School poetry has a dull reputation. Many will remember copying reams of notes into anthologies, ready to be regurgitated at high speed in literature exams. Now that curriculum reforms are bringing the traditional literary canon back to the top of the agenda, it feels like a step further backwards in the direction of spoon-feeding and endless essays on My Last Duchess.
But salvation is at hand: performing and reciting poetry are also recognised in the new curriculum, providing opportunities for teachers to take poetry off the page and bring it to life with the spoken word.
One source of inspiration for teachers on how to do this is a series of free workshops that put professional poets and spoken-word artists into contact with young people in inner-city London. Working with poets including Rosie Knight, Bridget Minamore and Jolade Olusanya, Lewisham in Poetry is running sessions with 16- to 19-year-olds who live, work or are educated in the London borough.
“It is so important to give young people a voice and a platform to express themselves,” says Knight. “Spoken word is a fantastic way to do this; young people get to explore a craft, while developing transferable skills such as self-confidence and public speaking.”
Bringing a spoken-word artist into school is one way to open up similar experiences to your students. National poetry development agency Apples and Snakes has a long list of poets who are experienced at working in educational settings. Watching poetry in performance will not only help students to understand that poets are real people with faces and voices, it will also demonstrate how important rhythm and sound are to the art form.
Another option is to work with a local youth club to set up a project similar to the one in Lewisham, or to organise a poetry slam at your school. The Slambassadors organisation will provide support for teachers and you can even find student-friendly examples of a poetry slam here on TES.
And the good news is that young people have clearly got a passion for poetry. On 2 October, The Poetry Society announced the winners of the 2014 Foyle Young Poets Award and revealed that they had been chosen from a record-breaking number of entries: 13,630 poems sent in from 78 countries by 7,603 young poets between the ages of 11 and 17.
That sounds like a step in the right direction.
Lewisham in Poetry will run a series of weekly evening sessions and some full days on weekends and during college holidays from September 2014 to March 2015. To find out more, visit the Spread the Word website.