Friday, July 4, 2014

Experiencing Poetry Rather Than 'Torturing' It!

I've written before about the power of poetry (HERE) and regularly review good poetry books on this blog. Poetry is to be read, listened to, experienced and enjoyed. It can amuse, entertain, challenge, teach and change us. Our aim as teachers and parents should be to seek to share good poetry often, and help children to 'experience' poems as significant literary and life events. Ariel Sacks recently wrote a great post in which she reminded us of this simple truth. In response to the post one of her readers in turn reminded us of Billy Collins great poem on poetry (William Collins was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003). In it he challenges us to avoid the temptation to beat a poem to death rather than experiencing and enjoying it.

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a colour slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Billy Collins, 1988

If you are looking for some good poetry for children aged 5-12 years here is an excellent recent list Some would suit older readers, and 'Wayling' is certainly for older readers. The Centre for Excellence in Primary Education (CLPE) has an annual award for poetry written for children.  This UK charity promotes the effective teaching of children’s literacy and emphasises the importance of children’s literature. The award is presented annually, usually in July, for a book of poetry published in the preceding year. Here is the excellent shortlist.

Poems to Perform, Julia Donaldson (editor), illustrated by Clare Melinsky (Macmillan)

This is a careful selection of poems, both familiar and new, that lend themselves to being performed in a range of collaborative ways. Progress through the book is subtly themed: gliding through poems about school, football, food and many other matters. It offers succinct suggestions for how they could be presented both verbally and dramatically at the back, leaving plenty of scope for teachers and pupils to make their interpretations. The judges felt that the poems in the anthology had been really carefully chosen and selected to reflect the best of poems to perform across a broad range of time, poets and styles. The poems range from classics by Edward Lear, W H Auden, and Eleanor Farjeon, to contemporary work by Michael Rosen, John Agard, and Clare Bevan. It is illustrated throughout with exquisite, expressive lino-cuts, this is a book for teachers, parents and children; in fact anyone who loves great poetry. I bought this to use with children myself! The descriptions are edited versions of the judge's comments on each book.

The Dragon with a Big Nose, by Kathy Henderson (Frances Lincoln)

This collection was chosen because the judges particularly liked the city poems and how these really captured the feel and vibrancy of urban life. These are odes to the urban environment - its buildings, its transport, the people and creatures that inhabit it and the effects of weather on it. The dragon on the cover disguises the contents although fantasy and reality converge in poems like ‘Under the Stairs’ and many of them describe wonder in the apparently ordinary. The child’s eye viewpoint is foremost and this contributes to this being that rare commodity – a single poet collection for younger children. The poet’s own illustrations work wonderfully with the text.

Bookside Down, by Joanne Limburg (Salt Publishing)

This is Joanne Limburg’s first collection for children. It has a unique and contemporary feel, catching the voice and ear of the intended audience providing thoughtful observations of modern childhood. What happens if you read a book while standing on your head? Dare to discover the answer within these poems that provide a fresh take on school and family life, complete with computapets and a Wii with a Mii channel. Take a prefix lesson that doesn’t deal with grammar too seriously while requiring some understanding to get the joke. Sample the mouth-watering potatoes Dad cooks, tantalising all your senses ‘for truly they are epic’. Don’t lose your temper or you may find important things are lost too.

Wayland. The Tale of the Smith from the Far North, by Tony Mitton, illustrated by John Lawrence (David Fickling Books)

'Wayland' was chosen by the judges for the mastery of the form, its epic nature and the beauty of it as a complete piece of art, poetry and legend. This verse retells the legend of a master blacksmith who fashions such ‘wonderful ware’ that he is captured by a king. It is a tour de force. Readers are quickly drawn into this 'story' set in a landscape of forests and mountains depicted in John Lawrence’s extraordinary engravings. The whole work is stunningly sustained in rhyming four line stanzas. There is lust and violence at the centre of this saga and neither poet nor illustrator shirk from portraying these – so this is definitely a publication for older children. There is the love of Wayland for his Swan-Maiden and beauty in the way words and pictures reunite them.

Cosmic Disco, by Grace Nichols, illustrated by Alice Wright (Frances Lincoln)

This is a collection of poetry with beautiful rhythms, language and imagery that Grace Nichols always captures with such mastery. This collection whirls us out into the cosmos to dance ‘in the endless El Dorado of stars stars stars’ and back again to ‘that little old blue ball spinning in the corner over yonder’. Nature is personified in many guises. Lady Winter raps out a warning and chastises a cheeky robin. Autumn is a knight with ‘cape of rustling ochre, gold and brown’ and ‘spurs made of sprigs’ and ‘medals made of conkers’. Colours speak, giving persuasive arguments why the artist should choose each one of them. Venus is addressed majestically and a ‘star that time forgot’ given a new name.


Michelle said...

Oh, I love reading poetry to my little girl, who will be 4 in September. I enjoy using "I like this poem" from the 1980s and my daughter often asks for me to read to her from it. She even composes her own poetry, orally, which I'd love to capture but pulling out some form of recording device kills the moment.

I jotted down a snippet a week ago from a poem on Christmas:

"I thought we would miss Christmas" said the grandma
"No, we haven't" said me in a faraway voice

Love her creativity and use of language, although this bit doesn't capture the beautiful rhythm she had in this poem. I was blown away with a 3 year old saying "faraway voice"

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks for your comment Michelle. Glad your daughter loves it too. Keep reading it to (and with) her.