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Poetry By Heart Blog

We will remember

4th November 2021

11th November is a week away, the day we remember all those who have died as a result of war and conflict. In this blogpost, we’ve pulled together some of the Poetry By Heart resources you might want to draw on in planning acts of remembrance in your school.

Screenshot 2021-11-04 at 10.23.38

The November calendar poem is Sarah Teasdale’s ‘There will come soft rains’, a poem that imagines a world after humankind has destroyed itself, in which the natural world goes on – beautifully – without us. It’s a poem that might resonate with students far beyond its original context, given the contemporary apocalyptic vision of climate change.

The ‘There will come soft rains’ poem page on the website includes four different student performances of the poem. Inviting students to watch these after they’ve read the poem and to consider what they would change and why is a great starting point for preparing their own performance of this poem. This Sunday’s Poem of the Week email also features this poem and includes an activity to explore its shifting mood.

More broadly, the November calendar challenge is to invite students to select a poem from the Poetry By Heart First World War Poetry Showcase to read or recite on 11th November at a school or community remembrance event. There are poems written at the time of the First World War by soldiers and women auxiliaries at the frontline; and by people enduring the war at home in many nations, with some poems originally written in languages other than English. There are poems written after the war by modern and contemporary poets, responding in different ways to its long-term effects on families and communities. There are old classroom favourites as well as ‘lost voices’. You could invite pupils to start exploring the showcase by finding a poem they like by a man, a woman, a person of colour, someone dead, someone alive, someone they’ve heard of, someone they’ve never heard of, someone who wrote in a language other than English, a nurse, a soldier, or any other categories you like.

We’ve also refreshed the Performance Gallery to showcase seven outstanding pupil performances of a variety of First World War poems. This might be helpful to inspire your pupils to perform poems themselves, but you are also entirely free to use it if you’d like to show one or more of the performance videos as part of your school remembrance event.

And finally, for a bit of remembrance language work, our friends at Oxford English Dictionary have an amazing resource about 100 words that define the First World War. If that takes your fancy, we’d love to hear how you use it.

If your students speak a poem on 11th November, whether read or memorised, they’re well on their way to a Poetry By Heart competition entry. They could learn their First World War showcase poem by heart and then go on to learn a second for the Classic competition, or they could think about how to develop their First World War poem performance for the Freestyle category.

If Poetry By Heart features in your school/college on 11th November, we’d love to hear about it. Blogposts of 300-800 words with any images you’re able to share are always welcome, and can be written by students or staff! Get in touch via info@poetrybyheart.org.uk


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Black poets matter – the Poetry By Heart poem collections

26th November 2020

In response to emails from a student and a teacher at different times this term, we’ve been thinking about all the black and minority ethnic poets featured on the Poetry By Heart website.  As our filters don’t yet make it easy to see them all in one place, we’ve gathered the 75 poems from across our collections and put them all here! If you click on a poet portrait, you’ll be taken to a poem by that poet somewhere on the site. Some poets have more than one poem so you’ll find some portraits repeated. Sometimes they cluster together and sometimes they are further apart – we sequenced them by the poem’s publication date. You’ll find exciting contemporary poets (some of whom are our national competition judges and MC) as well as poets who lived in the 20th century, and a few from previous centuries. There are poets born in or who migrated to Britain, and poets from other regions and countries including the Caribbean, India and the USA. There are favourite poets whose poems have featured regularly in school anthologies and there are poets who are less well known. The poems are drawn together from all the different timeline and showcases.

We hope this blogpost will be a source of joyful discovery, reading and sharing these poems aloud – and a resource for classroom discussion, independent research and student projects on poets they want to explore further. We’d love to see inspiring and magical performances of all these poems recited in this year’s competition – if your students want inspiration, some of the poem pages also feature student performances. And we’d love to have additional suggestions to consider in our next review of the site in the summer term.
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Quarto to Showcase – creating a digital collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets

26th June 2020

In this week’s blogpost, Tom Boughen, who is currently helping us add new learning material to the Poetry By Heart website, explores how Shakespeare’s plays were opened up for him by his A Level English teacher and how working on our Shakespeare’s Sonnets Showcase has now introduced him to the sonnets too.

I have a personal certainty that anyone who engages with Poetry By Heart for any length of time will walk away having learned something about poetry that they didn’t know before. This is no less true for those of us who work on the project. I’ve been spending time in the company of William Shakespeare’s 154 published sonnets, which are at the heart of Renaissance literary tradition, yet I have to admit that I knew little about them until recently.

I was surprised to find how much I did know, the snippets which have wormed their way into the public consciousness. Like many quotes from great literature which have done this, they come without much recognition of their origin.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?


When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,

And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field…


My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips’ red…

These might ring a bell, but it feels really satisfying to actually see these in their full context, akin to finally remembering the title of a song when the tune has been at the back of your mind for a few days.

The Shakespeare sonnet showcase has been on the site for a while, since 2017. It was originally created to continue the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death. It often feels that we never really stop the ongoing celebration of Shakespeare’s life and works but we thought we could help students to discover something new. This is a challenge when contending with possibly the most famous writer in the English language and given that he was writing 400 years ago, when the English language was very different to today.

We took that challenge head-on. Alongside the modern English version we offered an alternate version published with the original spellings of 400 years ago. The development of language, and its evolution over the last 400 years, is evident when lining up two versions of the same poem – and it’s fascinating. And if you thought Shakespeare’s writing only works with a refined, upper-class accent, try watching the video below of Trevor Eaton reciting Sonnet 18 in Original Pronunciation.

Trevor Eaton – Sonnet 18 -Original Pronunciation from Poetry By Heart on Vimeo.

The development of language from Shakespearean English to modern English is also evident with the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) links available throughout the showcase. We plan to add many more links in the coming weeks. Each link will take you to the OED definition, specific to the context of the poem, and find out the background to any words that might be obscure, difficult to understand, or just plain quirky.

From grappling with Hamlet in my own English A-Level class, I know that Shakespeare really comes alive when it’s taken off the page and is instead tumbling out of people’s mouths. As a moody, testosterone-filled teenager, the themes of parental alienation and destructive masculinity really struck a chord with me, but never more until I actually watched Kenneth Branagh, Ethan Hawke, David Tennant, Laurence Olivier – and yes, even Mel Gibson – deliver the lines which before had often seemed perplexing. In the same way that you can pick up on the meaning of a sentence in a foreign language by tone, body language and voice, you can do the same with Shakespearean English.

On this basis, each sonnet includes an audio recitation by Professor David Fuller, who has studied the link between sound and meaning in the sonnets, and many more also have links to Poetry Archive readings by poets. We also plan to include more videos of a wide variety of actors and performers giving their own unique interpretations.

Ultimately, through helping to build this project, I have a greater level of personal accessibility to the world of Shakespeare’s sonnets than I did a few weeks ago. All credit to my A Level English teacher, who employed a wide range of resources to help unlock Shakespeare’s plays. Now I’m beginning to see his sonnets in the same light, and I hope the Poetry By Heart Shakespeare showcase will help more young people in the same way.



Tom Boughen currently teaches English as a language assistant in Madrid. A full-time member of the Poetry By Heart team between 2013 and 2016, he still occasionally returns to make contributions to the project, and otherwise spends his time reading, writing, going for walks and practising his Spanish.

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