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 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.
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