Quiet Poets

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Last night we ran our first Poetry Competition. This is something I have been thinking about doing for a couple of years and working toward for the last 6 months or so. The evening itself was the end of a process of a poetry competition which the department launched on National Poetry Day in October. Last night we celebrated the 20 shortlisted poems and announced our runners up and winner. I have never run an ‘event’ at school before and it was nerve-wracking but in the end, very enjoyable. It was quite a low key affair, with parents getting a chance to read the poems before hearing from 6 of the poets. The event ended with the announcement of the awards.

I have always loved poetry, I said in my opening speech that it was one of the reasons I became an English teacher. I still vividly remember reading Seamus Heaney’s Digging in my GCSE class. As I explained to the gathered parents last night, the English curriculum across both Key Stage 3 and 4 pushing for a lot of analysis and response to poetry, but not any writing. Although as a school we are very successful in celebrating sporting, musical and dramatic success, we don’t always remember the more reflective, subtle talents of writing. I wanted, therefore, to address this and celebrate the quiet poets in our school.  The school I went to also ran a poetry competition and when I was in Year 7 I was ‘commended’ for a poem I wrote about winter (my mum still has the collection) and I remember loving being acknowledged for my writing talents. My aim was to do the same.

The poems we had for the competition were superb. We often think that  poetry produced in schools is often very ‘nice’ and ‘rhymey’ or at the other extreme that teenagers have dark emotions they want to pour onto the page. There were a couple of examples of what might be dubbed ’emo’ poems last night, but they were also heartfelt and true. There were also poems above love and music. One of the runners up wrote a superb sonnet on the topic of the Boston Marathon attacks; he said he wanted to match the traditionally beautiful form of the sonnet with the tragedy of the event (this is a 16 year old boy). Our winning poem was beautiful, a timeless piece using the sea as a metaphor for life and struggle. Without celebrating these poems, these ideas and voices would have been ignored.

I don’t want to get too righteous about the power of poetry, but I do think it is worth looking as teachers at different ways to highlight the talents of our students. We always notice the sporty, confident outgoing talents and we shouldn’t ignore the quiet wallflowers that are writing wonderfully crafted verse.