Tuesday, 15 November 2011

It doesn’t have to rhyme: children and poetry

Saturday’s IBBY conference was fantastic. Wonderful sessions by great poets and academics on how poetry works and why it matters.

Morag Styles was inspiring, demonstrating how poetry ‘gets to the parts other literature doesn’t reach’. Like many of the speakers, she lamented current literacy teaching (especially the ‘eat up your greens’ approach to poetry teaching), and public sector budget cuts, and their impact on children’s access to poetry. But she also celebrated the fact that children’s poetry still thrives, in schools and out – lovely to hear about poems on Wimpy napkins.

And just to prove her words, we saw a fantastic video of poetry slam winner Sarah Olowofoyeku performing ‘Please mind the gap’, and heard about contemporary poetry publishing from an expert panel.

Michael Rosen’s lecture on how poetry ‘does its stuff’ was brilliant: erudite, insightful and very funny. Who else would think to use ‘It’s raining, it’s pouring’ as their main text? He had loads of practical ideas for making schools poetry-friendly. Instead of adjective-spotting exercises, the emphasis should be on performance and on open discussion that delves into meaning and children’s responses.

I felt very lucky to attend a workshop by Kimberly Black and Imogen Church. Kimberly was fascinating about the prevalence and value of young people’s spoken word poetry in the US, showing us how participatory poetry is a form of democratic engagement. Imogen was very interesting on poetry written by juvenile offenders. Writers working with young offenders know never to ask them to write poems; suggesting ‘spitting bars’ is a whole lot more acceptable.

Philip Gross gave us yet more proof of the power of poetry with fabulous renditions of poems from his newest book, Off Road to Everywhere. The conference ended with a fascinating talk by the amazing Jacqueline Wilson on the processes of putting together her new anthology of poems for girls, Green Glass Beads.