Thank you to Eloise for being our fabulous photographer for the day!
I spent the journey in to meet the students for our trip between work and Twitter: where #nationalpoetryday had begun.
I had a browse through the light anthology and very quickly decided upon my favourite:
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.
At Reading, students gathered in the warmth of outside which, in the sun, was a great deal warmer than inside where we’d planned to meet. It was a perfect fit for the day’s theme of ‘light’.
It was my first trip to London in the past 6 years where I didn’t get us lost but I’d done pretty well on this one: jump on the Bakerloo line to Embankment, walk over the bridge, marvel at the beautiful views of London and walk into the Festival Hall- well done me!
Once there, we found our way up to the Saison Poetry Library: a really beautiful little space filled with peace and poems. The students had tasks to complete and when we left for lunch, some of them requested that I take a look at their notes in a few days once they’d completed them as they wanted to work on their poems some more. This was a small success and a huge leap for some of them. I liked the fact that I’d introduced them to more of an academic environment- with moving bookshelves and EVERYTHING!I only wish we could have stayed a little longer.
I spent a relaxing lunch eating my sandwich and wandering along the Thames in the sun, taking pictures of the Houses of Parliament.
We then headed back in for an afternoon of poetry readings. There were a wide variety of themes and performance styles.
One of the most powerful moments for me was the poem from Joelle Taylor about young asylum seekers she works with. I often find that the advantage of hearing poems spoken aloud is the introduction you get from the poet to accompany the words.
One of my students has already reflected on her favourite poet of the afternoon:
My favourite poet from today was Joelle Taylor. I loved her style of poetry and how she uses poetry to raise certain issues. One of the ways that allowed her poetry to be so engaging was her use of elongated pauses. It was fascinating to listen to her purely because of the way she manipulated the syllables in her chosen words to create a melody. She used several similes, for example, comparing her poem to a bullet to represent the corruption of her taxes to fund the killing of innocent people, those of which who inspired her poems in the first place.
As we travelled home in the late autumn sun, I got to thinking and writing this blog.
What I would love to see in the future from English qualifications is a freedom of choice: the opportunity for students to pick a poet that appeals to them and analyse their work as well as performance.
My students are currently working on their coursework and they can choose from a selection of dead middle class white poets OR (big choice!) live middle class white poets! Where are the real voices? Don’t get me wrong- Wordsworth and Blake are my all time favourites and they may well be my students’ too but there’s no variety for them to check this against. Some of my students will be moved by voices far more akin to their own perhaps; poets who speak of the reality of their contexts, their cultures and their experiences. I’m pleased that I was able to expose them to some of these voices this afternoon but unless their studies are enriched by such voices- not just because they’re place on a list or in an anthology but because the learners are trusted to move towards the poets that appeal to them the most.
The most honest and engaging voices of the afternoon were two ‘new to the scene’ poets who had not yet honed their presentation on stage. There was a real vulnerability about them. They forgot some of their lines and they came across as far more real because of it. It got me to wondering how words lose their meaning after a while. If songs are too often played then they enter a previously unknown realm of ‘grating’ or ‘annoying’. If books are too well-read then they become familiar and comfortable: they don’t challenge or affirm anymore they just ‘are’. If poems are too over-spoken then they become polished; it’s an acted performance that doesn’t fool anyone. The words lose the passion and meaning they had when they were spoken for the first few times and they just become words floating in the ether to be caught, but most likely to float overhead. It is the new words that hit us square in the face, make our eyes water, bring a smile to our faces and passion to our hearts.
‘Words are food and fire and light.’
But only if we choose them carefully, apply them truthfully, use them wisely and speak them sparingly. Otherwise it’s just noise.