Following his entertaining Reading for Pleasure event in April, Michael Rosen returned to our screens to share his love of language in a Poetry in the Classroom event on Wednesday 23 June 2021, hosted by our partner, CPD Provider, Ilsham English Hub.
To start off, fellow poetry lovers were invited to wave their own beloved poetry books on their screens, including Michael Rosen’s own quirky-sounding poetic plea, “Don’t Put Mustard in the Custard,” a nostalgic “The Puffin Book of Fantastic First Poems,” Roald Dahl’s poetic oeuvre, and John Hegley’s “I’m a Poetato” (correct creative spelling!) and many more…
The premise of the talk was to “imagine a bogey person in your life asking you as a teacher to justify why you’re spending time, wasting time on poetry; when there are more important things you should be to be doing?”
Poetry rules, such as they are, were devised way back in 1900 with rules and tendencies, and regular rhythms. Poetry in the classroom as “laboratory for words” is much more exciting. Children can play with syllables and the good news is there’s no Haiku police!
Difficult as it may be to put into words, poetry is a form of entertainment that intrigues us, even if we may not fully understand or grasp it. By suggesting things rather than declaring, poetry offers a different form of discourse. Think of Hamlet’s elusive “To be or not to be…” that is not even a real question! This is where poetry is open-ended, mysterious and experimental. It provides an impression – rather than providing the whole story.
Poetry is a dialogue, but it’s not a real. It’s a form of desire. It makes familiar things unfamiliar and unfamiliar things familiar. Think of the vivid opening line from Wilfred Owen’s powerful “Dulce et Decorum Est” that brought back life in the World War I trenches to those in England, “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks…”
Quoting aplenty from him abundant poetry memory bank, Michael made the audience think how nonsense has some kind of sense, quoting next from Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat.” It opens conversations. Think of the curious opening of Tennyson’s narrative poem, “The Lady of Shallot:”
“On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
To many-tower'd Camelot;”
What’s going to happen next…?
Poetry constantly draws attention to how it sounds and how it’s made. The rhythm and rhymes draw attention to how it sounds. It also helps in learning other languages (cue quoting in French) and is comparatively easy to learn – compared to a page of prose – thanks to its hooks, of rhythm and rhyme and easy to remember phrasing. Children can use chunks to make up their own poems.
To the mechanics of poetry that bring together similarities, figurative language, similes, metaphors and personification and inspire abstract thought. In “Persephone and the Pomegranate Seeds,” Persephone takes pity on Pluto – but what does pity mean? Poetry can help the reader to see a situation from another person’s point of view through the use of “I” and by putting feelings into words. We all know that feelings can sometimes be hard to express and can sit in what Michael called “a mushy miasma,” (very alliterative!) like a ping-pong ball bouncing around in our heads and hearts. But by writing, you bring it out of your brain and put it in an order; as Michael very personally did in emerging from his Covid coma…”out of the coma words spat out.”
With his fast-thinking mind, and wonderful way of creating pictures and ideas with words, Michael described how poetry in a welcoming environment can grow as the ivy, with education the bricks.
So, what can a poetry-friendly school and classroom look like?
1. Post Poetry on the Wall
Appoint a pupil Poem Monitor to be responsible.
Draw attention to the change on the poetry board so that people read it.
Invite children to bring in poems and their own poetry and change it every two weeks.
2. Read Poems in Assemblies
Poetry in assemblies should be no different to singing songs.
3. School Bulletins
Include poetry for parents and children to read.
4. Visits by Poets in School
Think of the joy of being face-to-face with a poet in school who w-r-i-t-e-s poems (as we were in this event)!
5. Poetry Video Channel
A wealth of poetry possibilities (cue Michael Rosen’s own YouTube channel here!).
6. The Poetry Archive
519 POETS TO EXPLORE
2194 POEMS FREE TO ENJOY
8076 POEMS AVAILABLE TO MEMBERS
7. Use Post-its
Encourage children to express how a poem makes them feel so that they respond personally.
Invite them to scribble their thoughts on a post-it note and stick it on the poem, in the poetry book.
8. Read Poetry out loud in the Spaces of the Day
“Create question marks in the children’s mind” (another gem of a phrase!).
9. Create a Word Wall
Invite children to bring in their favourite words and new discoveries – the funnier the better!
“Language can be collected. It is not received. We make it and collect it and that’s how we live.”
We own language and every day we encounter it. True true…
10. Word Anthology
Invite children to make their own Word Anthology.
This can be built over the school year beyond the poetry unit.
Create a space.
11. Poetry Shelf
Children can include favourites in their own anthology.
12. Poems can be Partnered with Mime, Model-Making, Videos etc.
Poetry is not the poor relation.
It helps to interpret other art forms.
Think of Michelangelo who painted the Sistine Chapel from the sacred texts.
13. Make a Poetry Film
As Michael began to create one effortlessly before our very eyes…
14. A Poetry Class Cabaret
Build up a performance repertoire across the whole class.
Mime it, hold up words from the poem, use the chorus of the poem…
15. Create Monologues from a Poem
Think of Hansel and Gretel…what were they thinking? Or be the tree witnessing the children in the forest.
Get children talking in pairs and create a mini drama and hot seat and interview each other and write about it.
What do you feel?
Create a soliloquy.
16. Create a Poetic Sequel to a Well-Known Story
Think of Cinderella and say, the not so prince charming.
Invite children to write poetic monologues from within the situation.
17. A Moment in a Film
Start with phrases and choruses to build up a poem.
“After dark…after dark…I…”
Through repetition, hang your words on the washing line of the chorus.
18. Use a Painting
Write from within, think of Victorian storytellers; write from their point of view.
19. Use Day Dreams
Jot down day dreams and listen to the voices in your head.
20. Imitate and invent
Use another poem as a springboard/trigger.
Consider the sound, pattern, rhythm, theme…
Michael cited his own use of D.H. Lawrence poem’s “Man and Bat” for his poem, “Snake” when he killed a moth that came into his room.
21. Reminders of Your Life/TV Programme/Film?
Be inspired – write a poem!
22. Use the Five Senses
Add in what you remember, think, dream and imagine AND what is it like?
Proud of his Secret Strings theory, get children in pairs scribbling on the poem as poem detectives, discovering links through rhythm, sound, and images, contrasts and opposites. Some children even think they’re cleverer than the poet!
There are so many starting points.
There is not a fixed process to how you write a poem.
The important thing is to make poetry centre place.
These are not soundbites for Michael. But soul-bites by which he lives and believes.
As he reluctantly ended his talk, I was reminded that the joy of listening to Michael Rosen is not only his engaging enthusiasm. But that he makes it all seem so promising, possible and doable. Thank you to Michael for his sharing his wonderful poetic wisdom and to Ilsham English Hub for organising another highly enjoyable and entertaining Michael Rosen maestro masterclass (note the artfully crafted alliteration!). The positive effects of which will doubtless be felt in classrooms for a long time to come.
Report by Jude Owens
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