Jonathan Douglas: A Smile That Can Never Fade

Every week at the National Literacy Trust I look forward to our ‘poem of the week’ – a poem shared by a colleague that they like or that means something to them. We’ve had everything from Keats to Stormzy via Imtiaz Dharker and Dr Seuss. In one particularly memorable poem of the week, our website manager Greg shared Hello Mr Python by Spike Milligan for Reptile Awareness Day (21st October, in case you’re wondering). It was the first piece of writing he memorised as a 7 year old and he took great pleasure in reciting it to anyone who’d listen. He loved that a grown-up had taken time out of their busy adult life to write a collection of poems for children like him and how daft and irreverent the poem was – coupled with some excellent python facts. It was a brilliant reminder that the poems children enjoy can stay with them well into their adult life. Even if we don’t remember every single word, the memory of the joy it brought us doesn’t fade.

Over the last year the poems colleagues have shared have included messages of hope and positivity. Last week our brilliant knowledge manager (and unofficial poem of the week champion) Emily shared Samuel Beckett’s earliest known poem, written when he was aged between 14 and 16 and found in his friend’s school album:

When a bit of sunshine hits you

After passing of a cloud

And a bit of laughter gets you

And your spine is feeling proud

Don’t forget to up and fling it

At a soul that’s feeling blue

For the moment that you sling it

It’s a boomerang to you.

This one particularly resonated because I think we could all use ‘a bit of sunshine’ in the current circumstances.

As a form poetry connects us with our emotions perhaps more than any other. Our research into children’s writing during the first lockdown showed us that this is true for children too. We saw that for children who wrote more in their spare time during that period, they did so because it made them feel creative and it helped their wellbeing. For children who told us that writing makes them feel better – poetry was the most popular form. In many ways it was not surprising that poetry was more popular than diaries, fiction or song lyrics. Poetry distils creativity and emotions on a page, no matter what age we are.

I’m next on our poem of the week rota and it’s usually a challenging job to pick the right poem but this week I’m going to stay on theme and share a bit of sunshine. The Store Full of Magical Things by Rutendo Tavengerai is included in The Book of Hopes anthology and I hope it will bring a smile to the faces of my National Literacy Trust colleagues.

Over the next half term we’re thrilled to be working with BUPA to produce wellbeing resources on Zone In, our website for young people aged 13 and over; rest assured there will be lots of poetry.

Jonathan Douglas

Jonathan Douglas CBE is Chief Executive of the National Literacy Trust. Previously he was Head of Policy Development at the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, where he also worked as Head of Learning and Access. Prior to that, he was Professional Adviser for Youth and School Libraries at the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. He has also worked as a librarian and in children’s services for Westminster Libraries. Jonathan is on the Advisory Committee of The Booker Prize, a trustee for World Book Day and The Philosophy Foundation, and Chair of Governors at his local primary school. In 2020 Jonathan was awarded a CBE for services to education.