Today marks the first day of Spring and it’s also World Poetry Day. It is a time for rebirthing and creativity. All around the country, countless kids will be going to school and reading a poem, maybe some Edward Lear or Ogden Nash or a wonderful bit of Benjamin Zephaniah? Maybe the old favourite, Blake’s Tyger, will crawl out of the woodwork.
Poetry is one of those delicate issues in schools where kids can easily be turned off. But there is also a huge opportunity to galvanise their love of words and mix it up, make it real and find your inner poet.
I remember a group of us being taken into some gorgeous gardens and told to look at nature because we were all going to write poems. One student turned to me and said ‘Bloody Haiku again, innit?’ as we were ushered into a cold room and asked to use the beautiful things we’d seen around us in nature and render it in a five-seven- five formation. I admire John Cooper Clarke’s Haiku best, the one which goes:
To-con-vey one’s mood
In sev-en-teen syll-able-s
Is ve-ry dif-fic
I think iconoclasm is important in a poem, or at least that the poet uses the opportunity to write something big. It doesn’t have to be world changing but it must say something resonant, something more than just personal indulgence. It goes beyond self gratification, to create a bond with the reader, so that they either understand, want to work at understanding or are simply blown away by the ideas and the words.
I am fortunate to know four brilliant poets personally – probably more, but I am going to mention the four on World Poetry Day, because their poems mean a lot to me. Nathan is a performance poet and he is incredibly gifted, not just with his words but with how he takes ideas and works an audience. Julie, too, a talented actor and performance poet. I heard her do one on Dunblane last week which made everyone in the room gasp. Erika, who is a wordsmith, an artisan, who creates beauty in words and hones them so that they are a gift from her to the reader. And Zack, a poet of incredible sensitivity and skill, who unwraps words in his poems which astound and gratify. They are four brilliant poets, and today, being the first day of Spring and a time for rebirthing, I am going to wish you the best of all words this year.
I know people who don’t like poetry. While I loved trochees and iambic pentameter, metaphors and allegory, they didn’t see the point and were not enabled to see it. Poetry should not be hard graft, it should be a joyous exploration. If one has the slightest love of words, then the delights of Hopkins, Plath, Byron, Donne, Ginsberg, Coleridge, Lamartine, Atwood, Heaney, Nichols, Rimbaud, Tagore, Thomas, Bukowski, Angelou, Frost, Pushkin, Yeats, Larkin, Duffy – I could go on – are blooms in a Spring garden, each offering something different for the reader, but it has to be said, there are so many people out there who don’t get poetry at all.
In my case, I love literature despite being drilled, hammered, bashed, cajoled and threatened in the classroom, made to read around the room words which made little sense to anyone at all and were never explained. I remember the whole class being given detention when we sniggered at the lines ‘Pistol’s cock is up,’ without the teacher ever explaining that Shakespeare’s Henry V and other great works had characters who were there to be bold and bawdy and amuse the groundlings, and that this was perfectly legitimate literature.
I know some brilliant teachers who work a lot harder than is physically good for them. They are not just trying to achieve the target percentage of passes which the education system deems they should reach each year, but they aim to ensure that each kid is inspired, learning something which will last long after they have left the classroom and which will be their first steps to wider autonomous reading, writing and enjoyment throughout their lives.
I dare say the old adage, with a bit of adaptation, could be true here: if you love words and can read them, thank a teacher.