Sue Hardy Dawson: Why Poetry Matters

Why Poetry Matters

I was born into a house full of poetry. Nightly my father lulled me to sleep with the many poems he knew by heart. On long journeys or stuck in traffic-jams we played rhyming games or changed the lyrics to songs and nursery rhymes. Mum too wrote funny verses for family birthday cards. So from an early age I experienced everything from AA Milne to WH Auden. I grew to love each softly spoken syllable; the portent in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the drumming beat of The Charge of the Light Brigade, the gentle rhythms of Night Mail and wistful repetition in Hiawatha. Each night, anew, I marvelled at Tygers and green eyed yellow idols, lamented on Bessy the landlord’s daughter awaiting her highwayman or lost myself in exotic cargoes of stately Spanish galleons. I took them for my own begging for my favourites. Naturally enough, whilst young, I didn’t fully understand them. Nevertheless, I learned to love lyrical words to love their musicality and my father was a very enthusiastic performer.

Eventually, perhaps inevitably, I began to write myself. Like most beginners, I made mistakes, using words that were archaic or didn’t quite fit. However, the more poets I read the more I got a sense of what worked and didn’t. I fell in love with Hughes at secondary school. I went on to read any and every poet I could lay my hands on, I still do. Then I liked poems for many reasons, they weren’t hard to read because they were usually smaller with more white space, yet there was often a lot to understand. Despite my dyslexia I could learn them well enough to risk reading them out. Writing poems too required less stamina and even if I had to rewrite them many times, they were only short and I could keep them inside my head and work on them. Poetry gave me something I could succeed at.

Whilst I’m not suggesting everyone who enjoys poetry will or should become a poet I believe I was very privileged to experienced poetry as few do in an unpressurised joyful way. I remain convinced that even in this multimedia world or in a busy school with all the demands of curriculum, making time for purely enjoying poetry really matters. Well any poet would I suppose. However, apart from being great fun, something that should never be underestimated as a learning tool, there are many positive effects from poetry for all children.

Like music poetry is multisensory, research suggests it lights up our brains in a similar way, triggering emotions, developing brain cells and improving memory. Historically our ancestors exploited this quality to record stories as ballads handing them down for generations long before the general populace could read or write.

Equally this memorizing characteristic helps children to learn new words in context whilst rhythm and rhyme help with pronunciation and stresses.

Similarly, rhyming, assonance and alliteration promote literacy, building phonic awareness and grouping phonic patterns.

Learning and acting out poetry also develops physical and verbal coordination laying the ground for all manner of public speaking or performance skills.

Perhaps, equally important though, I feel, an early pleasure in poetry for its own sake is more likely to lead to a lifelong love. For even those who claim to dislike it often turn to it in times of need; to express and explore otherwise inexpressible emotions. Finally though poetry is not alone in allowing us to walk in another’s shoes it is more open in making spaces for our own experiences and uniqueness in each footprint.

Sue Hardy-Dawson (Sue’s new collection, If I were Other than Myself, Troika Books is out soon.)

Sue Hardy-Dawson a poet & illustrator. Her debut collection, Where Zebras Go, Otter-Barry Books was shortlisted for the 2018 CLiPPA. Her second, Apes to Zebras, Bloomsbury, co-written with poetry ambassadors Roger Stevens and Liz Brownlee, won the NSTB Awards. Sue loves visiting schools, has worked with the Prince of Wales Foundation, ‘Children and the Arts’. As a dyslexic poet, she loves encouraging reluctant writers.

Chrissie Gittins: Files Not Found on a Computer

‘Files Not Found On A Computer’ is the title of a poem from ‘Stars in Jars’ (Bloomsbury). I had been thinking about computers, and that however useful they are they cannot replicate the variety of lived experience. I imagined three files which can’t be found on a computer, each containing a list of sensations relating to three of the five senses.

When I use this poem in a workshop in schools I first ask the class what a computer can do that human beings can’t do, and then the reverse. We read through the poem twice, as a class and/or with different voices, so that the children become familiar with the concept and the patterning in the poem.

Files Not Found on a computer

 

The Touch File

a son stroking his father’s cheek,

fingers folding a hamster’s fur,

a face buried in cherry blossom,

enclosing arms of goodnight.

 

The Taste File

 

the saltiness of boiled ham

against soft white bread,

the sharpness of marmalade

melding with butter on solid wholemeal toast,

the twang of rhubarb with ginger

hiding beneath crumble,

the cut of iced sparkling water

swilling down my throat.

 

The Aroma File

a wet dog in the rain,

garlic squashed beneath a knife,

lavender steaming from my bath,

croissant warming Sunday morning.

 

After writing the title and the three verse titles on the board/flip chart I explain that I chose the word ‘aroma’ instead of ‘smell’ to inspire appealing experiences for the nose, rather than ‘bad smells’. I then ask for contributions for each file in turn – something they like the feel/taste/smell of. If their answers are brief I quiz the contributor about their suggestion, encouraging them to expand their answer with precise details and descriptions. I ask for examples from the natural world, and ask them to use specific names of any birds, plants, trees etc. they might want to include. I point out that it’s difficult for their reader to imagine ‘a bird’ or ‘a flower’ in their mind’s eye, but much easier to imagine ‘a magpie’ or ‘a snowdrop’.

I had the opportunity to run this workshop in the middle of a field during the North Cornwall Book Festival in the hamlet of St Endellion with children from a local primary school. The workshop was filmed by BBC Countryfile for a piece concerned with nature words which are in danger of disappearing from children’s vocabularies. This tied in with my most recent poetry collection ‘Adder, Bluebell, Lobster’ (Otter-Barry Books) which takes forty of these endangered nature words as titles for new poems. Before beginning the workshop I usually read several poems from this book, choosing the ones which give plenty of scope for audience interaction such as ‘Blackberry’, ‘Cauliflower’ ‘Mint’ ‘Otter’, ‘Newt’ and ‘Raven’.

Of course there are other verses which could be written on ‘The Sight File’ and ‘The Hearing File’. As we wrote our group poem in Cornwall we were able to hear a lark overhead and the rustling of birch trees, and to see ‘sage green hills melting into the horizon’ (a line from the group poem). We could have also included the wind whipping up the flipchart, or the man who drove his car down the side of the field while his dog ran alongside.

A material-gathering-walk could be incorporated into a school-based workshop with periodic stops to look and listen, smell and touch (maybe not taste?), and to make notes and/or quick sketches.

Wishing you much enjoyment of writing and reading poems in 2020 both inside and en plein air.

Chrissie Gittins

Of Chrissie’s five children’s poetry collections three were Choices for the Poetry Book Society Children’s Poetry Bookshelf, and two were shortlisted for the CLiPPA Poetry Award. She won the Belmont Poetry prize and was a finalist in the Manchester Children’s Literature Prize. Her poems have been animated for Cbeebies TV and she has recorded her poems for the Children’s Poetry Archive. She visits schools, libraries and festivals, she has judged the Caterpillar Poetry Prize and is a National Poetry Day Ambassador. Chrissie’s website.

Cheryl Moskowitz: The Wild Woods of Summer

 

The Wild Woods of Summer

 

The year speeds by
like a bullet train –
a ramjet, scramjet
supersonic aeroplane
streak in the night
bright meteorite
a shooting star
from where we started
to where we are.

And soon now soon now
very very soon
like a giant sized
tight-filled
helium balloon
big and bursting
(but lighter than air)
we’ll rise up high
and disappear.

You can search the sky
but we won’t be there;
we’ll be out of sight
we’ll be underground
we’ll be with friends
and heading on down
to the wild woods
of summer…

The poem which begins and ends this post is published in the current issue of The Caterpillar, a gorgeous magazine chock full of quality writing for children. The wild woods in this poem could be a real place, and also a metaphor for the imagination, the place where all poetry begins. I wrote it for a graduating class of yr6 pupils at Highfield where I was Poet in Residence for 3½ years, anticipating the summer along with them.

Now the May half-term is over, the month of May finished (and PM May’s term of office too), we are all, no doubt, looking ahead to our respective summers, wherever we are and whatever we may be planning to do.

Summer, with its long languorous days and warm, balmy nights. Summer, when it feels as if ‘life might be beginning all over again’ as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby says, ‘with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies’. Or the kind of summer which is ‘everything good to eat…’ and ‘a thousand colours in a parched landscape’ according to Scout Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

For most children, the summer is a time for adventure, play, and time for rest. Away from the hustle and bustle of the classroom it is an opportunity to be by yourself, a time for being outdoors and enjoying a certain peace. For some, it is only when school ends and the summer holidays begin, they can feel free to be truly themselves. In summer it is not only everything around us in nature, but also the imagination that goes wild. No wonder so many great writers pay homage to this season in their poems and stories. Here are some links to three of my favourites.

Lewis Carroll – A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky
Emily Dickinson – As Imperceptibly as Grief
Eleanor Farjeon – It was Long Ago

Poems, summer poems especially, are often about place: the place we’re in, a place we long to go to, or a place we miss. ‘A person can only be born in one place’, writes Palestinian poet and author, Mahmoud Darwish. ‘However, he may die several times elsewhere.’ Darwish was referring specifically to the experience of exile, imprisonment or the way a person is estranged when their homeland is transformed by war or occupation. Childhood, with all its difficult transitions can be a kind of exile, making us feel like strangers, even to ourselves. Each new phase we enter can feel like a mini-death and rebirth. ‘Poetry,’ says Darwish, ‘is perhaps what teaches us to nurture the charming illusion: how to be reborn out of ourselves over and over again, and use words to construct a better world, a fictitious world that enables us to sign a pact for a permanent and comprehensive peace… with life.’

This time of year, with the pressure of exams and everything out of place with the end of term looming, encouraging pupils to read or write poetry may be low on the school or home agenda. However, for children, parents and teachers alike it might be that poetry is just the thing that is needed to establish a place for yourself and ensure a positive and productive summer.

Here are some opportunities (all FREE to enter):

1) Throughout the summer writers of all ages are invited to write poems about place, heritage and identity, and pin them to the Places of Poetry map. I’ve written some resources to get you started (KS1–KS5, plus teacher guides) available via the Poetry Society or the Places of Poetry website.

2) Betjeman Poetry Prize invites poems on the theme of ‘Place’ by 10-13 year olds.

3) Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award for 11-17 year olds invites poems on any theme!

4) The Winchester Poetry Festival runs the Young Poets and Artists Competition for children living in Hampshire aged 4-16. This year they want poems about ‘Seasons’ – why not write about summer?

The days unfold
like a three-toed sloth –
a crawlback, sprawlback
laze in the undergrowth
tar-drip slow
dreams of indigo
time to chill
from the end of your bed
to the windowsill.

So forget about school
(but not completely!)
break a few rules
but do it sweetly
and this time
when that home bell goes,
kick off your shoes
and wiggle your toes,
hang up your things
put your schoolbag down
turn the corner
and head on round
to the wild woods of summer.

 

Cheryl Moskowitz

 

Cheryl Moskowitz is a poet, performer, playwright and educator. She studied Developmental Psychology at Sussex University and trained in dramatherapy and psychodynamic counselling. In 1996 she co-founded LAPIDUS (The Association for the Literary Arts in Personal Development) and taught on the Creative Writing and Personal Development MA at Sussex University from 1996–2010.

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. Currently she is working with Pop Up and KSENT, a three-year project bringing authors into schools to develop creative resources for use in SEN schools across Kent.

She is an editor for MAGMA poetry magazine, on the organising committee for the European Psychoanalytic Film Festival (epff10) and co-hosts, together with her musician husband, Alastair Gavin, The All Saints Sessions, a bi-monthly experimental music and poetry performances.

Publications include novel, Wyoming Trail, Granta (1998), poetry for children Can it Be About Me? Frances Lincoln (2012) and poetry for adults The Girl is Smiling, Circle Time Press (2012).

Cheryl’s Website.

 

Rachel Rooney: Reflections on a Poetry Project

Reflections on a Poetry Project

Several years ago, I happened upon a TV documentary about Limpsfield Grange; a secondary residential and day school for girls with communication and interaction difficulties. My interest was piqued, both as a former SEN teacher and as a parent of someone with an Aspergers diagnosis. Alongside this, the nature of certain girls within the film caught my attention; reminding me somewhat of my former self. Long story short, I returned a year later (with my own relatively unexpected Aspergers diagnosis) to begin an Arts Council-funded autism and poetry project at their school.

There’s a growing recognition of the unique relationship that poetry and (able) autism can hold. Attention to detail, heightened interest in pattern, slantwise thinking, and a desire to communicate that which can’t readily be spoken are just some of the ways that these worlds intersect. I’d wager that a disproportionate number of poets, knowingly or not, are placed somewhere along the autistic spectrum! However, this is not to say the poetry residency itself was a breeze. It took several sessions for groups to settle and fully engage with me. Anxiety, lack of confidence, a resistance to change, and a reluctance to speak in group settings were some of the challenges they might face.

But during my time there, I witnessed definite poetic moments, both in their creative writing and, more importantly, in aspects of personal development. The anxious girl, who leaves the session, only to return in time to successfully complete her poem. The perfectionist who manages to accept that it’s really is okay not to write a satisfying poem that day. The shy student who musters the voice to read her work out, then receiving spontaneous applause from her classmates. These small acts of bravery help to build resilience and self-confidence.

Almost all poetry demands an emotion, but it also requires the control of that emotion. Therein lies its power. To illustrate, here’s a poem written by one pupil, in our last free-write session:

Nightmare

(on losing an elephant lucky charm)

Security waves and slips away
knowing it’s not yet seen.
Sorrow and grief will come around
when I wake up from my dream.

I open it up and look inside.
The empty packet gleams.
My heart begins to shatter
and there’s nothing to be seen.

They don’t quite understand it all,
small as it may seem.
My problem’s large as an elephant
and a drop becomes a stream.

A tiny thing can be so big.
Streams can lead to sea.
I’ll find my way eventually
and wake up from this dream.

That day, the student who’d written this had been very upset. A treasured miniature elephant charm she’d carried around for years had gone missing. At break time I’d noticed she was visibly distressed and I wondered how she’d manage in our workshop later. But I also knew she was a natural poet, one who valued her own creative writing process. So I wasn’t surprised when I was presented with this poem, written in the twenty-minute writing slot that our workshops allowed. Later, in her feedback form she written ‘I liked it because I could say my feelings and writing one of my poems helped me through a difficult time.’

We ended the project with a celebratory recitation from some of the pupils, accompanied by live illustrations, courtesy of Chris Riddell, who’d kindly agreed to donate his time and talent to the day. One the many highlights of the fifteen months there was watching that young poet reading out in a strong clear voice, to a large, appreciative audience. That, for me, is the essence of poetry.

I’m in the process of collating some of their poems to be published in an illustrated booklet Welcome to My World, soon to be available from Limpsfield Grange School. I am also working on a collection of poems in response to my experience there.

Rachel Rooney.com

RacheI Rooney’s poetry collection The Language of Cat, latest edition illustrated by Ellie Jenkins, won the CLPE Poetry Award and was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal. Her second collection My Life as a Goldfish, Illustrated by Ellie Jenkins, was shortlisted for the CLiPPA 2015. Her new book, A Kid in My Class, illustrated by Chris Riddell and published by Otter-Barry Books, has been shortlisted for the CLiPPA 2019. Rachel visits schools for workshops with pupils and has performed her work at festivals and for The Children’s Bookshow. She was Chair of Judges for the CLiPPA 2017 and the Betjeman Poetry Prize.