1st February 2015
Teesdale English teacher Cassie Flint reflects on the use of Poetry By Heart in the classroom.
Teesdale School had a great start to the competition with the delightful presence of award winning author Anne Fine as our chief judge. She had some really inspirational comments to make about our students and hopefully this will help them in the next round. We also had an international judge as a colleague was visiting from Pakistan, where the oral tradition remains remarkably strong and recitation of poetry is, for many students, a daily experience.
Our school is partnered with a school in Abbottabad which is in the north west of Pakistan where I visit each year. Each day begins with a recitation of a passage from the Qu’ran. As a result of being a judge on the competition, Rafia Naz, our partner from Pakistan is going to be running a Poetry by Heart competition in the school in Abbottabad. The national poet of Pakistan is Allama Iqbal and he is much loved, as we love Shakespeare. Here is one of his poems
The Age of Infancy
The earth and sky were unknown worlds to me
Only the expanse of mother’s bosom was a world to me
Every movement was a symbol of life’s pleasure to me
My own speech was like a meaningless word to me
During infancy’s pain if somebody made me cry
The noise of the door chain would comfort me
Oh! How I stared at the moon for long hours
Staring at its silent journey among broken clouds
I would ask repeatedly about its mountains and plains
And how surprised would I be at that prudent lie
My eye was devoted to seeing, my lip was prone to speak
My heart was no less than inquisitiveness personified
We had prepared for our Poetry by Heart competition by having an extra session of our weekly Poetry Club: in one of these we decided to do a Memory Workshop, chiefly to help our entrants to think about which ways would work best for them in the task of memorising poetry. The main technique we tried was the use of the ‘memory palace’ which works both visually and by association – and it seemed to work for our students . Here are some useful sites if you are interested in finding out more. We took the verse we were trying to remember and found an image from the first line and made that image as ridiculous and as larger than life as we could, so for example, in Mary Robinson’s Female Fashions for 1799 ( from the Poetry by Heart Anthology) when the first line is
A form, as any taper, fine;
it would make me think of a form, the ones I had to leapfrog over as a primary school child, brown varnished wood and little rounded rubberised feet which cushioned it on the floor- this one would be very bendy and it would be standing on the path outside my front door.
Then, inside the front door there would be a very long thin taper, made of white wax and attached to its side was a massive parking ticket – with that black and yellow edging to it- telling me I had got a fine…..and so it goes on as you construct a whole building ( or palace) within which the strong visual images from this poem will be contained.
Usually in our Poetry Club we do something which we’ve named ‘Wild Writing’ where we devise different ways in which to write poetry both individually and collaboratively. We are a mixed group, though usually sixth form students and a few teachers. One of the early experiments we tried was to do this:
- Select One from :
- Playing with the idea
and then having identified a ‘way ‘ to write we then came up with a list of words. Our first ones were: element, bus, oak and yellow. We then wrote poems using these parameters.
We also tried our hand at writing song lyrics, writing two lines each, a villanelle and found inspiration from the poetry of the Argentinian poet Alejandra Pizarnik ( whom we have recently discovered).
Here is one of our collaborative ones;
My cane, my pocket change, this ring of keys,
striding out along the midnight sidewalk:
I am painted in navy blue and the
thin strips of luminescence cast down by the moon.
The calm footfall is a son
only I hear.
Lately though we have been looking through the Poetry by Heart timeline and selecting ones to read and give our reactions to as we prepare for the next round of the Poetry by Heart Competition.
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcH7obzlSKU from 22.24 till 28.43
TED talk on memory
How to use a memory palace
I have been an English teacher for many, many years and throughout all the changes I have seen, the one constant in all my English teaching has been my love of poetry. I have written myself since I was a young girl and maybe, being the daughter of a novelist, in a way encouraged me. I grew up in St.Ives in Cornwall at a time when there were great artists there and I met them as my father’s friends. For that reason too the sea and the literature which asks the big questions in life appeal to me. In my later years I have begun to travel and have been lucky enough to be part of a British Council Connecting Classrooms Project which takes me to Pakistan and to work in a school there each year. You might be interested in an article I published on my last visit: http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/jan/07/schools-taliban-power-of-education