Why is poetry so undervalued? Check out the space allocated to the poetry section in any library or bookshop and you’ll see what I mean. There are barely enough books to prop up a wonky table leg. Why?
Maybe it’s because adults like me were put off by having to dissect and deliberate over too many incomprehensible verses at GCSE level. I simply didn’t understand half of it. My Last Duchess. How they brought the good news from Ghent to Aix . Nothing sank in, apart from the War Poets, especially Wilfred Owen. I loved his Anthem for a Doomed Youth and Futility . There’s nothing tugs harder at teenage emotions more than someone dying young in battle.
War Poems apart, I’d like to blame my teachers for my lack of appreciation of poetry but I think I was just thick. Anyway, and it meant I didn’t pass the joy of verse on to my children or use it half enough in the classroom when I was a teacher. Past pupils, I apologise.
It’s only now, as I try to widen my reading range, that I’ve realised what a glorious world I’ve been missing. Poetry is so immediate, so rich in language, so inspiring, so funny. Take something as deceptively simple as The Gruffalo. It’s meant ot be a picture book but don’t be fooled. The opening to that is pure poetry: ‘A mouse took a stroll through a deep, dark wood. A fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good.’ The words demand to be read out loud, don’t they?
For older readers I recently discovered new poet Rachel Rooney.
I borrowed her collection The Language of Cat from my local library (there’s 6p in PLR right there for you, Rache). I liked the mixture of poems – short, long, shape poems, found poems, simple easy-to-read ones and some more profound. All accessible to children. Just Her and the Poet is one of my favourites:
‘Just her, a lamp, an open book.
An open book, the glow of the page.
The glow of the page, the inky print
The inky print…’
Clever that, continuing one thread into another all the way through. It’s a good one to use in a KS2 classroom as a model for children to imitate style.
Rachel is one of the many writers, poets and illustrators appearing at the Joined-Up Reading Conference I’m helping to organise in September, by the way. Can’t wait to meet her.
Poetry specifically for young adults is harder to find so I was drawn to this collection on the bookshelf in The Bookcasein Lowdham yesterday. By Andrew Fusek Peters and Polly Peters Poems with Attitude (pub: 2002) covers just about everything in heterosexual Teen World. I say that because I was a little disappointed that gay crushes/relationships weren’t explored when everything else is. So many poems revolved around the notion of feeling ‘different’ it seemed a strange omission. That apart, Poems with Attitude is fab. I loved I’m not (A) cros (tic) With You at All because when you read out the word the acrostic poem spells you realise the girl is livid! There’s a useful guide to the different forms of poetry at the back, too.
You can see Roger McGough and loads of other poets and performers at the Imagine Children’s Festival in London next month. Boo! Why is everything always darn sarf?