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lf someone says. “Once upon a time,” you know you are going to hear a story. “Two masked burglars broke into a house in Queen Astrid Park yesterday” and you expect a news report. “Take 500 gms of minced beef, add one chopped onion" and it's obviously a recipe.
Poetry, however, isn't so direct. lt often takes you a while to work out what's going on, to get on the writer's wavelength. Why is this?
My poetry workshops cover:
A) Writing poetry. Stimulating people to write more precisely, evocatively, uniquely - ie poetically! - is enjoyable because the results are always different and unexpected. see samples by students
B) Reading and performing poetry - making the words come alive on the page. Samples
I tailor the writing programme to the age and language level of the participants. I believe that rhyme is not the defining element of poem; instead I encourage young writers to concentrate on saying what they really want to say. I draw on a wide range of forms and poetry written by writers from diverse cultures, ancient and contemporary.
I write poetry myself - I think it always helps when teachers actually practice the skills they’re sharing!
In July 2015 I took part in NLB’s Poetry on the Platform Be A Star Poet competition and wrote this poem, which NLB selected as one of its winners.
Words are birds
which fly off when loosed
Poets make birds
come home to roost.
Ideas have wings
that hate a cage:
their ﬂight on a page. Roger Jenkins
When I ask teachers (my students) what they feel about poetry, l often receive two contradictory responses. Many say ‘poetry is enjoyable, we love the sound of it, the wordplay, the juggling of rhythms, the poet's sense of humour.’ When l ask why they don't incorporate poetry in their classes, they often tell me things like: ‘poetry is difficult, we don’t understand it, we're not sure what it means.’
How can something so enjoyable be so off-putting?
For me, poetry in the classroom has many advantages over prose, narrative (and especially pieces like this!) Poetry is usually brief and more concise, so it's easier to tackle in one lesson. The use of devices like alliteration and rhyme make a poem much easier to remember. (How much of today's paper can you quote right now?! Yet I am sure there are verses from your childhood, or songs from the radio, you can recite or sing word perfectly!)
Prose writers struggle to be memorable. The opening sentences of Pride and Prejudice or War and Peace are famous, but I can't quote any extracts from the novels. lsn’t it the poetry of Alice In Wonderland that people remember? (‘Twas brillig and the slithey toves...’} So, as a writer, if you want people to treasure what you write, try poetry!
So how can poetry help in language learning?