Cheryl Moskowitz: Integrating Poetry Throughout the Curriculum

As a school, we realised that poetry did not have a high prestige within the school curriculum and as a way of promoting and placing more emphasis on it, we asked Cheryl to come in and spend a day with every year group. We wanted the work to link in with the unit they were studying whether that be science, reading, history or geography. Before Cheryl came in, the children had already amassed a certain amount of knowledge, so they were able to apply that to constructing a poem as a class, which contributed towards a whole year group poem. What worked incredibly was that Cheryl liaised with the year groups prior to ensure she knew what knowledge the children had and was able to do her own research. She could then guide the writing and put her own spin on the direction. The children were enthused and inspired and every child was able to access the work. By the end of the day, the children had been able to construct and perform a high-class poem.  

David Combe – Assistant Headteacher, George Spicer Primary School

For the past year and a half, I have been working with George Spicer Primary School in Enfield, North London as their official ‘Resident Poet’ working individually with each of the four classes in every year group across the school from Reception through Year 6 on special topic areas within their curriculum.

So far I have explored hibernation with Year 1 on their ‘Winter is Coming’ topic, discovered extinct and endangered animals with Year 2, learned about the lives of native people on the Great Plains of North America and events leading up to the Battle of Little Bighorn through the ‘First Nations’ topic with Year 3. Twice now, this year and last, I have worked with year 5 pupils to create an epic poem outlining the infamous deeds and long-lasting legacies of the warrior-ruler and founder of the Mongolian empire, Genghis Khan. And with Year 6, learning about the Battle of Stalingrad as part of their topic on World War II, we wrote powerful poetry on war and conflict.

Later this Spring I will be delving into ‘Ancient Greece’ with Year 4 and in the summer term I look forward to working with the Reception classes on their special topic.

Being ‘Resident Poet’ in a primary school can take on many forms. Poetry does not need to be taught, but rather can happen out of a desire to consolidate what is already known and a need to learn and understand more. School is an ideal environment for poetry to take place. Working together with pupils and teachers, poetry can be a collaborative act, a showing and telling fuelled by curiosity, conversation, and the sharing of ideas. The joy of integrating poetry throughout the curriculum is that everyone benefits.

The children started by looking at words associated with conflict and we used those to create cinquains and rhyming couplets, thinking about how to make meaning and evoke emotions in the reader. The day was so engaging and the children were inspired – they could not wait to showcase their poems.’ Mrs A. Wellbrook (Year 6)

We were looking at extinct animals in our Science unit, specifically ‘The last Thylacine’. Cheryl did extensive research and each class had an opportunity to write a poem about its endangered cousins which they shared in an assembly at the end of the day. All were enthused and engaged by poetry and really felt a sense of achievement in the work they had produced. Mr J. Roberts (Year 2)

We invited Cheryl to come in to create some poetry on our unit on Genghis Khan. It was a collaborative process so we worked closely before the day to ensure everyone was on the same page. The children were so inspired and this was an amazing way for them to demonstrate their knowledge and create a really powerful piece of poetry. Ms A. Dawson (Yr 5)

With thanks to all at George Spicer Primary School @GeorgeSpicerSch

Cheryl Moskowitz is a poet with over 30 years’ experience working as a writer in schools. From 2014-2017 she pioneered a ground-breaking Poetry Residency working across the curriculum with pupils, staff and the wider multi-lingual community at Highfield Primary School in Enfield. Her poems for children appear in numerous anthologies including the award-winning Poems from a Green & Blue Planet (ed Sabrina Mahfouz, Hodder Children’s Books 2019) and A World Full of Poems (DK Children’s Books, 2020). Her collection Can it Be About Me? (Circle Time Press 2019)is now in its third reprint and in 2020 she wrote The Corona Collection – A Conversation a unique poetry collection reflecting children’s voices and perspectives on the pandemic.

Allie Esiri: Nursery Rhymes are Toys for the Mind

Is ‘Humpty Dumpty’ a historical retelling of Richard III falling off his horse at the Battle of Bosworth, or a cautionary metaphor for falling from a great height, or just about an unlucky egg? Ricky Gervais said, “I’ve never worked out what the moral of Humpty Dumpty is. I can only think of: Don’t sit on a wall if you’re an egg.” There are many interpretations for every nursery rhyme, but each tends to defy theory and live on regardless, handed down happily from generation to generation.

Nursery rhymes are toys for the mind. The term, first recorded in 1816, is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘a simple or traditional poem or song for children’. They are playful and tend to be short and easy to remember, full of rhythm, rhyme and repetition. The archetype of poetry, they are preserved by an oral tradition, traditionally sung by a parent, or in a market square by a balladeer to a population that would have been largely illiterate, just as we are when first hearing them, at the age before we can read, write or even talk.

The writer Vita Sackville-West said of nursery rhymes that they lead children (who can talk) to insist, ‘Tell it again, tell it the same.’ However, this very characteristic of constant recitation is precisely how small changes have crept in over time, and these small adaptations are key to their immortality.

Despite being mainly orally reproduced, this hasn’t stopped us anthologists from trying to capture them like pressed flowers. While there is evidence in historic plays (among other sources) that nursery rhymes were being sung and spoken hundreds of years before this, the first collection seems not to have been printed until Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book appeared in 1744. Then in 1781 Mother Goose’s Melody: or Sonnets for the Cradle became a publishing sensation, leading to a 1785 reprint in the United States. Mother Goose’s name is still associated with the gathering of rhymes today, although there is no evidence that any such historical figure ever existed. The name first appeared in France in Charles Perrault’s early eighteenth-century anthology of fairy tales, Les Contes de ma mère l’Oye, whose translation for the English-speaking world was Tales of Mother Goose.

Nursery rhymes can be whimsical or strictly didactic, and take a variety of forms, including limericks, tongue-twisters, skipping rhymes, story ballads, alphabet songs and lullabies. Many are utterly beautiful – the poet Robert Graves said the best of nursery rhymes are nearer to poetry than the greater part of The Oxford Book of English Verse. Learned within the safe confines of home, there are myriad themes with allegorical meanings or a warning: from Humpty Dumpty’s fall to the old man who bumped his head, or the baby who fell out of the cradle. The meaning often only reveals itself later in life.

Many have recognised their worth and they continue to be an inspiration for artists such as Paula Rego, football fans who adapt them to chant on the terraces, and lyricists like Taylor Swift who references the last lines of ‘Humpty Dumpty’ in her song, ‘The Archer’ when she writes ‘All the king’s horses, all the king’s men, / Couldn’t put me together again’.

A Nursery Rhyme for Every Night of the Year, Macmillan, edited by Allie Esiri, Illustrated by Emily Faccini

I hope that the 365 nursery rhymes gathered in my new book lead young readers to move on to a love of poetry. After all, a poem is just a nursery rhyme that has grown up.

Allie Esiri

Allie Esiri is an award-winning anthologist and curator and host of live poetry events at London’s National Theatre, Bridge Theatre, and at major international literary festivals. Her bestselling anthologies Shakespeare for Every Day of the YearA Poem for Every Day of the YearA Poem for Every Night of the Year and A Poet for Every Day of the Year have been bestsellers. Stand out live performances at theatres, festivals and on audio with poems read by some of our best-known actors are capturing and enthralling a new generation of poetry lovers. 

Isabel Otter: Poetry for Exploring Feelings

Exploring emotions can be a complicated business. There are many ways to feel happy or sad, worried or excited, and yet we try to confine these experiences within a single word. As adults, we are aware that every emotion has its own complicated, personal spectrum and these words can be useful shorthand. (It’s not practical to hope that someday we might start answering, “Hi, how are you?” with, “Actually, I feel as lonely as a cloud”, though how I wish we did!). But it’s a very different matter for children, who are discovering and experiencing new feelings and emotions all the time and may need help to explore them. And there are no people better placed to help us map out our inner worlds than poets!

This was the impetus behind the anthology My Heart Is a Poem: Poetry About Feelings, co-edited by me and Harriet Evans. We put together a collection of 20 poems by contemporary poets examining different feelings. Some were commissioned for the anthology and some were poems that we already knew and loved. In each one, the poets escape the limits of everyday expressions to help readers navigate the mazes inside themselves.

In Laura Mucha’s poem, ‘The Land of Blue’, she takes us to a place that is “dark – not light, not bright or clean” – using metaphor to evoke how sadness might feel. Kate Wakeling describes the physical sensation of a feeling – the “hot, rotten throb” of embarrassment in her poem, ‘The Unspeakable Feeling’. In Valerie Bloom’s ‘Touched By Joy’, she personifies certain feelings to explore the way we encounter emotions: “For Anger was there by my side,/And I knew he could not abide/Joy’s happy voice and face.”  In ‘If You Could See Laughter’, Mandy Coe writes that we could “rise off the ground with laughter,/tie strings on it and sail around the world.” And in Joseph Coelho’s ‘Argument’, he imagines the argument itself as a “monster/With a roar made up of shouts.”

Poems such as these are brilliant springboards for exploring emotions with children. Feelings are slippery and elusive, and it can be tough to help kids articulate what’s going on internally. Poems offer children new ways to see the world and their own emotions. They might perfectly describe what children are feeling in their own hearts and minds or allow them to see how others feel and encourage empathetic understanding. Poetry can offer children concrete language for abstract concepts while kickstarting the engines of their own imaginations. If their feelings were people or places, how would they describe them?

In today’s world, with so many competing anxieties, it is vital that we give children the space and support needed to express and understand their feelings. Joseph Coelho says it best: “Using poetry to explore emotions is not something that is simply ‘good to do’ or an activity for a rainy day… I fear in this current climate it’s something we can’t afford not to do.”

Isabel Otter

Isabel Otter works as a senior editor at Caterpillar Books on a list of books including board, picture books and non-fiction. She has always had a passion for poetry and is delighted to be working on a series of four illustrated anthologies. Courage In a Poem and My Heart Is a Poem are out now. The next in series, Our Earth Is a Poem, will be coming out later this year.

Yvonne Lang: Introducing Authors Abroad

Authors Abroad was set up in 2008 by Trevor Wilson after he was inspired during his time working as teacher in international schools by the impact children’s author and poet visits can have on young people. It has continued to grow and now operates in over 80 countries as well as arranging author, poet, storyteller and illustrator visits for hundreds of schools annually throughout the UK.

Although we arrange a plethora of author visits at a huge range of facilities dealing with a varied age group, poetry holds a special place in our hearts. There is something very magical about a poetry visit and how it can connect with young people who are disengaged from literacy, struggling to express themselves or even help stretch those who are gifted writers. We run the publishing company Caboodle Books and our speciality is poetry, with a range of poetry books from rhyming picture books to traditional poetry collections for young people and poems told via a graphic novel with scannable QR codes to hear the poet performing the pieces on YouTube as you read along. We’ve even managed to win a CLiPPA award, which we are exceptionally proud of, with Karl Nova’s debut Rhythm and Poetry.

Spoz who launched the Worcestershire Poetry Slam

In addition to our regular in school poetry visits and our poetry-focused AIM High Days (founded in collaboration with Brian Moses) we have been very excited to launch some Poetry Slam days. We took over the running of Spoz’s Worcestershire slam last year and it proved so successful we have expanded it, also taking on Gloucester and launching in Calderdale, Leeds and London. We are running extra slams in Leeds to support their Leeds 2023 culture programme and are very grateful to the Bearder Minster Trust in Halifax which helped subsidise the slams in Calderdale to allow the maximum of 14 schools to take part.

Some finalists at the Worcestershire Poetry Slam

We know the difference poetry can make and the impact it has on schools. It helps increase reading for pleasure and the confidence boost it can deliver for pupils is immense. That is why we are passionate about getting poetry into schools in various formats and for various budgets. Whether private days in person, bespoke virtual sessions, a subsidised subscription of pre-recorded videos including authors and poets via our brand new Caboodle Classroom offering (with accompanying teaching notes provided by CLPE), which launches next month, AIM High poetry days for gifted and talented or our brand new poetry slams, Authors Abroad are experts at connecting poets to schools to allow them to share their enthusiasm and knowledge about the written and spoken word.

Trevor Wilson, director of Authors Abroad and Caboodle Books Ltd

Our specialist knowledge and years of experience means we can find the perfect match for a school which is looking to organise an event that suits them and their learners’ needs. We also advocate for poets, helping well-established names add new schools to their roster and manage their busy schedules, whilst also offering opportunities to those who are newer to the scene and still establishing themselves.

Feedback from one of our poet’s visits:

“Kate Wakeling visited our school for National Poetry Day and was an absolutely wonderful guest. She engaged the pupils from the off, with an assembly to the whole school – from reception to year 6, every student was enthralled. She then ran workshops and poetry readings, bringing out incredible work and creativity from the students.’ St Christopher’s School on their visit with Kate Wakeling.

Yvonne Lang

Yvonne Lang is the manager of Authors Abroad UK visits and Poetry Slams, as well as head of author recruitment. Following over a dozen years working in public libraries, then as Head Librarian at a boy’s grammar school, she joined Authors Abroad and now runs the team booking author and poet visits all over the UK. for author visits, poetry slams or to sign up for our free half-termly newsletter online programme

Ana Sampson: Songs of Scuttling and Slime – in Praise of Creepie Crawlies

Silly though it is, I am not a fan of insects – despite their tasteful ‘mini-beast’ rebrand. I was once so rattled by a sizeable spider that my husband told me that because spiders were ‘territorial’ there couldn’t possibly be another lurking. (As well as being cowardly, I am gullible, and blithely repeated this to people for years before someone pointed out what utter nonsense it was.)

My daughter meeting a giant millipede.

I have children now and I don’t want to bequeath them my fear. I managed not to shriek while capturing a mammoth spider under a pint glass. I took my youngest to meet various horrifying creatures including a giant millipede and managed to only back away two paces as it wound around her fingers, saying through gritted teeth, “Oh, isn’t he handsome?” (It took a herculean effort, though. So many legs!)

I’m never going to be delighted to cuddle a cockroach or tickle a tarantula, but poems and books have helped me be chill around crickets and easy around earwigs. The greatest gift you can give a spider-phobic child is surely a copy of E B White’s Charlotte’s Web and here is one of my favourite poems about creepy crawlies to share.

A Snail’s Advice to His Son

After Gervase Phinn

Always keep your shell clean, son.

It shows the world you care.

Hold your antennae straight and proud

and pointing in the air.

Trail your slime in crisp, clean lines

in parallel to walls,

stick to grass where dogs are banned

(and games involving balls).

If you must steal mankind’s veg

wait till they’re not around.

Steer well clear of allotments (‘least

until the sun’s gone done).

Although you may not have one, son,

be sure to chance your arm.

Confronted by a gang of slugs,

let your response be calm.

Keep your head in times of stress

(inside your shell, if poss).

When I am gone, just carry on.

Smile, despite your loss.

Keep that sense of patience,

never let your stride be rushed;

and don’t take life too seriously, son,

for few survive uncrushed.

Jamie McGarry (From The Dead Snail Diaries, The Emma Press)

Poetry can help us look at the world in new ways, and here it gives us the point of view of a young snail, lovingly advised by his wise father. Ascribing relatable emotions to a creepy crawly can really help a child (or a grown-up!) to become less afraid of a creature. While reading the poem we are firmly on the snail’s side, seeing through its eyes. And of course, on a more serious note, this is part of the enormous power of poetry: it can build empathy and understanding and help us see different points of view. I can think of few things our world needs more.

Here’s a final reminder to the scaredy cats, myself among them, that the less cute denizens of the animal kingdom need our protection too (even if the phrase ‘beetle fat’ gives me the heebie jeebies…)

Hurt No Living Thing

Hurt no living thing,

Ladybird nor butterfly,

Nor moth with dusty wing,

Nor cricket chirping cheerily,

Nor grasshopper, so light of leap,

Nor dancing gnat,

Nor beetle fat,

Nor harmless worms that creep.

Christina Rossetti

Ana Sampson

Ana Sampson is the editor of eleven poetry anthologies for children and adults. These poems appear in Wonder: The Natural History Museum Poetry Book, which is out now in hardback and published in paperback on 30th March 2023.

Francesca Bonafede: Poetry Changes Lives

I remember vividly all the poems I have written, including my very first, at the age of six. It was about a seagull I once watched struggling to fly on a blustery day. In that scene, I somehow recognised my own condition. The very composition of that poem is burned into my mind. I remember the smell of the wooden table in the school library and the ticking noise of a white wall clock. The act of writing felt radical and empowering. Since writing ‘La Gabbianella’, poetry became for me a way to cope, a way to speak the unspeakable and share what often remains unshared. I always wrote in my free time, often in the evenings just before bed.  As a teenager, I hated poetry at school. I was often in detention because I argued with the standard interpretations we were given. I wanted to hear and discuss poetry. Circling words in silence and writing notes in the margins felt like a real waste.

During my time with the National Literacy Trust, I witnessed the radical moment of empowerment I experienced with the composition of ‘La Gabbianella’ in many children and young people on the Young Poets programme. It manifests as a spark of excitement and pride in the eyes of the young poets at the realisation of infinite possibilities: ‘this sounds great, I meant it and I wrote it’. More often than not this happens in children and young people who believed poetry was ‘not for them’.

This year, we partnered with the West Yorkshire Local Authority to design and deliver a very ambitious programme aiming to inspire all children in West Yorkshire to write for enjoyment and see poetry as a way to amplify their voices and build their confidence. We will also be appointing West Yorkshire’s first-ever Young Poets Laureate (one in year 4 and one in year 9)!

I have the honour and privilege of working on this with Bradford poet Sharena Lee Satti. Sharena and I share the unshakeable belief in the power that poetry has to truly change the lives of children and young people. She generously shares her amazing but challenging story with all the children and young people she works with and often begins by saying: ‘It was poetry, and writing poetry that saved my life in many ways.’ Sharena left school at the age of 12 to become a carer. Hers was a deeply personal practice that allowed her, she said, to access ‘the magic within herself’. She too engaged with poetry away from school life.

Every year since 2005, the National Literacy Trust has found that children on free school meals are more likely to engage with poetry in their free time than their better-off peers. The consistency of these findings is even more meaningful in such a challenging socio-economic landscape. Poetry has the potential to play an important role in the lives of children and young people and become a tool to support mental wellbeing, process struggles and make sense of the world.

At the National Literacy Trust, we will continue to support children and young people to develop poetry writing for enjoyment practices with the radical view that every young person is a poet.

Francesca Bonafede

Francesca leads the development and delivery of the Young Writers programme at the National Literacy Trust. Young Writers inspires children and young people to write for enjoyment and improve the quality of their writing. Francesca holds a PhD in the phenomenology of literary language and is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She has visiting teaching duties in Higher Education and is the editor of a peer-reviewed literary theory journal.

National Literacy Trust

Lorraine Mariner: Playing with Poetry – Events and Exhibitions for Children

It’s a year since we relaunched our Rug Rhymes session for under-5s as part of Southbank Centre’s Imagine Children’s Festival, and for 2023 our Day of Poetry for Children in the National Poetry Library is back, for the first time since 2020. On Monday 13th February we’re delighted to be welcoming acclaimed children’s poet James Carter to lead a special Rug Rhymes and a reading for ages 5-7, Poems Go Zoom! that will also include a chance to write a poem together. James will be joined at a reading for 8-11 year olds, Poems With Pizzazz! by rising star Alex Wharton, and Alex will be leading a poetry writing workshop for ages 6-10, At the Magic Hour.

Tickets are going fast but, as well as our poetry events, Imagine also includes Rhymes LIVE, a free workshop and performance led byLondon Rhymes who have been reimagining and reinventing the ‘nursery rhyme’ with help from families and young children since 2015; Tales from Acorn Wood, Julia Donaldson’s beloved rhyming lift the flap books brought to life live on stage; Family Fun with Michael Rosen, a chance to hear national treasure Michael Rosen perform stories, poems and rhymes; and former Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s family-friendly dance-theatre retelling of Rapunzel, presented by balletLORENT.

We’re also thrilled that artist and author Sam Winston, whose exhibitions we’ve hosted in the Poetry Library over the years, has designed the One and Everything Family Trail for Imagine to tie in with his new picture book One and Everything, inspired by the Endangered Alphabets project, which ties in with our own Endangered Poetry Project which we launched in 2017. Sam’s practice explores language and he is renowned for his distinctive use of typography and One and Everything employs different scripts from around the world in letterform and colour. The trail introduces children to some bouncing alphabets, two young brothers who invented their own way of writing and some exciting ways for families to tell their own tales.

The trail is free and we hope it will lead families to discover the National Poetry Library in the way that our recent exhibition Poetry Games did. Curated by Nick Murray and exploring the intersection between poetry and games, both board and video, it was a wonderful way to engage children and young people with poetry without them realising! Nick explained in an article for The London Magazine that, “What the Poetry Games exhibition aims to do is address the common misperceptions of both poetry and games. That games are light, entertainment focused toys, and that poetry is the inaccessible and stuffy side of literature.” I had got very used to the click of a joystick at weekends as children jumped their way through Philippe Grenon’s Émile et Moi and landed on word platforms that created a new poem.

A legacy of the exhibition is that we’re now the proud owners of The Amazing Push Poem Machine, the latest iteration of a game that has been played since 1976 when it was named by Carol Ann Duffy.

It brings all the fun of the fair to poetry writing with children as you take it in turns to throw a ball to randomly select a letter, which you then use as the first letter to write a word, the words becoming a poem. We’ve had great fun using it during school visits over the past few months and look forward to using it with visiting groups in the future.

Please follow this link to see all the Imagine events taking place in the National Poetry Library and Southbank Centre from 8-18 February 2023.

Lorraine Mariner

Lorraine Mariner is an Assistant Librarian at the National Poetry Library and has published two poetry collections for adults with Picador, Furniture (2009) and There Will Be No More Nonsense (2014), and two pamphlets Bye For Now (The Rialto, 2005) and Anchorage (Grey Suit Editions, 2020).

Nicola Nuttall: The Charles Causley Young People’s Poetry Competition

Every year, at the Causley Trust we run our Young People’s Poetry Competition. Charles Causley is renowned for his children’s poetry, and you can explore his poems via the Poetry Archive. A former primary teacher, encouraging young people to write and explore their creativity was incredibly important to Charles and our competition continues his efforts to inspire young writers.

The Trust is based in Launceston, Cornwall (Charles Causley’s hometown) and seeks to raise the profile of Causley and his work, whilst also providing opportunities for people to engage with creative writing and the arts. 2023 marks 20 years since Charles Causley’s passing in 2003 and this has inspired the theme for this year’s competition – ‘memory.’ All poems submitted must reflect this theme and must be an original composition that has not previously been published in any format or location.

The Causley Festival of Arts Literature in Launceston

Charles Causley wrote poetry all his adult life. It was during his time in the navy during World War II that he became interested in words, patterns, and shapes – jotting down lines and words in between his naval duties. He wrote poetry for both adults and children and sometimes it is difficult to know which audience he was writing for, as his poems transcend age and appeal. His poems cover many different themes and styles – some funny and musical, others descriptive and place-based, with a real emphasis on people and his experiences in Cornwall, in the navy and on his travels. He was really interested in ghosts and folk tales, traditions, landscapes, and behaviours.

The Causley Festival of Arts Literature in Launceston

Charles was a prominent poet in the 20th century hailing Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, John Betjeman, Jack Clemo and Philip Larkin as his friends and colleagues. His name was put forward to be the Poet Laureate, but he declined, and his good friend Ted Hughes took the title himself. Many current poets cite Charles as a major influence in their writing including Andrew Motion and Simon Armitage (both Poet Laureates). His influence (and poetic skill) really cannot be underestimated. His style is often described as ‘simple’ but I would call it accessible. If you ever try to write like Charles, you soon realise that his poetry is anything but simple to create!

It is hard to choose favourite poems from Charles’s enormous portfolio. You really can find a poem to suit every mood and need within his poetry – but if I had to choose then the first would be ‘Eden Rock’ which describes the moment Charles sees his parents, and their little dog Jack, waiting for him the moment he has passed away. He describes a picnic, a perfect day and his youthful parents beckoning him to join them – ‘I had not thought it would be like this’ he says. The poem is beautiful, poignant, and reassuring.

The second would be ‘Timothy Winters’ – a poem about a young boy, growing up in poverty in Launceston. The description of Timothy ‘ears like bombs and teeth like splinters’ is inspired and Charles creates a vivid picture using rhyme, humour, and pathos. By the end of the poem, we really feel we have met Timothy (a character, incidentally, based upon one of Charles’s pupils at the National School in Launceston).

The Charles Causley Young People’s Poetry Competition

Poems entered into our competition must be written in English but can be presented in any form or style. All poems submitted must reflect the theme of ‘memory’ and must be an original composition that has not previously been published in any format or location.

Entries must be no longer than 40 lines (excluding the title, subheadings, dedications or references). There is no entry fee but no more than one entry per young person is permitted. The competition is open to all young people aged between 5 and 18. Our deadline for entries is the 31st of March 2023.

We hope that you will be interested in our competition

Nicola Nuttall is the Director of the Charles Causley Trust in Launceston, Cornwall and a huge Charles Causley fan. Nicola has worked in the heritage and cultural sectors for 35 years and her specialisms include advocacy, knowledge exchange, strategic partnership and business and professional development. She writes poetry in her spare time.

Kyra Ho: Who is ‘Children’s Poetry’ Really For?

At the age of 9 I knew the following about ‘children’s poetry’: rhyme and rhythm and the recognisable can soothe the grown-up as much as the growing-up.

My grandma used to drive me to primary school. On particularly bright winter mornings she’d take issue with the sun’s position in the sky, pull over to the side of the road, and wait for it to move. As I became steadily later to school, she’d have me sing the same song (and a song is a poem and a poem a song) over and over.  Mr. Tumble’s ‘There’s a Worm at the Bottom of the Garden’ is now burnt into my brain. But it is not the act of reciting that I remember: it is the change in my grandma’s face and mood after hearing it. I have no memories of children’s poetry in an academic context, but I remember needing it and it being needed as a bridge to a loved one in a distant moment.

Readers of this blog know the support and spread of children’s poetry to be vital. It’s difficult to argue against young people getting to grips with a form of self-expression, cultural engagement, tool of empathy, world of wonder, etc.  And yes, children need children’s poetry, but what I’ve been learning during my time with The Poetry Society’s Education team is that grown-ups need it just as much. We find children reading, reciting, explaining, and falling in love with poetry so adorable that I’m starting to think it might be trialled as an alternative medicine.

Two experiences during my time with The Poetry Society stand out in particular:

Every year, The Poetry Society runs Look North More Often, an education project celebrating the gift of the Christmas tree from the Mayor of Oslo and the Norwegian Embassy in Trafalgar Square. They commission a children’s poet to write a poem for the occasion which students from a local primary school recite at the annual ceremony – after some coaching from another children’s poet. This year, I got to meet everyone involved and interview the children about how they found the experience for a Poetry Society podcast. I got to hear them recite Kate Wakeling’s ‘and a tree’ more times than I can count and ask them what the poem meant to them. I got to see and hear people who have been on this earth for less than a decade get excited about words! If that’s not lovely, what on earth is?

Another experience that I can’t seem to get out of my head is reading the entries to Young Poets Network’s (many and varied) challenges set for 5-25 year olds.  A particular challenge, ‘Your Name is a Poem’ in collaboration with Modern Poetry in Translation, asked for poems about the meanings of a name. I couldn’t believe how many primary school children were entering the competition with nomenclature-based musings that were, actually, pretty beautiful. Several times I had to ask whether they were likely to have been written by parents seeking glory instead, the response to which was always ‘no’. I’d love to list all the lines of (actual) children’s poetry that gave me that ‘oh that’s a good way of saying something’ feeling, but you can see them all here anyway.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learnt from my short time with Young Poets Network and The Poetry Society’s projects with children’s poetry is something we’ve always known: children should never be underestimated. Their love for poetry is as much our gain as it is theirs.

Kyra Ho

Kyra Ho is a Publishing and Participation Trainee with The Poetry Society. She recently completed her master’s in Francophone and Hispanophone poetry and runs a podcast dedicated to poetry in translation: In Another Voice.

Charlotte Hacking: See a Poet, Be a Poet

A visit from a poet can seem like a big investment for schools, particularly in the current financial climate. But, if done right, it can be a valuable learning experience for the children, engaging them in a love of reading as well as enhancing and extending ideas and enthusiasm for writing.

An opportunity to see and learn from professional poets is aspirational for children. It brings poetry to life, enabling them to see creativity and writing as a profession. Poets speaking about their work, reading or performing poems and leading writing workshops or exercises brings a greater level of depth to learning about authentic writing processes.

Matt Goodfellow with children from Swaffield Primary and Manor Leas Primary schools

To get the most out of a poet visit and to make it as successful as possible, here are a few top tips.

Before the visit:

  • Do your research first. Find out as much as possible about potential poets, considering how they might engage and appeal to your children. Many poets have audio or video resources on their websites. The Poet section of the CLPE website contains poet performances, and the Children’s Poetry Archive have a wide range of audio recordings, which will give you a good idea of what you might expect.
  • Make contact with your chosen poet to agree a timetable well in advance. It is important that this is a collaborative process, so that the visit is part of a planned programme of learning rather than being something of a ‘strange interruption’.
  • Communicate clearly with the poet, finding out what they offer and what a realistic programme might be. Will the visit be in person or virtual? Do they need any particular resources? Do they have any specific dietary or access requirements?
  • Be realistic about your expectations – you’d never expect a Year 6 teacher to teach every child in the school on the same day, so don’t expect this from a poet! Some poets may have a range of poems that work for children of all ages, but some might want to focus on a specific phase. Lean into where they feel they will make the most impact. A good model might be a whole school introduction, with the poet reading poems in an assembly, enabling every child to be able to feel part of the experience, followed by focussed work in classes where the poet’s work is most relevant.
  • Set the scene beforehand. Allow the children to get to know the poet through their website or any video or audio resources you can find, and read a few poems by them.
  • Consider including a book sale at the end of the school day where parents can take their children to buy books and have them signed as a memento, engaging a local bookseller to support with this. Some poets may wish to sell books themselves.
Matt Goodfellow with children from Swaffield Primary and Manor Leas Primary schools

On the day:

  • Share a photo of the poet with all the staff and children – including school office staff – letting them know they are coming and making sure they are ready to welcome them.
  • Ensure resources, including technological requirements for a virtual visit, are ready and available.
  • If the poet comes in person, make sure they are welcomed, know where facilities are, and are shown to a space where they can make themselves comfortable and where they can get water, tea or coffee.
  • Don’t fill every available break with additional activities like pupil interviews or book signings; it is important that adequate breaks and lunch are provided.
  • Ensure activities run to schedule so the day doesn’t become too long for the poet, especially if a signing is included. Attaching post it notes to books with names for dedications will help to speed things up.


  • Send a thank you card, letter or email to the poet.
  • Make sure the poet is paid promptly – it’s important to realise that visits are often a poet’s main source of income.
  • Create a central display with the poet’s books, alongside photographs and work from the visit.
  • Share the event on your website, in your newsletter, or in local press, helping to raise the profile of poetry in the school and wider community.
  • Follow up and extend the work done in your English lessons. The poetry plans on CLPE’s website can be used direct or drawn upon to support schools’ own plans. This gives the visit added purpose and allows the flame of excitement on the visit day to burn for longer.

As poet Matt Goodfellow reflects, “Poetry is an area that teachers and children often lack confidence in. A visit shows poets are real life people, and can show a different side to writing, facilitating creativity outside of the usual constraints of the curriculum. It’s often the children who are usually reluctant to engage in literacy that shine and their teachers see a side of them that’s not been seen before. They feel free to discuss their thoughts, feelings and ideas using their own words; they’re often the natural born poets.”

Charlotte Hacking

Charlotte Hacking is the Learning and Programme Director at the Centre for Literacy in Primary (CLPE) Education and a judge on the CLPE Poetry Award, the CLiPPA. This year, the CLPE are working with Macmillan to celebrate 30 Years of Macmillan Children’s Poetry. This includes conducting the Big Amazing Poetry Survey, to gain a picture of poetry practice and provision in primary schools. Primary teachers can fill in the survey and contribute to this important research between 16th January and 6th February 2023.