As pointed out to me this weekend, ‘the problem of poetry’ is something that has plagued school curriculums for years. How do you engage young people in emotional complexities often beyond their own experiences? How do you persuade them that what they see as out dated and dull is actually a riveting expression of the relatable and real?
All tough questions, but the answer has been well and truly hit on the head by none other than former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion.
This weekend, I attended the regional and national finals of Poetry By Heart, a competition dedicated to the enrichment of young people via the medium of the spoken word. With a particular focus on memorisation (that’s the ‘by heart’ bit), the competition encourages it’s participants to really absorb the words dreamt up by poets past and present, before relaying them to an audience with the added flair of personal interpretation.
That may all sound too much like hard work, but I can’t stress enough how enlightened I feel after this weekend. I entered as a performer; I’ve done LAMDA exams in the past that have involved poetry, so I kind of thought ‘why not?’ But what I’ve left with is more than the experience of an all-expenses paid weekend in London and the chance to perform at The National Portrait Gallery. I’ve left with a sense of pride at having been involved in something so…vital. It may only be in its second year, but I’ve a feeling that Poetry By Heart will run for years to come. This might all seem very gushing, I know.
What competing has shown me is that what a poet writes can often be lost in translation, if given a voice that doesn’t do it justice. But when placed in the right hands (or should I say mouth?), words can be brought to life in a way so moving that it would be impossible to ignore. And that is right: poetry is impossible to ignore. As one girl rather randomly suggested, “humans are poems with feet.” Slightly odd, yes, but something to think about none the less.
Recommendations: A round-up of my personal favourites from the competition.
- Slavery by Hannah Moore
- Dusting the phone by Jackie Kay
- The wife of Bath by Geoffrey Chaucer
- The way through the woods by Rudyard Kipling
- God, a poem by James Fenton
- Wedding by Alice Oswald
- A life in dreams by Jacob Sam-la Rose
All poems are available from the Poetry Archive