Natalia Kucirkova: Using Technology to Create and Share Poetry

Children are poetry natives. They notice intricate details and say things like ‘the Sun is purple today’. Children are less intimidated by screens than adults. Their fingers glide on hotspots without any anxiety over potential risks. This combination of poetry and technology turns children into wonderful digital artists.

With my colleagues in Norway and England, we have been supporting children to create and share books with tablets, smartphones and PCs for several years. When used proportionally and mindfully, screen activities can encourage children think outside the box and explore their inner worlds. Some apps (for example Faces iMake) combine letters, shapes, colours and sound to enlarge children’s experience of stories, art and poetry.  Children can add special effects like the sound of a loud word, or digital glitter or foggy effect over their creations (for example with the Bomomo website). Phonics apps can be used to form rhyme units and colouring apps offer children a variety of patterns, fabrics and textured letters to tinker with.

Children who can decide which colour splash or brush stroke should take up the whole screen feel as empowered as adult poets who give new meanings to words. Such fine-motor experiences give children the skills and confidence they’ll need for participating in multi-media communities of their older peers. Many contemporary poets effectively blend the use of digital art with verses and share their poetic creations on Instagram or Facebook. Photo-poems or filmpoems are an exciting way to experience poetry.

Technologies are not neutral, and there are many digital tools that kill rather than enhance creativity. Adults supporting children need to know how to distinguish between closed and open-ended apps, that is those apps which overwhelm children with fast-paced entertainment and those that are open to children’s imagination and let them make their own art. The latter kind of apps are of particular value to children who do not have access to poetry because of an illness, social disadvantage or, as we have seen in the recent months, a pandemic.

The Covid-19 outbreak reminded us that a disproportionate number of children live in book deserts, surrounded by ugly urban places and with no access to nature. Some children need to take care of their siblings, some even of their parents. For these children, the opportunity to expand their mental images with sounds, words and colourful strokes is a way of countering a dim reality. Poems about nature that are augmented through virtual reality, for example, immerse children into a quiet and peaceful world, where a poet’s voice is not interrupted by a loud siren voice.  Some adults believe that texts, and especially print texts, are the royal route into poetry. From research we know that children learn about the world from static pictorial information in books as well as moving images on screens. These experiences work together, and it is the diversity that is key for expanding children’s poetic minds.

During the recent lockdown, many professional poets have engaged children with verses through the screen. Corona e-books about children’s experiences have been created and shared worldwide. Free poetry workshops or Zoom readings have illustrated that technology can democratize the access to poetry. For young and old, poems help with distancing from an immediate experience and imagining alternative realities. In this respect, poetry-making, in whatever shape or form, is life-affirming.

Natalia Kucirkova

Natalia Kucirkova is professor of Reading and Children’s Development at The Open University, UK and Professor of Early Childhood and Development at the University of Stavanger, Norway. She is also an accomplished poet, with three published pamphlets and her second collection coming out in 2021 from The Black Spring Press Group.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheryl Moskowitz: The Corona Collection

The Corona Collection – A Conversation

School’s out for summer. For most children during this pandemic school has been out for a very long time. Not just school but playgrounds, football fields, cinemas, restaurants, playdates with friends, visits with grandparents and so much else.

We’ve all needed support to navigate our way through the crisis, but children especially have needed help and reassurance to know that the world is not ending however much it might seem like that from where they are standing.

Despite most parents not being trained teachers and teachers not able to teach as they normally would, these adults have been expected to meet the educational requirements set out for children by government during the lockdown. Children have been scared, confused, frustrated, sad, depressed and bored. How can their learning needs be met when issues relating to their mental health and well-being are so overwhelming?

I live in North London where there are many families and young children. Within a mile radius of my house there are 9 primary schools and one large secondary. In March 2020 when school closures were announced my concern was for all those school children. How, I wondered, would they and their carers cope?

That’s where poetry comes in.

I am a parent, educator and a trained counsellor. I am also a writer and a poet. When a problem overwhelms me, I turn to poetry. When I need to make sense of my feelings and voice my concerns, I turn to poetry. A poem is a way of sharing thoughts and ideas widely with others. A poem is a conversation and one that can be easily shared, even (or perhaps especially) from a place of isolation.

Having conversations, especially with our children, is key to understanding what the other is thinking, feeling, what they value and what they most need and want to happen. I wrote this poem as a way of starting that conversation.

 

Just Supposing…

 

you woke up tomorrow

and there weren’t all these rules

like: YOU HAVE TO STAY HOME!

and: YOU CAN’T GO TO SCHOOL!

And whatever you wished for,

where to go, what to do,

who to be with, how many –

was all up to you.

Where would it be,

doing what, and with whom?

Would you go to the park

or fly up to the moon?

You could go on a picnic

or stay in your room.

If you woke up tomorrow,

restrictions all lifted –

what kind of a world

would you want to be gifted?

 

I took the poem to my local community, conducting pavement interviews with children at a distance, talking to teachers in schools, children of key workers and others in attendance. Inspired by the conversations I was having I wrote more poems and those poems grew into a collection The Corona Collection – A Conversation.

The collection is designed to encourage ongoing conversation between children and adults, in school and at home. I have created resources to go alongside the poems and used the collection to deliver poetry workshops via zoom to children as far away as Hong Kong! In June and July I also ran workshops with small groups of pupils back at school, in their ‘bubbles’.

Since June over 6,000 physical copies of The Corona Collection have been printed and distributed to children and schools around the country. Pop Up Projects took the initiative and gifted 2,000 copies of a special edition to their partner schools nationwide. In London, recognising the value of poetry, Enfield Council adopted the collection, making it central to their PSHE and recovery curriculum for KS2 and transitioning pupils across the borough and have already distributed 4,300 copies. My hope is that organisations around the country will follow suit.

A website www.coronacollectionpoetry.com has been set up as a hub for resources and news, and to gather new poetry and conversations in response.

Cheryl Moskowitz

Cheryl Moskowitz is a poet and educator. She writes for adults and children, runs workshops regularly in schools and is passionate about getting teachers and pupils to write their own poems. She runs writing projects in a wide variety of community settings often working with the most disadvantaged and vulnerable. She serves on the Creative Council for Create Arts and is working with Pop Up on a three-year project to develop creative resources for use in SEN schools across Kent.

Rachel Rooney: Poetry: A Changing Relationship

Poetry as Parent

Books, particularly poetry collections, were a real comfort to me in what was otherwise a rather austere childhood. I was an insular child who’d taught myself to read before starting school. And as the fifth of six children, all born within 9 years of each other and raised by a very unmaternal mother, it wasn’t surprising that literature became a kind of parental substitute. Reading poetry lead to attempts at writing it, though I never shared my efforts at home or school. Below is the last poem I’d written as a child, aged 13. I still have it on scrap paper somewhere.

 

The sky at night is like a precious stone,

studded with flecks of silver and a pearl.

Surrounded, even though I am alone.

Covered, like an unprotected girl.

 

It shows some technical promise and a pithy allusion to a darker subtext. But after this, I drifted away from writing towards music culture. Other than an appreciation of the odd song lyric, it would be another 27 years before I thought of poetry again.

Siblings, with me on the right.

Poetry as Lover

In my 40th year, I chanced upon a weekly class, Writing for Children with Roger Stevens. We spent a term studying poetry where I revisited and appreciated its otherness and the space it gave for self-reflection. Life had become difficult around that time and writing gave me a much needed sense of control and an alternative, positive focus.  It hooked me in and soon poetry became my obsessive love interest.

Although I knew I wanted to write and publish poetry for children, I was driven to expand my understanding of it, so spent the following three years focusing on writing courses, workshops and residential weeks. As my writing developed, my personal and emotional life came apart. But poetry was both the catalyst to initiate productive change, and the tool to navigate through those changes.

Long story short, I acquired an agent, Caroline Walsh, who helped place my first collection, The Language of Cat, with Janetta Otter-Barry at Frances Lincoln.  And I became part of a new wave of children’s poets emerging alongside renewed publisher and educational interest that continues to grow and flourish today.

Poetry as Boss

Strange as it may seem, it didn’t occur to me that I’d have to ‘work’ to promote my book. I hadn’t considered much beyond the writing of the poems. But I was edged into the limelight when my first collection won the CLPE Award. Public performances terrified me and marketing my work felt alien, but somehow I’ve managed to muddle my way through for long enough to have two more collections (both CLIPPA shortlisted) under my belt. While I’m incredibly grateful for the reception my poetry has had, I can’t help but hold an ambivalence to the job description of Poet. I’m quite protective of my relationship with poetry, viewing it more as mother or lover rather than allowing it to act as my employer.

My next (and likely final, collection) Hey, Girl! is out next year, and is one I’m hoping will speak for itself. It’s pitched at an older readership – early adolescence upwards, and is unapologetically Asperger-ish and female-orientated. It contains poems I’ve written over the last ten years which are part-autobiographical, part epistolary in nature. It marks a natural return to where I’d left off as a young teen and feels somewhat like an ending – but in a good way.

Here’s the title poem.

 

XX

 

Hey, girl!

You’re a miracle, already.

What are the odds a cluster of cells

could grow human from a mother’s womb

and arrive in a bright world, blinking and blue.

That was you.

 

Hey, girl!

Remember, you had the power

to commando crawl over sharp bricks,

risk unsteady steps in hard, new shoes,

turn upside-down on swings for the view.

That was you.

 

Hey, girl!

You’re simply a sacred being-machine.

No body is perfect but you are perfectly yours.

Hold fast to this thought if others try to undo it.

I am sending this and a kiss (or two).

I was you.

 

Rachel Rooney

Rachel Rooney‘s latest picture book The Problem with Problems, illustrated by Zehra Hicks and published by Andersen, is out now. Her crossover poetry collection, Hey, Girl! is to be published by Otter-Barry Books in 2021.