Pie Corbett: The Neverbelieve Flora Workshop

‘The Land of Neverbelieve’ by Norman Messenger is an invitation to create fantastical islands. I used the book as part of a series of online workshops with TeachingLive to create new islands, creatures and plants.

To warm up, we played an oral game in pairs, with a limit of 4 minutes. The children created new flowers from imagined ingredients. We listed different parts of flowers: roots, stem, flower, fruit, leaf, pollen, petals, etc. I provided a simple frame to help generate ideas:

Instructions for making a flower

To make the roots, I would use –

the straggly hair of wild woman,

thick electricity cables

and rats’ tails.

To make the trunk, I would use….

To make the petals, I would use… etc.

Next, I asked the children to name their flower. I showed a list of real flower names many of which are ‘compounds’: snapdragon, milkweed, bluebell, goldenrod, etc. I suggested they create something similar: sunlily, moonrose, streetiris, etc.

Next, they described the different parts of their flower using similes. We wrote together a few ideas before they created their own:

The sunlily’s petals are like paper-thin flags, as soft as Parisian silk and blue as a summer sky.

The rainrose’s roots are like the dark threads from ancient tapestry, as tough as a leather handbag and dark as a mole’s tunnel.

In the next ten minutes, the children wrote using personification to bring their plant alive. I modelled sentences with the class; we banked a list of useful verbs: stand, lean, stoop, whisper, scratch, grasp, etc.

The pincushion flower stands like a soldier with its sharp spikes waiting to scratch.

The goldenlupin stoops when the snow smothers its branches, bowing its skeletal head like an old man at prayer.

Finally, I shared a model poem and asked them to write about their own plants, drawing on a similar structure (open with the name of your plant – then describe parts of the plant, using imagery and personification). My poem is followed by two examples from St Anthony’s Primary School.

Moonflowers blossom

like silver umbrellas,

stretching out green vines

that grasp onto nearby trees.

Their red roots,

like wire, dig deep

into soft soil

that crumbles

easily as fruit cake.

The green stem juts up,

like a flexible straw,

as green as cat’s eyes.

Leaves hang

like soft fingernails.

Pastel pale flowers,

edged with red, yawn

to reveal the secret stash

of pollen gold.

Pie Corbett

Flameblossom trees bend and dance in the breeze,
Like flexible gymnasts.
Their branches lean and creak with grace,
Grabbing at the shining sun.
The trunks are as rough as tractor tires,
Covered in brown, sticky mud.
With bark as shiny as solid gold,
Cracking at every problem it overcomes.
The roots are like stretchy elastic,
Pulling the tree down with all its might.
Twigs as skinny as a clock’s hand,
Snapping at every emotion.
Leaves as smooth as plush velvet,
That fall down every autumn that arrives.

By Poppy

Wintertrees shed beads of frosty sweat,

They skate their branches through the snow,

pushing like a sledge,

speeding down paths of gravel.

Their roots like the icy carcass of a mushroom,

clinging to the ground.

The trunk is sharp like an icicle’s speech, 

staying in the mind forever.

Bark, rough as gnarled hands, withered in the sun.

Leaves, calm as silk, tangerine, tiger and marmalade,

crimson, currant and candy, corn, canary and butter,

smothered in chiffon snow.

Twigs, like fingers, clawing at the sky.

The land, where it sits, is pearl-shaded snow,

with spikes of sapphire icicles dotting here and there.

Memories clinging, in the branches and leaves so kind.

The secret to life, 

hollowed out inside.

Waiting for someone, 

to wonder by…

By Maya

Pie Corbett

Pie Corbett is a teacher-poet. He runs online training for teachers and every Monday works with about 6,000 children on @TeachingLive, running writing sessions of poetry, creative nonfiction and story. 


Pie Corbett: The Masks Project

The mask poetry and art project brought together young artists and writers from Coastlands (C) and Gomersal (G) Primary schools to work with the @TeachingLive team online. Gomersal had been designing and creating masks as part of their work on Mayans.

The schools worked with me for one online session, writing images and ideas based on masks. In pairs, we began with an oral game to warm up the imagination. Partner A invents a type of mask using a colour, e.g. The gold mask … and partner B invents 2 or 3 things that it is made of, e.g. … is made from a bumble bee’s wings and sunlight on a stained glass window. Roles were swapped after several minutes. Using padlet, we shifted on to writing ideas:

The emerald green mask is made from the shed skin of a lizard’s scales, and the sharp spikes of a cactus, Grace (G)

The mask of space is made from the soul of Jupiter, the skin of a dozen stars and the ash of the Milky Way. Lucy (G)

Following a discussion about creating sound effects with alliteration and imagery to build pictures, we wrote lines about what would happen if you put on different masks:

I put on the mask of summer

and I felt a whisper of sunlight. Mason (C)

I put on the mask of Autumn,

and Halloween disappeared

like a droplet in the sunshine.  Millie (C)

I put on the mask of joy

and sad shafts of sunlight surrounded me. Zoe (C)

I put on the mask of green

and smelt the lizard’s paws. Jason (C))

The final writing challenge was to create a mask out of ingredients that you might see, hear, touch, taste or smell.

I would take the sound of a fox snuffling under the stars.

Seb (C)

I would take the taste of my Nana’s freshly cooked and sliced gammon and her tasty roast potatoes.

Willow (G)

I would take the touch of a soft, plush cloud, the velvety feel of cherry blossom petals and juice trickling through my outstretched fingers.

Willow (G)

The online session lasted an hour and we were able to give immediate feedback to almost all the ideas as they were written.  Several weeks later, poems and masks poured onto the website.

I put on the masks of wild

and remembered the importance of bees.

Sebastian (C)

When I wear the coral mask of autumn

I think of

pumpkins that have just been carved,

Golden Marigolds sharing their secrets…

Millie (C)

The mask of shadows is made from

A feather from Lucifer’s wing,

Mason (C)

The Mask of Joy

If you look at the world around you 

and see plastic pollution,

wars in Ukraine,

squabbling politicians,

troubled people fighting 

and rainforests dying,

You could put on your mask of joy

and listen to the laughter of the crows,

to the sea swishing in the shingle.

You could feel the swift of air

and marvel in the mystery 

of life swirling through the trees.

And once you feel more cheerful,

you can take off your mask

and hide it away safely

so it’s there whenever you might need it.

Zoe (C)

When I wear my forest mask
I smell the dampness of the earth
and the sweet scent of the primroses
scattered through the glade like stars.
Eva (C)

Leave me the mask
The one full of pain
That is scarred and wounded
Hobbling across the cut grass.
Emma (C)

Linking art and writing provides the opportunity to process ideas and build images and metaphors in different ways.

Pie Corbett

Thanks to the teachers: Wenda Davies and Mandy Barrett.

See more Poems:  https://teachinglive.net/tag/masks-and-poetry/

See Masks:  https://radioblogging.padlet.org/deputymitchell2/5onwum9k1nrd5pu7

Pie’s latest collection ‘Catalysts’ has over 130 catalyst poems. Available from: https://shop.talk4writing.com/products/catalysts-poems-for-writing

Pie Corbett: Poems with Constraint

Those who do not write might expect that creativity starts with the blank page. However, writing with constraint, under specific instruction, pattern or imposition, often liberates creativity. The trick is to make sure that the constraint does not limit the possibilities but acts as a way of opening up, providing a scaffold rather like a coat-hanger for ideas.

Whilst I love the ballads of Charles Causley, as a model for writing they provide too sophisticated a challenge for almost every primary child. However, writing a number poem from 1 to 10 which uses alliteration is enough of a challenge to generate writing that demands thought:

One white walrus waggles a weary wand at a wonderful washerwoman.

Two testy trains tried to tackle a tremendous, tantalising tin of tomatoes.

 A moment ago, neither the walrus nor the washerwoman existed but the constraint forced me to sift ideas, dredge my mind for alliterative possibilities and use the underlying sentence pattern to bring something new into being.

Alphabets offer a structure that releases ideas as the pattern is sufficiently simple for everyone to use. This list is based on advice for a hobbit on an adventure:

Avoid alleyways which may appear useful as an avenue of escape but almost invariably are dark, poorly lit and have robbers waiting.

Bridges are usually manned by bridge elves and may have aggressive trolls underneath.

Caverns and caves offer shelter. However, goblins and dragons live underground…

The 1960’s OuLiPo movement used mathematical formula to produce strange and rather dull writing. However, adopting a writing form such as a recipe can liberate. This extract is from a recipe for the desire for beauty by Beth, year 6.

Pick an eyelash from Aphrodite’s lemon hair.

Grab a pair of emerald frog’s legs so you can leap Mount Olympus,

Rip a page out of Tom Riddle’s diary full of blankness and mystery,

Grind the lime tangled vines that reach out from the corners of your room…

Alongside the constraint of a recipe format, another challenge in this poetry workshop was to ‘name it’. This shifts from the general to the particular so that ‘an eyelash from your hair’ becomes ‘an eyelash from Aphrodite’s hair’. It is the difference between, ‘the man got in the car’ and ‘Boris Johnson got into the Skoda’. ‘Naming it’ helps to strengthen an image.

Another popular constraint requires the writer to write a passage and then swap all the nouns or verbs for fruit or vegetables. So that, ‘I woke up this morning, climbed out of my bed and brushed my teeth before running down the stairs’ becomes ‘I appled up this morning, lemoned out of my bed and pineappled my teeth before bananaing down the stairs’ or ‘I woke up this marrow, climbed out of my potato and brushed my runner beans before running down the cucumber’. What fun!

A recent and more challenging idea that I have been playing with involves exploring how one thing leads to another – poetic inevitability.

As a result of dark clouds – snowmen gather at dusk.

As a result of snowmen – no carrots for lunch.

As a result of lunch – empty fridge.

As a result of empty fridge – trip to supermarket.

As a result of supermarket – plastic wrappings in bin.

As a result of plastic – dead dolphin.

As a result of dolphin – sewn sea.

As a result of sea – dark clouds above.

The success of a poetry writing session is not just about an interesting idea, model or constraint – it also hinges around 3 key conditions: a class brainstorm; share write a class poem; and children writing in silence with a time-limit to create a sense of meditative concentration.

Pie Corbett

Pie Corbett’s latest collection ‘Catalysts’ has over 130 catalyst poems that act as models, offering patterns and constraints for writing. Ideal for primary schools and anyone interested in writing. Available from: https://shop.talk4writing.com/products/catalysts-poems-for-writing

Karl Nova: Unwrapping the Gift

I am sitting here finally writing this and as I think of what I want to say, I realise that once again I don’t really regard myself as a children’s poet, but somehow I have been able to be active for a long time working with young people in primary and secondary schools as well as colleges and Universities. So how did all this happen?

For one thing, during my time in school, I never had an author visit, I never did a poetry lesson or even read poetry. I went to Burton End Primary School in Haverhill, Suffolk up until year 3 and then I was taken to live with my father in Lagos, Nigeria unexpectedly and over there I never did a lesson of poetry either.

It was my discovery of rap music that made me want to pick up a pen and write any kind of verse and it was my older cousin’s influence that inspired me further to love putting words together. Thankfully my discovery of rap was at the time it was more playful and about having a positive message. Many people don’t know Hip Hop leans towards learning and communicating a message and it was this fact together with my older cousin that sparked up my imagination.

The Hip Hop artists themselves would talk about their verses as poetry and would refer to poetic devices they were using in their verses (metaphors, similes etc) and it made me pay attention much closer in English class. In fact, my academic writing in school improved so much, I ended up having my essays read out in class by my Year 4 teacher and in secondary school I represented my school in essay writing competitions.

As I grew, I would write so much on my own, it was very therapeutic and such an amazing personal journey of discovering that I have a place to channel my personal thoughts and feelings in such a fun and enjoyable way.

Soon I found friends in Year 10 and Year 11 who had similar interests and we would write verses in our spare time. It was all exciting. We just did it because we loved it, we never thought we could be actual artists at the time.

Fast forward to later on in life, I had a hip hop artist friend who was a mentor to me. He showed me that I could take my skills as a hip hop artist and poet into schools. I never knew artists like myself did that. When I got into schools and worked with young people, I found out it was an easy transition because I had memories of my cousin writing with me as some kind of foundation to stand on. I also could take my skills as a writer and performer and use them in an educational setting. Like I said earlier, the culture of Hip Hop lends itself to teaching and I was able to lean into that so easily.

I am able to work with young people of all ages because the joy of playing with words and shaping language I discovered through rap music is a joy they are all experiencing to some degree through the rap music they are listening to today. I was able to tap into my inner child and relate to them. I am able to communicate that enthusiasm I found as a child that has never left me.

The kind of artistic expression I bring is inclusive of everyone and it has a cool factor attached to it that I am very aware of. I guess I am able to do what I do because I stayed in touch with my inner child through this wonderful gift I found.

Karl Nova

Karl Nova is an independent Hip Hop artist, poet and author. He received the CLiPPA poetry prize for his debut book “Rhythm And Poetry” in 2018 and also the Ruth Rendell award for his services to literary contribution in 2020. His second book “The Curious Case of Karl Nova” was nominated for CILIP Carnegie medal in 2022. He has widely travelled both nationally and internationally bringing the inspiration of written and spoken word to many. 

He is known for his energetic, witty and relatable performances and delivers hip hop flavoured creative writing workshops in his own unique style.

Cheryl Moskowitz: From The Raven to The Odyssey

From The Raven to the Odyssey

So here we are, a new year and schools closed again.

As a poet writing for children, I want to know: what it is like to be a child at this time? What is most boring, most interesting, most concerning about the current situation from a child’s point of view? How are they spending their time? What games are they playing? What stories and poems are they reading, and what do they themselves most need to write?

When the first lockdown began in March 2020 I spoke to children directly about the pandemic, about not being able to go to school or see their friends. They talked about their worries and frustrations, their wishes and hopes, and their visions for a corona-free world. I wrote poems in response to those conversations to reflect their experience. Back then the coronavirus was new. Scary perhaps but also different, interesting and maybe even for some, exciting.

Children from Margate class with their ‘Poetry Passports’ at The Beacon, a foundation special school in Kent 

Since then we have been through many rule changes, loosening and tightening of restrictions and at the time of writing, we have just entered a new national lockdown and Covid-19 is no longer a novelty.

The pandemic is not the only thing going on in children’s lives – new things happen all the time. Fresh experiences that need processing. That’s why conversation is so important. To converse means literally to ‘live among’ or to be ‘familiar with’ and it is how we exchange important feelings and ideas. Social distancing puts up barriers to conversation, so we have had to find new ways to converse meaningfully, particularly with our children.

Last Autumn, when schools were in attendance, I was fortunate enough to take part in Pop Up’s SEND Festival, usually a hands-on literature programme for pupils in special schools. This time the ‘hands-on’ element needed to be virtual rather than actual but that was an exciting and interesting challenge.

My first task was to find a way to familiarise myself with the children and them with me, before my online visit. Key to this was talking to teachers about their pupils, finding out about individual quirks. I also made a video in which I introduced myself and set the pupils a task of making a ‘poetry passport’. They had to choose an alias instead of their name, identify a distinguishing characteristic, state a like and dislike, a dream, an ambition, and something they would never do. 

This ‘sneak peek’ I had of the children’s personalities, dreams and dreads enabled me to write a riddle-type poem containing hints of all their identities and proved to be an engaging way to start the session. Having recognised themselves in the poem I’d written, they were much more willing to engage and write revealing and moving poems of their own, even though (or maybe because!) I was on one side of the screen and they on the other. 

When we share a piece of writing or a favourite poem with one another this is also a form of conversation. During these past months I’ve been mentoring a 9-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy in creative writing. It has been revelatory to let these young people set the agenda. The boy, who loves dystopian fiction, led me to ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe which, with its powerful incantation Nevermore, is a poem about living with loss.

The girl has steered me towards Homer’s Odyssey and we are still puzzling together whether the eponymous hero should be held responsible for so many of his fellow men’s deaths. There could not be two better metaphors for our times. Schools may be closed but children’s minds are most certainly not.

Cheryl Moskowitz

Cheryl Moskowitz is a poet and educator. 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. She serves on the Creative Council for Create Arts and is working with Pop Up on a three-year project to develop creative resources for use in SEN schools across Kent.

Becky Fisher: A dream is like a pile of cotton floating in the sky – young poets and their writing

Amid all the doom and gloom of slashed PGCE bursaries, university English departments being threatened with cuts and closures, and the general frustration and anxiety that COVID-19 has brought to all of us, I have felt very fortunate to have two bright spots in the past week – all thanks to some wonderful young poets. 

Artist: James Brown

I was really lucky to be able to attend the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Ceremony, an afternoon celebrating the brilliant young writers who had been selected as winners. During the ceremony, we heard from a selection of the young poets who had tackled challenging issues personal to them through their passionate, courageous, creative poems. Death, loss, and grief; love, friendship, and community; uncertainty, familiarity, and cultural traditions were all woven through the astonishing work. I found myself closing my eyes to be able to take in all the sounds and shapes the poets were conjuring. More than once, I smiled; my eyes filled with tears; I laughed out loud. If you’re finding things hard going at the moment, and you need a little lift, I encourage you to settle in with a brew and take a moment to listen to the poets reading their work

The Poetry Society Cafe Window illustrating the winning 100 Foyles Poems. Artwork by Imogen Foxell – 7th October 2020 Photo: Hayley Madden.

Another boost to my spirits was the opportunity to observe the inspiring poet, writer, and teacher Kate Clanchy as she ran the first of three workshops in the Poetry Possibility series. Delivered by the Forward Arts Foundation in partnership with the University of the West of England, Reading University, and the English Association, these workshops introduce new and trainee English teachers to ways of teaching poetry in school that focus on enjoyment and creativity. The first workshop was all about creative word games that lead to a poem, and which Kate has used to great success in the classroom. For example, we started by playing the Surrealist Game: grab yourself a piece of A4 paper and a pen and have a go now!

Step 1: Fold your piece of A4 paper in half then in half again, then tear along the fold lines to get four smaller pieces of paper.

Step 2: On the first piece of paper, write a concrete noun.

Step 3: On the second piece of paper, write the definition of your concrete noun.

Step 4: On the third piece of paper, write an abstract noun.

Step Five: On the fourth piece of paper, write the definition of your abstract noun.

Now for the fun part! Match your concrete noun up with the definition of your abstract noun and see what you end up with… For example, you might mix up the definition of ‘a glass’ and ‘hope’ to end up with a statement like: ‘hope is a vessel used to contain liquids that we drink to quench our thirst’. I’ve played the game myself a few times in the days afterwards; the experience is a bit like laying out a spread of tarot cards and looking for the meaning hidden within. 

Kate then led the group through a period of quiet, individual writing, where we used our image-collages to build a poem of our own. Throughout the workshop, Kate shared the incredible work of the young poets she has taught in the past: they had produced such impactful, poignant poems that I actually found it a bit intimidating to write my own – but if I were heading into my classroom the next day I would have felt excited to try this technique with my class. If I haven’t inspired you yet, just turn to Kate’s Twitter account, where she shares the work of her young poets with the world; I promise you will find something there that speaks to you. 

Finally, I’ll leave you with some of the unedited work created by a Year 9 class in Bradford on Avon, led by teacher Amy Battensby. Her class played the Surrealist Game live online, inspired by Kate’s workshop. Many thanks to Amy and her class for sharing these poems with us.



“Wealth” is a disease that changes your life,

And the life of the people around you.

It fills your mind with countless desires,

And sickens the view of you in other’s eyes.

You become so ill you see people differently,

So sick you treat them differently.

And unless you can find a cure,

Everyone you know is suffering.




it is grey and colourless 

it smells like the ashes left from a fire 

it tastes bitter and sounds empty 

and it lives alone. 



My own poem – Endless thoughts 


Thoughts sing and dance around, 

They fly high above the clouds, 

But they fall through doors, 

Of endless sounds, 

And end up Lost to man.  

Their wings take them everywhere, 

But fail on them when they get too far, 

Because in the end they need a break, 

But cannot find anywhere to rest, 

As they fall so slow so fast, 

They find peace in the past. 

You find them in the deepest parts,  

Where one got trapped and another got free 

But they wind up fighting but escape nobody, 

And they submit to the mistakes, 

Made by the wings on their own body   


ate is a feeling like a burning house
One that doesn’t make you feel happy


A dream is like a pile of cotton floating in the sky, when your sad it rains, when your happy it snows and there may not be one at all, a dream may follow you, guide you, be your shadow, it always knows how you feel, a dream may be angry and may bring a storm, it may cloud the sky with darkness, when that is gone and you awake there will always be a rainbow


Time is a child and a coffin.
It is an biography for all things when they started and ended,
Yet there is no entry for it.
It can stretch bend the rules of the universe with no consequence, but does it like a curious child
Does it plays and watches the forever go on and on
Time rules over everything, but it’s forever so does it even see who it rules over for the blink of an eye
Does everyone pass by it before it can say hello?
Is it alone? It is along in the everything forever universe
Does it lie down rest and sleep because it can’t do anything with its omnipotence
It is a coffin? Is it a child and a coffin?



It floats around the world despite it being 2020
It controls women’s confidence, it controls their body
When was it okay for men to tell women what to wear and what not to wear?
How to look, how to act, what to do
To stay at home, to clean, to look after te children
Since when was that their personality
When was it decided that men should have a higher standard to lige?
Why does it still go on..?

How does it still go on?
Why is it there have such a pay gap?
But when raised, just told to shush

Becky Fisher

Becky Fisher is CEO of the English Association.

Debbie Pullinger: A Poem in the Head

A Poem in the Head

Lockdown has been an unlooked-for boost for poetry. Under pressure, creative juices have leaked out and poems have sprouted in every spare bit of ground. At the same time, appetites have grown, and some – like my friend who’s learning a load of Larkin – have even turned to memorising.

If lockdown poems have poured out of you, then you’ve something to show for it all. But what if you have simply coaxed them off the page and into your head? What’s to show for that? And why not simply enjoy reading them, rather than going to the bother of learning?

These were precisely the kinds of questions with which we began our Poetry and Memory project at the University of Cambridge. We were interested in the value of the memorised poem, and how knowing poems by heart affects appreciation and understanding. Our findings point to a constellation of potential benefits – for anyone, at any age. You can read more about the project here. But to highlight just three, a poem in the heart …

  • becomes a valuable emotional resource, often growing and changing with us.
  • creates a sense of ownership – and for children, that can provide a vital sense of mastery as well as being a staging post to other poems.
  • open us to possibility – like Becky Fisher’s mum, you never know where, or who, it might lead to…

Lines in the head also help with the lines that come out. We know that for so many of our great poets, a store of memorised poetry was instrumental in their achievement – what Seamus Heaney called “bedding the ear with a kind of linguistic hardcore”. When poetry learning was reinstated on the primary curriculum in 2012, it was not universally welcomed. Even so, it does build an instinctual awareness of how poetic language works. It’s great to hear on this blog about the inspiring work poets are doing in schools – and to read some of the poems which come out of that. And as these young writers begin to find their voice, they will be tuning into those tracks of language laid down in the brain.

Ok, but surely children shouldn’t be required to learn or recite? An interesting question I’m often asked.

In our research, we asked about when, how and why poems were learned. Some people reported dreadful experiences of enforced learning that put them off for life. And yet… others made to learn and recite under duress were really glad they did and now love their poem. Countless others, though, said they learned their poem ‘accidentally’, just through hearing it again and again.

And that’s the thing – children really don’t need forcing. As any parent whose child joins in with a Julia Donaldson book knows, they do it as naturally as they learn language. And as many a teacher knows, there are lots of ways to make learning enjoyable. For a few ideas, my Poetry Archive Teaching Resource draws on findings from the project.

Once learned, poems can be explored through performance. The act of sharing a poem in this way seems to bring the relationship between sounds and sense into sharper focus, while new shades of meaning can be opened up in the moment. Again, ideas for performance are here.

But what if, like me, you’re of the generation who never learned poetry in school? Well, some of my most fascinating interviews were with people who told me about starting to learn poems later in life – as an absorbing hobby, as a bulwark against dementia or, perhaps – most significantly for these times – as therapy for depression or solace for dark days. It’s never too early, never too late.

Debbie Pullinger

Debbie Pullinger is a writer and researcher based at the University of Cambridge. Having published a volume on children’s poetry – From Tongue to Text (Bloomsbury, 2017) – she is currently working on a book about the memorised poem. www.debbiepullinger.com  @debpullinger

Cheryl Moskowitz: In Their Words

In their words

Here we are in January, the first month of the year, and only a week or so into a new decade. It is an opportunity to reflect on time and change and redefine priorities.

January takes its name from Janus, meaning ‘archway’. Janus was the Roman god of gates and doorways, who presided over difficult transitions, the beginning and the ending of conflicts, and was one who could look backwards as well as forward.

Last year, through worldwide school strike action, young people rose to the surface, inspiring a global movement to fight climate change. Less than a month ago on December 11, 2019, 16 year old Greta Thunberg was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. Speaking at a UN climate change summit in Madrid before the announcement, she urged world leaders to face up to the crisis we are in and take immediate action. The next decade, she said, would define the planet’s future.

The two faces of Janus represent the middle ground between the old and the new, between youth and adulthood.  This dual gaze reminds us we must look to our young as much as to our elders for wisdom and understanding. Now, more than ever, we need to listen to our young people, join forces to find a common language and work creatively with them towards a safe and productive future.

In this second week of January 2020, we are one month on from a general election that children, by virtue of their age, are given no voice in. We enter this new decade still negotiating conflict and in a process of transition, surfacing from an intense period of time where rhetoric and vitriol became the dominant modes of expression. It is vital now that we communicate differently, learn to express ourselves with more clarity, more beauty, more hopefulness, more kindness and more truth. Children and poetry have a big part to play in making that happen.

The Children’s Poetry Summit is made up of adults who believe passionately in the value of poetry and the importance of making it available to children. So, in the spirit of Janus and giving children a voice, I thought I would begin this new decade by looking back at work done during my poetry residency at Highfield Primary School in North London from 2014-18 and publishing a list, a manifesto if you like, written by the children there about why they think poetry is necessary.

As teachers, creative educators and poets writing for children it is always good to remind ourselves, from the child’s perspective, what a child thinks a poem is, what a child knows that a poem can do and why a child believes that the presence of poets and poetry in their schools could play a key part of defining their world’s future.

Here’s what members of the Highfield school council from years 3, 4, 5 & 6, had to say on poetry, in their words.


What is a Poem?

A poem is a lie that tells the truth

a poem is a sword, sharp and sly

a poem is a light in the darkness, a single star in the night sky

a poem removes the blindfold so that we can see the world more clearly

a poem is a rainbow leading to treasure, a lost treasure drowned in tears

a poem is a memory, a poem is remembering, a poem is being remembered

and never forgotten


What can a poem do?

A poem can blow you away

a poem can be an embrace

a poem can change people’s minds

a poem uses rules, lets you make your own rules, makes you the ruler

a poem can be a doorway to history and new understanding

a poem helps us know the world and our place in it

a poem tells others who we are, what we know, what we want and what we believe…

a poem can change your life!!!


Since having a poet in our school…

we are thinking creatively about what we want for the future

we are learning about ourselves and other people

we are sharing memories, spreading messages

we are changing people’s minds about children

we are raising standards, gaining confidence

we are imagining new possibilities

we are feeling inspired

we are making the headlines


Cheryl Moskowitz

Cheryl Moskowitz is a poet and educator. 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. She serves on the Creative Council for Create Arts and is working with Pop Up on a three-year project to develop creative resources for use in SEN schools across Kent. Cheryl’s website.