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Poetry By Heart Blog

The most accessible literature

26th May 2022

I have always loved the accessibility and escapism that poetry can provide but in my teens, when I felt like I needed to escape the most, it was not the first thing that sprang to mind. Somewhere along the line, I had fallen out of love with poetry. I had developed misunderstandings of inaccessibility that were nothing to do with the words on the page. I felt that my own voice had become a distant whisper, but I found myself again through the words of others.

There is safety in poetry; we apply our own identity to those words that someone else has gifted to us. There is something rebellious in interpretation—these words on this page can mean whatever we interpret them to mean: they belong to us and through these patterns, noises, words—our entire existence is intertwined, and we are connected to something greater than ourselves. The idea that my own words could form that connection with someone else—for someone else, was liberating and unifying.

Poetry is the most accessible literature: for the best and worst moments of our lives, there are words expressing the inexpressible. Across so many cultures, spoken word and food have united people, offering the sharing of experiences. What better pairing could there be than poetry and pancakes? And so the idea for our showcase entries was born.

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We selected students who can be quite hard to reach. Students who we knew would shine if only they’d give it a chance. Students who, for a range of reasons, had fallen out of love with poetry or performance or both. Excellent, passionate voices, extinguished by masks and lockdowns and years of uncertainty.

We selected a small cohort of students from year 9 and year 10 to come along and have a go. We headed to the food technology department and made fluffy American pancakes while reciting Christina Rossetti’s ‘Mix A Pancake’. This poem of just 22 words was easy for the students to learn. Reminding them of their capabilities. The rhythm of the poem meant that they could recite it together easily while multi-tasking or brave reciting parts alone. Some of the students even showed us a few of their best pancake-flipping-squirty-cream-catching skills. One of the most insightful things for us was how different both recitals were, which really demonstrates the versatility of poetry and the subjectivity of interpretation. Each student used their creative license to explore the words, performance and of course…pancakes.

It is not always about what we say, but about being heard. Valued. This was not only a great bonding experience for all involved, but a brilliant cross-curricular experience…maybe all poems should be accompanied by a delicious snack.

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Robyn Gardiner is a teacher of English Language and Literature at The Queen Katherine School in Cumbria. She has a comprehensive background in inclusion with a particular interest in educational social justice.

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Learning ‘Those Winter Sundays’ by Robert Hayden – by heart

13th May 2022

Wendy MacKenzie-Ingle is a 60 year old English Teaching Assistant at Dartford Grammar School for Girls and a big fan of Poetry by Heart. She enjoyed organising bigger and bigger competitions in-school to select Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 winners every year until COVID struck.
Wendy has always avoided the Staff competition but this year accepted the challenge and set to learning a short poem. She says that ‘the experience has taught me a great deal about what the students have been doing all these years! I feel proud of getting the poem I learnt by heart and have found it extraordinary to spend much longer than usual with one poem. I am determined now to try a longer poem as I can see that, even as we get older, the brain finds its own way to hold onto poetry.’

This poem is inspired by ‘Those Winter Sundays’ by Robert Hayden.


 

 

what did I know
of the effort involved
of the physical pain
of not remembering?

what did I know
of what youngsters do
of their plastic brains
of my declining cells?

what did I know
of of and to and and
of those small words
of how they trip up?

what did I know
of the ways to learn a line
of how to tame the words
of how to get inside the poem?

what did I know
of rhythm of beats
of walking in time to the words
of learning a way to learn?

what did I know
of the magical power of Sundays
of blueblack cold and cracked hands
of the poem getting hold of me?
what did I know
of the joy the satisfaction
of the sense of growing
of my heart swelling?

what did I know
after years of encouraging others to do this wonderful, life-changing thing?
what did I know?


 

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