Imogen Lycett-Green: The Poem Inside

The Poem Inside

 

Going to the Dentist

Starting to tap on my teeth

With a silver metal spoon

Look at each of my teeth

Like a teacher looking at her class

I can’t move, sitting perfectly still

While he stands there

Holding a tiny little drill.

 

Maryan, Argyle school, 5Q

 

This poem was written for Track Record, a community project in Camden, supported by HighSpeed1. Maryan was one of 120 Y5 pupils who participated in six class workshops over six months, delivered by the truly inspiring poet for kids, Paul Lyalls. In July last year, at the project’s closing ceremony, Maryan (10) stood up and read her poem out on a stage at St Pancras International station. In front of friends and strangers – including passers-by who paused to listen under the sky blue railway shed, sitting on suitcases – Maryan’s tiny voice told a story. Maryan had never read a poem out loud before, let alone written one. English is not her first language, yet she finds herself in the UK education system, at a school where over 30 languages are spoken, trying to communicate in a foreign tongue. Through the simple act of writing a poem, she finds her voice.

 

My Cousin’s First Steps

A very wobbly first step.

Like a loose tooth in a happy smile.

Everyone in the room watches with excitement.

Staring at this small foot.

He walks, he falls over.

 

Nasif, Richard Cobden School, 5L

 

Nasif has a little cousin. ‘Everyone in the room’ does not necessarily speak English. Yet here is Nasif, aged ten, painting pictures in our hearts of his toddler cousin taking precarious first steps in front of an audience. Nasif’s classmates cheered as he stood up to read. They waited, while he too, like the toddler, faltered. But Nasif did not fall over. His poem flew to the rafters to a volley of whoops and cheers. Toot toot went the train, ready to leave the station. Toot toot!

Track Record is in its second year now. The fantastic Paul Lyalls is at it again. This time he has signed up a third school. Track Record is a simple project; we don’t even have a website – though we are thinking about that. We publish a booklet of their poems for the kids to take home, and over 30 poems are printed onto boards at St Pancras, to the delight of the thousands of commuters and tourists who pass through the station daily. The poems stay up all summer. The dream is to expand the project, school by school, year by year.

How many times have you rummaged through that old box in the attic to find a scrap of a picture of a house you drew when you were eight? A story you wrote about dinosaurs when you were nine? Perhaps, like Nasif and Maryan, you wrote a poem when you were ten. Think about what that means to you now.

Connecting with the imagination, seeing life with fresh perspective, celebrating the everyday – these are life skills which lead not only to improved literacy, but an invaluable  sense of oneself in the world which can last a lifetime. It’s pure magic, not rocket science (though, according to some of the young poets on the project, who wrote about racing to the moon, it can be that too!) As adults working in the children’s poetry sector, all we have to do is open the door. We can do that on small budgets, with scant resources. We only need to use our own imaginations to think of new ways of ensuring every child finds their poem inside.

Imogen Lycett-Green

Imogen Lycett Green is an independent arts producer, working on community projects across the poetry sector. Formerly director of the Betjeman Poetry Prize, Imogen judges the Chiddingstone Castle Literary Festival Short Story Prize for children. She is co-founder of the Narrative Medicine programme at the Brighton Health & Wellbeing centre where she runs poetry workshops for doctors as well as adults with chronic illness.

Roger Stevens: Making Books

Making Books

I know very few poets who do not want their work to be published. Poetry is not the solitary communication with the Muse that it is sometimes thought to be. We poets are driven to express ourselves. We want to tell people how we feel. We want to share our writing journey. We want to show off.

For many of us, particularly those of us who write for children, this desire to share stretches much further than seeing our work in print. We also want to work with those young readers we are trying to reach.

As I often tell teachers when I visit schools to give performances and workshops, we are not trying to teach children how to be poets. We are helping them to improve their writing skills, to write creatively, to communicate and to express themselves, and to enjoy using words.

Of course, we want to pass on a love for poetry and thus motivate young readers to write. And we often succeed, our workshops producing a plethora of poems. And then what? Maybe the children read them to the class, maybe they go straight into folders – often that is it!

But why should these young poets feel differently to we older ones? Perhaps they would like their work to be published, too; to share their poems, not just with their classmates, but with the school, their family and the wider world.

We often see lovely displays in the classroom, in the school hall, in the school entrance hall and even in the local library. But one of the best and most satisfying ways to share poems is to make a book.

So please take note all teachers, but also anyone who has, or knows, talented children who write poetry – parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends. This is a great way to help these youngsters share their work.

I had a residency in a Basildon school for a few years. It consisted of one morning a week for one term with one Year 4 class. At the beginning of one term I announced we would write a book. I gave everyone in the class a free notebook, to start making notes and jotting down ideas. I explained that they didn’t have to share anything in the book if they didn’t want to. It would be private and personal to them. A couple of the children lost their books, a couple wrote nothing, but most of the children filled their books with all sorts of things, just as a ‘real’ writer would. We chose animals as a theme. And each week began working on different styles of animal poems.

Towards the end of the term we chose an editorial team, gathered together the best class illustrators, assembled a production group and lastly a sales team. We aimed to mirror the way a ‘real’ book would be made and marketed. We used the ‘old-fashioned’ cut and paste method. Poems were written on, or transferred to, computer and edited. Then printed. Then, finally, poems were cut out with scissors and assembled on the pages. Illustrators illustrated. We gave the book a title – My Name is Fire, wrote a blurb, invented a publishing house and decided to sell the books for £1 each – the money going to Comic Relief.

The whole process was brilliant fun, the children loved it. There was so much creative energy. They were thrilled with the final product, everyone had at least one poem in the book, we photocopied 100 copies (it was cheaper than printing them). We sold every copy! And the book was a permanent reminder of the fun we had and the creative skills of the class.

I was telling this to a group of children at our local children’s book shop (the Book Nook) and a girl in the audience, Evelyn, aged 9, took it to heart. She went home and wrote a book of her own poems – The Magic of Poetry (illustrated with the help of her Dad, using images from the internet). She sold the books at £1 a time and sold 350 copies for Children in Need. I’m very pleased to say that I have a copy signed by the author herself.

I also love making small books. If I have a class for a day we can go through the whole book-making process from beginning to end. We write a poem. The book is A6 size, folded in half. The text is written on a single sheet of A6 paper folded in half, making four pages. The cover is a piece of A6 card, also folded in half. We write a blurb, invent a publishing house, make a dedication, add a pretend barcode, write a biography and so on. At the end we have 30 or so tiny books, and a whole new class library.

Making home-made books is not just for children. If you’re an adult writer you can join in too! Either by using the photocopy method or splashing out and paying to have your work published by a small Press. Indeed, there’s a rich and noble history of writers, particularly poets, self-publishing their work. You must just be wary of vanity publishing – publishers who will tell you that your poem is akin to Wordsworth’s best and will offer to publish it (along with probably five hundred others) and charge you an exorbitant sum for doing so.

When I first began visiting schools as a poet, I’d had several poems published in anthologies, but I did not yet have a collection of my own work. So I self-published my own book, Never Trust a Lemon, to take into schools to share and sell. Nearly 25 years and 40 ‘real’ books later, Lemon is still one of my favourites and still sells!

Making books, especially with children, is great fun, and very rewarding for all who are involved.

Roger Stevens

Website for students and teachers: PoetryZone

Twitter: @poetryzone

Roger Stevens has had nearly 40 books published: novels, numerous solo poetry collections and edited poetry collections. Some of his most recent books are The Same Inside: Poems about Empathy and Friendship (Macmillan); Apes to Zebras: an A – Z of Shape Poems illustrated by Lorna Scobie (Bloomsbury), I Am a Jigsaw (Bloomsbury), and June 6th will see the publication of his anthology of poems to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing – Moonstruck! (Otter-Barry Books) When not writing, he visits schools, libraries and festivals performing his work and running workshops for young people and teachers. He is a National Poetry Day Ambassador for the Forward Arts Foundation, a founding member of the Able Writers scheme with Brian Moses; and of course runs the award-winning and most excellent poetry website PoetryZone.