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.

CLiPPA Poetry Award 2019

CLiPPA 2019

A highlight of our year at CLPE (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) is the CLiPPA award ceremony which we’ve organised in collaboration with the National Theatre.

The CLPE Poetry Award started 17 years ago, to fill the gap left by the Signal Poetry Award. A list of the winners since then with other information about the award can be found on our Poetryline website.

In 2014 we made the award more high profile, the announcement of the winner being made at the recently opened House of Illustration with a linked poetry trail featuring poems from the shortlisted titles. However, children themselves remained the missing guests at the feast and thin 2015 we began a schools’ shadowing scheme, created resources to help teachers introduce the books to children, and started a partnership with the National Theatre. Thanks to chair of judges Roger McGough commenting that the prize needed a more snappy name, it became the more catchy CLiPPA which stands for Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award.

The relationship with the National Theatre has continues and led to a capacity crowd filling the Lyttelton Theatre this year on Wednesday 3rd July. Our Poetry Show featured the five shortlisted poets; Kwame Alexander for his verse novel Rebound (Andersen Press), Rachel Rooney for her collection A Kid in My Class (Otter-Barry Books), Steven Camden for his collection Everything All At Once (Macmillan Children’s Books), Philip Gross for Dark Sky Park (Otter-Barry Books), and Eloise Greenfield for Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me (Tiny Owl).

Schoolchildren performed from each of their books, with the proceedings compèred in an inimitable manner by chair of judges, A. F. Harrold, assisted by fellow judges Ruth Awolola, Charlotte Hacking and Susannah Herbert. It has now become a wonderful tradition for Chris Riddell to be seated on the stage, live drawing throughout the event.

The schools chosen to perform were selected from more than 100 videos sent in as part of our shadowing scheme. First on the stage were five children from a Birmingham primary school, one of whom took on the role of the cool dude in Rachel Rooney’s poem ‘Cool’ from A Kid in My Class. Then Rachel herself appeared in disguise as a hamster to perform ‘The Hamster Speaks’ featuring a character who scampers through the pages in Chris Riddell’s accompanying illustrations.

Neither Kwame Alexander nor Eloise Greenfield could be at the ceremony as they live in the USA but both sent video messages with warm greetings and recited respectively from Rebound and Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me.

Three boys from a Northolt primary school captured the rhythm of the basketball court in their rendition of ‘Air Jordan’ from Rebound while a whole class of 30 children from a primary school in Uxbridge gave a captivating presentation of Eloise Greenfield’s ‘Thinker’s Rap’.

Two girls from a Hertfordshire junior school gave a spine-tingling interpretation of ‘Aleppo Cat’ from Philip Gross’ Dark Sky Park followed by Philip diving deep into his collection subtitled ‘Poems from the Edge of Nature’ to read ‘The Abyss’.

A startling solo performance came from a girl who had travelled from a Norfolk school taking on the dual roles of a child and the blank page staring at her in ‘Anyone’ from Steven Camden’s debut collection Everything All At Once. Steven then shared his heartfelt poem ‘Dear Mum, BTEC’ which is for every young person who wants to convey to their parents and teachers that they need to plough their own furrow and that taking a practical path is equally as valid as an academic one.

One of the great things about the Poetry Show is that it celebrates all of the shortlisted titles. However, by the end of it, the audience is alert to hear the announcement of the winner. This year, the judges chose to highly commend Eloise Greenfield’s Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me. The accolade of this year’s CLiPPA, though, went to Steven Camden’s Everything All At Once, a book that the judges felt should be given to every child in Year 6 in anticipation of their move to secondary school and the new phase of life into which they will be entering.

 

The show ended with the announcement of a partnership with National Poetry Day to encourage children to write poems on this year’s theme, Truth. This was presented via a video featuring several poets who had previously won the CLiPPA with their first collection for children, including Joseph Coelho, Karl Nova and Rachel Rooney. Seeing those faces up there was just one of many emotional moments of the day for me, having been associated with the award from the beginning.

It was great this year to witness one of those moments for others. I happened to be sitting next to Gaby Morgan, publisher of the winning book and Steven Camden was on the other side of her. A. F. Harrold prefaced the moment when he announced the winner by mentioning that this poet went by another name as a performer – that of Polarbear – and that was when Steven and Gaby knew their book had won and it was wonderful to feel their delight and emotion.

Ann Lazim

Ann Lazim is the Literature and Library Development Manager at CLPE (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) where she has worked for over 25 years. This multi-faceted role includes being the administrator for the CLiPPA (Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award). Ann has an MA in Children’s Literature from Roehampton University and is active in IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People).