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Why Poetry Inspires
Betjeman said: “Too many people in the modern world view poetry as a luxury, not a necessity.” And as an art form which taps into and awakens the depths of our innermost emotion, we cannot dismiss it as merely a collection of words on a page. Poetry condenses the human condition into self-contained moments of beauty and that is why it resonates with us on such a profound level.
It is for this reason that poetry is the cornerstone of my love of literature and I strive to share my passionate enthusiasm for this innovative form in the classroom. But over the last few years, I have realised that to inspire, poetry must break out of the confines of the classroom walls to allow its evocative words infiltrate the entire school.
Why is poetry so important? As with all literature, poetry is a timeless expression of creativity: it has the power to move, provoke, to enlighten and transform; not only does it help students to find their place in the world, it inspires them to change it.
To foster a personal connection with poetry, I began entering the school into the national Poetry by Heart Competition. I remember reading a beautiful analogy which, for me, perfectly describes the joy of learning a poem by heart: you may walk into an art gallery and admire a beautiful painting, but ultimately, when the museum closes you have to leave it behind. Yet when you learn a poem by heart you get to keep it forever with you, like taking the painting home.
At first, even the most eloquent students were nervous to perform their recitations, like sharing their reading was laying their soul bare. I wanted to dispel the myth that we should be afraid of poetry, that they should shy away from this genre for fear they cannot interpret the secret they perceive it holds. I knew I needed to put myself in their position and, like the students, outside of my comfort zone. I decided to enter the staff competition; I wanted to inspire my students to take a risk on poetry.
It was a joy to listen to and share the discovery of a vast array of poems, from classics to modern verse, that had clearly resonated with the students. They recited them – not by rote but from their hearts – with their interpretations and meanings infiltrating every line. It was heartwarming to hear each word had taken significance, held power until a confident personal interpretation had been shaped.
We celebrated our bravery and then our successes together as I accompanied a fellow student down to London for the national finals. Learning poetry by heart had not just been a cognitive exercise, it had built literary appreciation, cultural understanding, emotional and personal connections not to mention confidence in public speaking and a joy of aesthetic pleasure, feeling the rhythm and imagery flow from within it. And for this to come to fruition on the iconic Globe stage and be awarded national staff champion was simply magical.
I strive to make poetry accessible to all, to give students the platform to recite, discuss, confidently articulate and defend their interpretations of this literary form of expression, to see that it has no boundaries. I not only wanted students to fall in love with the poetry that had already been written but to shape the poetry of the future, to see how the poetic voice can be transformative: it is not just a mirror to society but a catalyst for change. So it will be on National Poetry Day, that we will announce the Grove’s third Poet Laureate, a competition I initiated within the school to celebrate poetry written by students. I am always honoured to judge the huge response of poems from all age groups as they offer their unique and valued perspectives. Students are presented with a platform to write their poignant viewpoint on key issues and events throughout the year as the winning writer is given the opportunity to be the school’s poet in residence.
Our current national Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage tells us that “The poems we learn when we’re young stay with us for the rest of our lives.” and I sincerely hope that the poetry we have shared as a school community will continue to inspire the students of Woodhouse Grove School for many years to come
Rebecca Sharpe, Teacher of English