Teresa Cremin: A 2021 Poetry Pledge

A 2021 Poetry Pledge

As poetry and fiction have their roots in everyday speech, our first experiences of poetry are often aural. From our earliest years we take pleasure in the playful, rhythmic nature of language which is poetic in nature.  This ‘memorable speech’ (Auden and Garret, 1935) often entices young children to participate orally in word play and encourages them to experiment with and absorb playground rhymes, songs, football chants, jingles, jokes and lyrics.

So as a New Year’s resolution, I invite you to commit to celebrating the power and pleasure in  poetry more regularly. Perhaps, like me, you’ll pledge to read a poem aloud each day during January? I’m going to give voice to verse daily, bringing ‘dead’ words on the page to life and tracking the consequences of this simple act on myself as an adult reader and on those around me. If you’re a teacher, as many readers of this blog are, I wonder what the impact of reading a poem a day will be on the young people? 

If you agree to join me, then I suggest making such a plan public – with the children, with family and even on social media- this is likely to ensure we sustain our commitment and help us pay close attention to any emergent consequences.

Might you set a particular time aside for this? I think I’m going to read aloud a poem just before or after supper, Mark, my husband, might listen in then. In classrooms, (in person or virtually),  I recommend selecting a space that has the capacity to stretch over time, i.e. not at the close of the day or just before a break – who knows what might happen?

What might you read? Personally, I’m going to make a pile of some old but gold, alongside some new and bold poetry collections, and revisit a range of forms and styles, seeking to move well beyond those which are explicitly created/framed to be read aloud.  In schools, maybe themed weeks will develop with female poets or verse about particular topics of interest – food, animals, injustice – and a recommendations table with teachers and children’s favourites bookmarked for reading time.  I guess I’ll be re-reading some too, to discern their nature or to taste them on my tongue again.

How might you share this time with others?  I imagine Mark will browse my collection if I leave them lying around, and my reading will prompt discussion, just as in school. Soon enough, I expect teachers will find children making requests and offering to read aloud too. If this doesn’t happen naturally, I’d trigger it and invite pairs or groups to volunteer to prepare readings or mini performances to share with the class. Developing this idea, Sadie Philips from a London primary school, brought in an old twig tree, introduced it as a special ‘Poet-Tree’ and invited children to copy their chosen read/performed poems onto a leaf ,(later laminated), for others to enjoy.  The children’s ownership of their Poet-Tree had consequences and triggered increased awareness, pleasure and engagement in the form.

Poetry deserves to be heard. Voicing a poem each day will help build poems ‘in common’ in homes and classrooms. Our research suggests that we live through such ‘texts in common’  together and when they are offered for the sole purpose of  shared enjoyment, they represent a rich resource for repeated readings, conversation and connections.  In addition, they nurture our pleasure in reading and play a particularly resonant role in helping build reading communities (Cremin, 2018).

Will you join me?

Teresa Cremin

Teresa Cremin is Professor of Education (Literacy) at the Open University. An advocate of developing teachers’ creative artistry, Teresa researches teachers’ and children’s literate identities and practices. Her most recent books include Children reading for pleasure in the digital age: Mapping reader engagement (with Natalia Kucirkova, 2020) and the forthcoming Teaching English Creatively (3rd edition).

Teresa leads a professional user-community website that supports over 100 OU/UKLA Teachers’ Reading Groups and 30 HEI partnerships across the country in order to support the development of children’s and teachers’ pleasure in reading. @TeresaCremin

Teresa Cremin: Profiling Poetry this December

Profiling Poetry this December

It’s Yuletide – a time for carols, songs, stories and poetry– a time to tempt children with the words and tunes, rhythm and rhyme that play into this space of celebration. Over the decades, teachers have made this time special in school, offering class, whole school and community events that involve giving, receiving and so much more.

It is also a rich opportunity to read, write and perform poetry together and to seize those liminal spaces when half the class are at a play practice or are finishing making cards for instance. So, in this Christmas blog, given there is scant time for thinking as we rush from job to job, planning food, writing cards and generally panicking (well I am!),  I thought I’d simply share some ideas for profiling poetry this December.

Advent Calendar Poetree: This idea was developed by Miss Graham, an NQT from Edge Hill University who is working at Kingsmoor Junior in Carlisle, Cumbria. Eager to foster children’s reading for pleasure @MissGrahamteach hid 24 wrapped poems in each classroom, children find the day’s poem and share it! Each dated poem also has a challenge on the back- a discussion question relating to the topic or form of the poem to get children buzzing about poetry!

Poems as Christmas Gifts: Inviting the class to write their own poems as gifts for family members always works well. Focusing on a chosen relative or friend, rather than the jolly red stereotypes of Christmas is often more engaging. The key, as George Szirtes highlights, is to avoid platitudes and clichés, but to let the pressure of such avoidance ‘be felt at every juncture of each line and each word. That pressure is the pressure of the imagination, the auditory imagination if you like’. You could explore what makes their grandma so special – what are the objects in her house, her voice,  style, typical expressions and so forth. Or you could play the furniture game and encourage them to imagine their grandad as a piece of furniture ‘a deep leather sofa creased and loved’ perhaps? Printed on card and illustrated, this will be given with love.

Poetry Recommendations for Parents: Encouraging poetry gift giving, schools can offer a recommended booklist of their top ten poetry collections, perhaps on the school website or newsletter.

Pop-up Poets: Why not interleave  opportunities to share poetry – the children’s own and others – when parents come to see their children’s work or attend events? You could create pop-up poets who, having prepped their chosen poem in small groups, are at the ready when a governor, parents or others come by? They can then rush off and perform their poem – ‘Talkin turkeys’ by Benjamin Zephaniah or ‘The computer’s first Christmas card’ by Edwin Morgan would work well amongst many others.

Poetry in Christmas gatherings: Most schools will be joining together in a special assembly or performance. Why not interleave the printed programme with children’s own poems? Or offer live poetry during the interval?  Saint Andrew’s C of E Primary school Halstead hold an annual candlelight service for the children who sit in a circle around the candles while each member of staff reads a poem or an extract. One teacher there, Claire Williams (@borntosparkle), tells me that the sense of peace and ‘togetherness’ is tangible, especially when the headteacher closes by reading ‘A visit from Saint Nicolas’ by Clement Clarke Moore. Sounds very memorable.

Regardless of the way you enjoy poetry with your class this December, I hope you and the children will be tempted by the words and tunes, the ideas and images that such rich language provides.

Teresa Cremin

Teresa is Professor of Education (Literacy) at the Open University. An advocate of teachers’ creative artistry, Teresa is also passionate about developing readers for life and leads a professional user-community website based on her research into reading for pleasure. The site supports over 80 OU/UKLA Teachers’ Reading Groups and 24 HEI partnerships across the country. Teresa Cremin’s OU webpage.