Think like an owl!
It is magical
It’s bigger, better, exciting!
No, it’s bigger, better and it is stronger,
What you really want,
What you really need for your family,
Think about it carefully
Think like an owl!
Ava-Rae, aged 7, St John the Baptist Primary School/Ministry of Stories.
Last month I joined Forward Arts Foundation as Co-Executive Director, alongside Mònica Parle. Forward promotes public knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of poetry in the UK and Ireland. I had spent the past three years at Arts Council England, working on their new strategy, Let’s Create, and figuring out how it could best deliver for children and young people. I felt uncertain about what to do next, what my purpose was, and what poetry could do for a country on its knees after the pandemic.
Last year, I moved house with my family to a small village near Dover. We had been shielding and needed to be in a place where we could stretch our wings wider while staying isolated. I had my third child there, and would wake through the night with the baby to hear the call of an owl in the woods outside. It felt like company in a very isolated and uncertain time.
Last week I tried to start this blog about 6 times. I felt uncertain what to write about, out of practice with the business of poetry. Kids. Pandemic. Austerity. Where does art fit? Then last Friday afternoon I quit procrastinating; went to pick up my children from school. I found the playground full of poems. The whole school had been turned into a poetry club for a week, inspired by Amanda Gorman’s poem, Change Sings. The school had made last week ‘Writing Week’, to celebrate writing, and particularly poetry.
I’m not certain what Ava-Rae was thinking about when she wrote her poem, Think Like an Owl. But I keep circling back to it this week, finding layers of meaning. It is the mysterious owl in the woods, the celebration of a whole school writing poetry, and the boldness and purpose of poetry itself. I’m sure many of us – parents, teachers, friends – are thinking about how we can help children as we emerge from the pandemic. We are in uncharted territory and there is much to feel worried about. There’s plenty of research already that things like literacy, attainment and mental health have been affected. As well as all the things it’s harder to measure. But I firmly believe that poetry has a big part to play. Writing and reading without the need to pin down meaning – playing with words, enjoying their rhythm: this creativity will help children find their way to what they really need. Let’s think bold, like Ava-Rae’s owl.
Lucy Macnab co-leads Forward Arts Foundation, which develops poetry audiences and talent in theUK. She is also an arts consultant and facilitator with expertise in strategy, organisational development, and human centred design.
Previously, she was Senior Manager, Children and Young People at Arts Council England, where she developed their strategy to support the creative and cultural lives of children. Before that Lucy was Director of the Ministry of Stories, which she co-founded in 2010 with Nick Hornby and Ben Payne. She built the charity from scratch with a group of volunteers into an award winning centre of creativity and writing with children.