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.
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.
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.
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’.’
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.
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 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.