Anyone can be a poet", claims the puff for the Poetry Society's Young Poetry Pack. "Poetry is demystified; it is . . . a fun and entertaining form of expression". So does this mean anyone can read or write it without any effort? And are we going to be limited to those jokes and anecdotes that constitute so much of what is offered as poetry for schools and in performance?
The pack is intended as a guide to reading, writing and performing poetry. It includes a pen, a notebook, a poster, a tape of poets performing their own work and a booklet with additional poems and poets discussing their craft. It is more orientated towards writing than reading or performing. A common theme running through all the poets' statements is "letting words out to play". Ted Hughes lays the emphasis on new visions of reality created thereby.
Helen Dunmore talks about how poems open windows into other people's lives. Brian Patten talks about writing as being like a very intense diary, and also about becoming "professional" when "you are doing something more than just writing your feelings down" and begin changing words and moving lines around, when you begin "to make something out of the words". Gillian Clarke gives good advice on poem-work and shaping poems. We learn that poets are makers, and that playing games with words involves discipline.
The taped readings are taken from BBC recordings, unannounced and titleless. Some are performance poems, others not. Some are silly poems that will never lead towards a fuller experience of poetry, and these sit oddly with more reflective poems that would be better served if there were a text available to refer to.
There is certainly variety, from Michael Rosen's and Jackie Kay's humorous anecdotes, Benjamin Zephaniah's chanted rants, Roger McGough's verbal jokes, to an edgy Charles Causley ballad, Helen Dunmore claiming profundity, genuine pathos in the reflectiveness of U A Fanthorpe and Gillian Clarke and a fine poem by Mick Gowar.
Variety, yes, but an odd selection for 10 to 16-year-olds. But then, to find themes and approaches to suit the potential at both ends of this age range at the same time would be remarkable.
Over all, the pack is far better than the puff, and the best part of it is the booklet by the poets, especially Michael Rosen's A-Z of Poetry and Matthew Sweeney on a poem by William Carlos Williams.