A brilliant blog post from poet Roger Stevens about developing a love of poetry and maintaining that love into adulthood! Children love poetry, why don’t adults? A truly interesting read!
There were three questions relating to poetry on Pointless last night. Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman spent a couple of minutes discussing how their generation – they’re both 51 – seemed to have missed out on poetry and that they really ought to get into the habit of reading it more. I gave them a loud cheer.
For my new ‘best of’ collection, Razzmatazz (Otter-Barry) I had to look back at my work of the last twenty years or so. Remembering how children reacted to certain poems brought back happy memories. When I visit a school, I give a performance and run workshops. The poems I read are often funny and silly, sometimes serious and sometimes sad. There’s lots of joining in, by pupils and staff. Most poets who visit schools would agree: Children love poetry.
So why don’t most adults? It’s sad when, at the end of a day spent with children excited by listening to poems and writing their own, a child appears with a parent to buy a book and the parent says, “Are you sure? But it’s poetry.”
Is one of the reasons because of what has happened at secondary school? Does the fun of poetry disappear as poems become work? ‘Discuss how the poet uses imagery in this poem.’ ‘How is this poet using metaphor?’ Poetry becomes an exam topic, not something to enjoy! Many teenagers aren’t academic, so studying poetry in the way the curriculum demands, just turns them off. Why would they want to read poetry as grown-ups when it was so difficult at school?
The thing is, you can teach poetry to fulfil the criteria of the curriculum and also make it fun. I often run workshops that are riotously enjoyable. We laugh a lot, say ridiculous things and in the process explore the language of poetry. We learn about imagery and metaphor but not in a sterile way. I work mainly in primary schools, but I’ve used the same techniques with secondary students, and it works.
You really don’t have to be an English specialist or know a lot about poetry to teach it. Check out Brian Moses’ blog, packed with writing ideas; books and articles by Pie Corbett; and my www.poetryzone.co.uk for tips for teachers, loads of poems by children and interviews with poets.
This may sound odd, but my advice for teachers who have real difficulty with poetry is to read some! Not a lot, maybe a poem every other day. Not highbrow stuff, but something that just takes your fancy. There’s plenty to choose from. My favourite poets are Roger McGough (he showed me that poems could be about everyday things like going to the chip shop), Billy Collins and Carol Ann Duffy.
I’ll leave you with one of the poems from my new book, Razzmatazz. One thing that poetry does is to play around with words. I thought it would be fun to see how many times I could repeat the same word and still make sense.
Leave out the the,
two toos, one too too many
and and after the comma
should go after the any.
The the, the too
and move the and
and that should make it flow.
Not that that, that that’s fine –
but this that, that could go.
The the, the too, the and –
I would agree with you
But I’m very fond of that –
this that and that that too.
Which that is that?
Is that this that?
Asked teacher with a grin.
Okay but take that last in out
And leave that last out in.
Razzmatazz, The Poetry World of Roger Stevens , illustrated by Mike Smith published by Otter-Barry Books. Price £7.99.