Happy National Poetry Day!

This year, whilst researching ideas to celebrate National Poetry Day with my class, I came across Tony Walsh’s poem Take This Pen. I love how the energy and passion of the poem builds to a beautiful, lyrical crescendo. It’s an incredibly moving poem, beautifully illustrated by Chris Riddell, which reminds us that everyone has something to say, a story to tell. Poetry IS for everyone. It’s organic, raw and pure and a brilliant way of expressing ourselves and our emotions.

I found Tony Walsh’s poem so powerful that it inspired my to write my own poem for the theme of truth this National Poetry Day. Here it is:

This year, I’ve made it a personal goal to spend more time #writingforpleasure. I’m also trying to be a little braver and share some of my own writing. In turn, this will also help me to teach the process of writing and to understand the challenges it entails so that I can support those who might have similar stumbling blocks. It will also enable the children I teach to see me as a writer too. I’ve shared this quote before (my previous post about Teacher-Writers can be found here) but I feel that it’s an important one:

“Students can go a lifetime and never see another person write, much less show them how to write. Yet, it would be unheard of for an artist not to show her students how to use oils by painting on her own canvas, or for a ceramist not to demonstrate how to throw clay on a wheel and shape the material himself. Writing is a craft.”

(Graves, A Fresh Look at Writing, 1994)

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Whilst writing the poem, it reaffirmed that writing is a messy process (as you can see in my scruffy notebook!). I would definitely use this as an example when sharing my own writing process with the children, discussing how I came up with the ideas for My Truth and subsequent threads of ideas that I could then weave together, before I finally felt ready to begin drafting my initial poem. You can clearly see revisions at most stages of the process (I would possibly still revise it now!). This will hopefully encourage others to realise that their own writing doesn’t have to be perfect first time. Or neat. Being creative and imaginative is messy work.

It also reminded me how important it is to be inspired by something that sparks your own imagination and how motivating it can be to have a clear purpose and end goal in mind – in this case, sharing the poem with a much wider audience to celebrate National Poetry Day’s #SpeakYourTruthPoem campaign.

It’s so important that we (teachers) give children choice over what they write, especially when it comes to poetry, as our own personal experiences are key. Encouraging children to speak their own truth is the perfect opportunity to allow for complete ownership over what they write and how they write it. We can free them from the grammar rules when writing poetry, which can be liberating!

Completing the task myself also made me realise that sharing your own work is, in fact, terrifying. I think if more teachers trialled and experimented with the activities they’re asking children to do in class, they would instantly have more empathy with those who might struggle with generating ideas or vocabulary, or those who don’t necessarily want to share their writing aloud right away. It would enable teachers to pre-empt these challenges and create appropriate provisions.

A great way to honour National Poetry Day in school would be to gather your Writer’s Notebooks and write your own truth poems together with the children. Be be sure to have lots of discussion time, time to read various poetry on the same theme (lots of great resources below), listen to poets talk about their experiences and processes, and plenty of time for idea generation, before you each sit down to write your own truth poems. Finally, when they’re finished publish them for the class book corner or school library and share them more widely, this could be inviting parents in for a poetry recital or simply visiting another class or performing them in assembly.

But remember, it’s important to share and celebrate poetry every day, not just on National Poetry Day!

Useful Poetry Resources:

  • National Poetry Day Website: National Poetry Day is a UK-wide celebration of poetry taking place every October. Each year there’s a different theme and this year the theme was Truth. National Poetry Day generates an explosion of activity nationwide, thousands of amazing events across the UK – in schools, libraries, bookshops and hospitals, on buses, trains and boats – all celebrating poetry’s power to bring people together. 2019 is the 25th anniversary of National Poetry Day and the celebrations have run all year long. They have created an amazing range of resources that you can continue to use in your classrooms long after October 3rd. Their Toolkit for Schools is also there for inspiration, any day of the week.
  • Tell Me the Truth About Life podcast: Tell Me the Truth About Life: Poems that Matter and Why – a Poetry Podcast, a five-episode podcast series in which five well-known names read and discuss their favourite poems and the truths that poetry speaks to them. The podcast, introduced by poetry lover and BBC presenter Cerys Matthews, features Susannah Herbert, Executive Director of the Forward Arts Foundation, in conversation War Horse author and former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo, writer and poet Nikita Gill,  comedian and TV producer Henry Normal, actor Jade Anouka, and teacher/author Kate Clanchy.
  • CLPE’s Poetry Line Website: Poetry Line Teaching Resources and Videos partners of National Poetry Day, the CLPE Poetry Line site holds an extensive bank of hundreds of poems for children and brilliant teaching resources, as well as videos of poet performances and interviews to support the teaching of poetry in the classroom. They also run CLiPPA.
  • CLiPPA (Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award): CLiPPA resources
    The CLPE run the only award solely for published children’s poetry in the UK, the CLiPPA, and run a shadowing scheme to help teachers and children engage with the award in schools.
  • 28 of the most powerful lines ever written: from The Independent, here are a small collection of singular lines, stanzas, and notions possessing the power to spring the most moving of thoughts and feelings into the humming imagination of the reader. Such poets as TS Eliot, Pablo Neruda, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and Wilfred Owen are all included. Other much-celebrated authors to feature include Margaret Atwood, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath and Maya Angelou.
  • ‘I swapped social media for poetry’: BBC News Article Charly Cox, 24, has anxiety and depression and used to spend 10 hours a day on her phone. She now uses that time and her device to write poems – which she says helps her cope with her illness. To celebrate National Poetry Day, she shares her latest poem which is about digital burnout.
  • Poet-Tree Read Alouds, The Poet-Tree Project: This project was inspired by the Teachers as Readers (TaRs) research and through my role as the leader of an Open University/UKLA TaRs Book Group (you can find out more about that here). It was aimed at improving children’s knowledge and enjoyment of poetry by introducing daily read alouds in class. A few snaps are below…

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