Shauna Darling Robertson: Guerrilla Poetry

Guerrilla Poetry

I love being surprised by poetry, whether that means finding a poem in a fresh voice, an unusual style, a different format or an unexpected place.

In my book Saturdays at the Imaginarium there’s a poem called ‘The Poetry Guerrilla’ featuring a mysterious character who sneaks poems into strange locations for people to find – inside a boiled egg, etched onto an aspirin, etc. I was thrilled when a London school got in touch to say that the poem inspired them to create their own guerrilla poetry project for National Poetry Day, which got me thinking about some of the wonderful things I’ve come across since I started getting interested in poetry guerrilla-ing. Here are a few of them, in the hope that one or two might inspire some guerrilla tactics of your own!

Poetry ‘bombing’ What if cities that have suffered wartime bombings could experience a different sort of ‘bombing’ – one where poems rain down instead of missiles? Chilean art collective Casagrande staged five ‘Poetry Rain’ projects in different cities, as a protest against war. In this video you can see what happened when 100,000 poems were dropped from a helicopter over London’s Southbank. “But I don’t have access to a helicopter,” I hear you say. Okay, so how might you adapt this concept to do something on a smaller scale?

Pay with a poem Did you know that you can pay for a coffee with a handwritten poem on World Poetry Day each March? Coffee company Julius Meinl kicked off the idea in 2013 and it went global, with people around the world penning limericks for lattes and elegies for espressos. Here’s a video from the 2016 event. No need to wait for coffee time though… how else might you turn poems into valuable currency?

The street sign poet Stroll around London’s Kentish Town and you might see ‘the parachute of intrigue’, ‘the girl made of mist’ or ‘the heart is a crazy bus driver’. “There is a street sign outside our place on Islip Street,” explains local poet Mark Waddell. “It’s there to make folks think, chuckle and ruminate.” Discover more at Mark Waddell’s blog.

Poem in Your Pocket Day Poem in Your Pocket Day takes place every year in the USA (April 29th in 2021). The idea began in New York City, then spread across the USA and into Canada. UK, anyone? The basic idea is to carry a poem in your pocket and share it with everyone you meet that day. More info and ideas here.

Wear a poem Miami-based artist Augustina Woodgate sewed paper tags carrying lines of poetry into second-hand clothes for sale in charity shops. Buy a t-shirt, find a poem! You can read more in this news article. If you’re working with kids, needles and sneaking into shops are probably out. But there are lots of ways to ‘wear a poem’, right?

Edible poems Guerillas need to keep their strength up, and what better food than poetry! Poetry Digest, edited by Swithun Cooper and Chrissy Williams, was a magazine that iced poems onto cakes – and invited the Young Poets Network to join in. Find out more and read the poems (which, luckily, were photographed before being gobbled) at The Young Poets Network.

That’s all for now (though I do have more if you’re interested!). I’d love to hear about any guerrilla poetry projects you might create or come across. Drop me a line or tag me on twitter at @ShaunaDarRob,

PS. If you’re going to get into poetry guerrilla-ing, do keep your common sense about you. Stay safe, respect others and the natural environment, and never confuse a poetry guerrilla with a poetry gorilla.

Shauna Darling Robertson

Shauna Darling Robertson’s poems for adults and children have been performed by actors, displayed on buses, used as song lyrics, turned into comic art, made into short films and published in a variety of books and magazines. Her first solo collection for children is Saturdays at the Imaginarium (Troika, 2020). A second, You Are Not Alone, written with support from Arts Council England, is forthcoming (Troika, 2022). @ShaunaDarRob

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.