Get rhythm

12th March 2004 at 00:00
Victoria Neumark introduces the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award

Poetry is all around us: in the lyrics of pop music, in adverts, in greetings cards, in films and novels and politicians' speeches. Many young people value it as a way to explore inner worlds and reach out to others.

But how can teachers help their pupils gain poetic capabilities and use poetry to develop academic achievements? The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, open to anybody between the ages of 11 and 18, has attracted huge interest from schools and pupils and each year has produced poems striking in their originality and range.

One of last year's winners was Maria Achieng Onyango from South Wilts Grammar School for Girls, Salisbury. Though Maria entered the competition on her own initiative, she came from a school where creativity is valued, even in the science department, where teacher Anne Wilkes gets key stage 3 pupils to respond to science in poetry or prose by entering the school's science writing competition. The AQA English specification A, with its creative writing coursework component, fosters poetry and technical exploration. Some schools fight shy of this, distrusting any assessment of personal writing, but Steve Davies, head of English recommends Drafting and Assessing Poetry, A Guide for Teachers by Sue Dymoke (Paul Chapman Publishing pound;17.99): it's full of suggestions for creative stimuli, demonstrations and ICT, including specific web resources. Crucially, says Elizabeth Young, Maria's teacher, it gives markers for progress and models for assessment, cross-referenced to the AQA assessment criteria.

Armed with the textbook, Mrs Young uses literature to access creativity. As she says: "specific input on poetry writing makes sense during poetry teaching when techniques are being studied." Work predating the 20th century has a lot to offer technically, she feels.

For example, "Looking at Browning's creation of the excitable narrator of 'The Laboratory' we draw out how rhythm contributes to a sense of movement and character. I asked girls to make a series of short poems of their own to illustrate, say, three very different personalities; they worked in response pairs, one noting the rhythm of a walk or skip or hobble specific to the character, acted out by their partner. Using crosses and slashes to represent syllables, pupils experimented with the look of line-lengths and groupings of lines into stanzas on the page to heighten their awareness of form and metre. Later, we added phonological variations to these metrical ones."

Maria's poem, notable for its bold experimentation with shifting points of view, alliteration, assonance and stuttering, shows distinct echoes of this approach to Browning. Browning's narrator's spitting alliteration in such phrases as: "which is the poison to poison her prithee?"; "moisten and mash up thy paste,Pound at thy powder" brilliantly demonstrates how aural effects create mood. Maria switches powerfully between physical drama - "flaaaash vision sparkling gold dust onto my curling lashes" to sharp social comment - "Facing the northern lights, and me without my make-up on".

Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2004

How to enter: Any writer between the ages of 11 and 18 can enter the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2004 by sending their poem or poems on A4 paper with their name, address, school and date of birth written clearly on the reverse of every sheet to Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2004, The Poetry Society, 22 Betterton Street, London WC2H 9BX.

Poems can also be sent by email to fyp@poetrysociety. Poets can enter as many poems as they choose, of any length and on any theme.

Competition entries cannot be returned under any circumstances, so please make sure you send copies only. The closing date is 31 July, 2004.

All winners and runners-up will receive book prizes donated by publishers Bloodaxe and Faber amp; Faber, plus free youth membership of the Poetry Society for one year, and will be invited to an awards party on National Poetry Day, October 7 2004. The 15 overall winners will be invited to attend the prize-winners' writing course at the Arvon Centre, Lumb Bank in February 2005.

* To receive a free copy of the anthology on entering the competition simply enclose an A5 self-addressed envelope with a 34p stamp with your poems.

Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is sponsored by The TES.

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