by Charlotte Hacking
Poetry has the potential to help children to see themselves reflected in literature and to express themselves through their own writing. It can open doors to children’s own desires to read and express themselves through poetry. Poems shared can reveal what this genre can offer to children as a medium in reading and in writing.
Everyone can see their place in poetry, but only if it is showcased. Read poetry aloud often. Drop it in to every moment of the school day, with no preconceived agenda. Give children the opportunity to hear and see a wide range of poets reading and performing their poetry. Children need to see the universality of poetry and that poetry is for them; it transcends age, culture, race, religion. The poet videos on the poetryline website contain a wide range of poets performing a wide range of poetry and are added to each year in line with CLPE’s poetry award, the CLiPPA.
Such resources are particularly important in opening up children’s perceptions that poetry can also be for them. One teacher on our Power of Poetry project had shared Valerie Bloom's 'Haircut Rap' video with her children. One of them remarked, 'I didn't know poets can be black people too. I thought Valerie Bloom was white.' We keep access to our poetry resources completely free to expand the range of poets and poetry used in classrooms, ensuring these reflect the realities of all children so they can see themselves in the world of poetry and that it is a space for them. In sourcing texts for the classroom, teachers need to look for and make available collections that open children’s eyes to what poetry is, who writes it and what it can do.
Children need to feel the joy in reading poetry aloud, joining in, dramatising and performing poems themselves. If poetry is not given a voice, if it just stays on the page as a printed object, then it is not going to come alive for most children. CLiPPA has a shadowing scheme attached to the award that encourages children to do exactly this. Groups of children put together a performance of a poem from one of the shortlisted collections. If their video submission wins, they are invited to perform at the event and feel the excitement of seeing poetry performed live. Some incredible responses were seen in this year’s winning shadowing school submissions, such as this outstanding interpretation of Karl Nova’s The Dancer by Quincey, a Year 6 pupil.
Across our work we see the importance of children hearing from, working with or watching professional poets. Seeing a poet bring their own work to life and beginning to understand what that means in terms of the creation of poetry helps children to see themselves as writers. Listen to poets talk about their writing process; what inspires them, their unique voices, how they work, how they draft, edit and redraft – all this yields a wealth of information to consider the freedoms and support we give children in their own writing. You can see and hear many poets do this in the poet interviews. A visit from a poet brings this experience directly to the children and can be hugely enriching and inspiring.
Poetry gives you a voice to express what you want, in your own way. It is important for children to be able to recognise the poetry in their own lives by hearing poetry by a range of poets that do the same. They need to see that poetry can be used to encapsulate moments that are new, funny or familiar or as a more cathartic experience to express feelings such as guilt, sadness or loss. Children need the permission and opportunities to share and write about themselves, their feelings and important events. Through writing poetry, children are encouraged to reflect on their experience, to recreate it, shape it, and make sense of it. In a poem it is possible to give form and significance to a particular event or feeling and to communicate this to the reader or to the listener. An example of this comes from Mahir, a Year 5 student, in response to the poem Gingerbread Man by Joseph Coelho. The poem resonated with personal experiences, giving him licence to express himself in his poem, Racism.
As a teacher reflected on the Power of Poetry project: ‘Poetry gives the children an increasingly rare opportunity to express thoughts, feelings and ideas about their world; to feel like a writer, to be a writer. Writing poetry is a place where their thoughts, feelings, ideas and humanity are valued and recognised.’