friends or family.
~ Create a Poetry Scrapbook to share, with poems, collages, and illustrations to evoke their meanings.
~ Initiate Poetry Book Swaps, triggering discussion with other readers, at home or at work.
~ Make a Poetry Poster of poems or poets whose work you want to highlight with next year’s class or the staff.
~ Co-author a Poem with your own children/family, fostering a more collaborative stance towards composing poetry.
To close I’d like to offer my own recommendations of a pair of engaging new books that involve child poets and help us see the world through their eyes.
My Sneezes are Perfect is a delightful collection in the voice of a small boy, Yusuf Samee, who moved from the Netherlands to America, and makes use of poetry to reflect on his new life. His mother, Rakhshan Rizwan, explains she wrote the poems with the help of six-year-old Yusuf. Benjamin Philipps illustrations too drew me in, their childlike directness is appealing. Do read ‘Beards’…!
Take off Your Brave : Poems Just for You by four-year-old Nadim is a rich treat too. Nadim’s mother Yasmine, on the advice of Kate Clanchy, wrote down his words and read them back to him, triggering his desire to voice more poems. With simply stunning visuals by Yasmeen Ismail, this enticing collection captures his perspective and made me feel young again!
Do read ‘Scared Sugar’… and enjoy a summer full of poetry possibilities!
Teresa 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 book is Children Reading for Pleasure in the Digital Age: Mapping Reader Engagement (with Natalia Kucirkova, 2020)
Teresa is passionate about developing readers for life and leads a professional user-community website informed by her research into reading for pleasure. The site supports over 100 OU/UKLA Teachers’ Reading Groups annually and 34 Initial Teacher Education partnerships across the country, in order to develop children’s and teachers’ delight in reading. @TeresaCremin