Delight and mystery win poetry award

15th June 2007 at 01:00
MY TWO-year-old grandson Thomas loves words. I took him to Huddersfield the other day and we talked about musical instruments: his favourite is the hurdy-gurdy, and the name makes him laugh and clap his hands. Then the train pulled into Denby Dale.

"That's like hurdy-gurdy," he said, and he's right, and we spent the rest of the trip singing "Hurdy - gurdy, Denby Dale... " No wonder nobody wanted to sit near us!

In Thomas's delight in words I can see the the beginnings of poetry: rhythm, rhyme, mystery, laughter and that strange alchemy that happens when we don't understand what's happening linguistically but we're too busy dancing with the words to find out.

Delight and mystery were things I was looking for when I judged the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education competition; we need marvellous poetry as much as we need healthy meals, good housing and fine sports facilities for pupils.

Our winner, The Thing that Mattered Most, Scottish Poems for Children, edited by Julie Johnstone and published by the Scottish Poetry Library, is brimming with delight and mystery. The poems take delight seriously and understand that mystery can be done with a smile and it's a worthy (in the best sense of the word) winner.

In the other books, there were fine poems and several that would have detained me and Thomas between Denby Dale and Berry Brow (another station name he liked) or maybe as far as Lock-wood, but it felt to me that too often the anthologies were simply poems on a subject strung together, and the single collections, al-though some were very good, did not always punch their weight as much as they should.

So where do we go from here? Well, Thomas and I went back to Barnsley and when we went back through Denby Dale he knew the words and he was still delighted they were familiar to him, he could explore them in more depth.

And that's what we want from poetry for children and that's what the best poems do: we want to get to know them, to be able to meet them and take them into our lives and our mouths and our minds.

Buy the winning book and share it with the children in your class; decide which poems work best. Read them out loud. Write your own, write them with children.

And buy a hurdy-gurdy and take it to Denby Dale.

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