About Poetry By Heart

What poets say

It was the most electrifying performance of poetry from the past I have ever experienced, a very special day. Hearing the work of dead poets live and kicking was an absolute treat. The finalists inhabited their chosen poems so completely that a magical thing happened: the poems inhabited them. They spoke from the heart. Their enthusiasm, their delight in the language inspired everyone in that room. This was serious fun.

Patience Agbabi, Poetry By Heart competition judge


Taking a poem into your heart makes it part of you. Saying the poem aloud makes you part of its life in the world. This is a rich and nourishing relationship that can last a lifetime.

Jean Sprackland, Poetry By Heart competition judge 


The student performances gave a new depth, a fresh angle to some of my favourite poems.

Daljit Nagra, Poetry By Heart competition judge 


The poems we learn when we’re young stay with us for the rest of our lives. They become embedded in our thinking, and when we bring them to mind, or to our lips, they remind us who we are as people, and the things we believe in. They become personal and invaluable, and what’s more they are free gifts – there for the taking. We call it learning by heart, and I think such learning can only make our hearts bigger and stronger.

Simon Armitage, UK Poet Laureate 2019-


Learning a great poem by heart is a simple and sure way of expanding your universe. If you want to give young people tools and techniques to expand their brains, learning poems by heart is a great way to do this. There is, of course, another advantage – once you learn a poem by heart, it becomes yours. The rhythm and music of each line lifts off the page and into your body, the sense and emotion unlocks and opens up your world.

Francesca Beard


The oral tradition… demands not only the griot but the audience to complete the community: the noise and sounds that the maker makes are responded to by the audience and are returned to him. Hence we have the creation of a continuum where meaning truly resides.

Kamau Brathwaite


A memorised poem is a great work of art that you own forever, a priceless piece of cultural capital. This competition is like an open invitation to students to go into an art gallery and leave with their favourite Van Gogh. I think the element of performance is brilliant. Not only will it give students a real understanding of the music of poetry, it will also do wonders for their self- confidence.

Adam Foulds


… the most important truth concerning the teaching of poetry is the value that attaches to a few poems intimately experienced and well remembered. If, at the end of each year spent in school, students have been marked by even one poem that is going to stay with them that would be a considerable achievement. Such a poem can come to feel like a pre-natal possession, a guarantee of inwardness and a link to origin. It can become the eye of a verbal needle through which the growing person can pass again and again until it is known by heart, and becomes a path between heart and mind, a path by which the individual can enter repeatedly, into the kingdom of rightness.

Seamus Heaney


May I suggest that we must always be desirous of creating spaces in which people might meet themselves, and know themselves, and celebrate themselves, and are even able to say back to us: thank you for giving ourselves back to us… spaces that exist outside the actual words….?

Kei Miller


To learn a poem by heart is to make a friend, one that will stay with you for the rest of your life. And like the best of friendships, a poem got by heart will comfort, cheer and sustain. This is what makes this terrific project so valuable – after the excitement of public performance, every child who takes part will carry their chosen poems with them into their future.

Esther Morgan


It isn’t possible to understand poetry, which is a musical skill, without hearing and internalising some of its tunes. Poetry By Heart is a practical way to encourage this in schools and I think it could remove some of the confusion (and anger) people feel when confronted with poetry. Poems, unlike prose, are memory-efficient. That doesn’t just mean they go easily into the memory and stay there. It means the memory goes easily into a poem and grows there, perhaps infinitely.

Alice Oswald


… [a] poem is just a little machine for remembering itself… Whatever other function a rhyme, a metre, an image, a rhetorical trope, a brilliant qualifier or stanza-break might perform, half of it is simply mnemonic. A poem makes a fetish of its memorability. It does this, because the one unique thing about our art is that it can carried in your head in its original state, intact and perfect. We merely recall a string quartet or a film or a painting, actually, at a neurological level we’re only remembering a memory of it; but our memory of the poem is the poem.

Don Paterson