National Poetry Day is a wonderful opportunity to make, experience and share poetry in schools, wider communities and beyond. Celebrated each year to inspire the appreciation and creation of poetry, National Poetry Day seeks to bridge understanding in our communities through voices, words and stories.
By way of background to this year’s National Poetry Day, it is interesting to reflect on the fact that according to The National Literacy Trust, 66.5% of children and young people agreed that writing poetry made them feel better during lockdown. In addition to this, poetry is the most common way for secondary students to encounter a Black, Asian or other minority ethnic author, and single poems are the easiest texts to insert into the curriculum (The Runnymede Trust and Penguin Random House Lit in Colour Report 2020).
There are some wonderful poetry books out there for children, from “a poem a day” themed anthologies to collections from poets well known and not so well known. The choice is rich and the potential benefits are not to be overlooked.
William Sieghart, founder of the National Poetry Day and editor of Everyone Sang: A Poem for Every Feeling, points to the way in which poetry can help us to make sense of the emotions we are feeling. He said, “Finding a complicity with how you feel, expressed more elegantly than you could ever express yourself, can be the most helpful way of making sense of your emotions and helping you to process them.”
These thoughts are amplified by teachers around the country. One, Miss J Rowe, told me, “It’s hard not to sound corny about poetry but they feel like someone is listening when writing it and they feel braver in what they can write. When reading it every now and then they feel understood by someone else’s brave thoughts.” To feel understood by someone else’s brave thoughts can be liberating for children and open up their world.
Another teacher, Wendy, told me that children “get to feel the power of story in just a few words.”
Mónica Parle, Executive Director of Forward Arts Foundation, has seen that poetry can play an incredibly important role in helping children to come to terms with, and move through, the pandemic. She explained, “The surge of interest in poetry through lockdown has shown what we have known for eons when it comes to moments of national and personal crisis, as well as in moments of great celebration: poetry has the power to connect us, and can have a particular benefit when we most feel isolated, which feels incredibly relevant as we come out of the pandemic. Research has shown that exploring poetry can offer avenues to engage with challenging themes such as culture and identity, and finding that people from disparate backgrounds have similar feelings and experiences can promote students' empathy from others."
By raising the profile of poetry in schools, through initiatives such as National Poetry Day, or your own poetry focus, you are inviting children to engage with the many styles and voices that poetry can have. From Michael Rosen to Benjamin Zephaniah (who can resist Talking Turkeys?), John Agard to Valerie Bloom, there is so much to draw on when inspiring children to develop a taste for poems. (There is far more inspiration here: Poems - National Poetry Day)
Parle also sees poetry as a route to other forms of literature, too. She explained, “We at National Poetry Day are particularly interested in the ways that poetry can be a gateway to other forms of literature, particularly for young people coming from homes where English is an additional or dual language, and in contexts where young people struggle with speech or reading. 100% of the current NPD team comes from a home where English was not the only language. For many of us with these characteristics, poetry unlocks something, and can help give us a sense that there's a place for us in the written world.”
A few years ago, the National Literacy Trust was commissioned to conduct the first ever national survey of children and young people’s views on poetry in England. They found that almost one in two children and young people engage with poetry in their spare time (consume it, create it or do both), and that children and young people who write or perform say that it makes them feel creative and that it is a great way to express their feelings. You can read more on this here A thing that makes me happy: Children, young people and poetry in 2018 | National Literacy Trust.
Poet Ian McMillan told me that there is much that children can get from learning poetry at school. He said, “A sense of rhythm and narrative and image and ownership and enjoyment and excitement at the endless possibilities of language.”
Teacher, Min, feels that, “Freedom from grammatical conventions and license to experiment with language, imagery, rhythm and rhyme,” can also be gained from poetry in schools. “It can be liberating for some children who feel self-conscious about their literacy skills. It opens young minds to the magic of words,” she said.
Find out more…
The biggest mass participation celebration of poetry: National Poetry Day - the UK’s biggest mass-participation celebration of poetry
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.