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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Too Young For Poetry? No way!

It's ANZAC Day here in Australia today, a sad public holiday. It's cold, wet and windy. A day for poetry if ever there was one. I've been planning to introduce more poetry to the kids for some time now but wasn't really sure how to do it without boring them or freaking them out. After reading a little First World War poetry to myself this morning I decided that although apt they really weren't ready for that kind of emotional carnage! Luckily I happened to stumble on A Poke In the I, a great children's book about 'concrete poetry', at the library yesterday. Do you remember learning about concrete poetry (calligrams) at school? It's that lovely visual poetry that uses a blend of placement, typography and words to convey meaning. You can see Isabella's balloon example in the photo above and some other great examples here

Henry found it too hard to contain his poetic muse and dictated the following to me all in one go (he's 5).

Marching With The Band 

Think about marching in your poetic deafness
of lemon drops and sugar.
In your flavoured mouth
poetic things dance to your deafness
Then you begin to feel sleepy and you fall asleep
and taste the deafness
and nobody knows your deafness is dead.

I swear that's just what came out! I just wrote it down and formatted it. Ah, to have the lack of fear that would just let me spew things out like that...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

'Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines'.

'...when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn't be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs tough language - and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers - a language powerful enough to say it how it is. It isn't a hiding place. It is a finding place.'

Jeanette Winterson

A number of things have happened over the past couple of weeks that have made me re-evaluate the place of poetry (and literature) in my life. First, I read Jeanette Winterson's wonderful new memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?. I'm always amazed by Winterson's ability to find words for feelings I share but could never articulate. Although not strictly speaking a poet she has the sensibility of one and it was interesting to read about her early experiences of literature - The Bible, Shakespeare, Thomas Mallory's Morte d'Arthur, T.S Eliot and the contents of the Accrington Public Library 'English Literature in Prose A-Z' section.

Other things that kept me thinking along these lines were Twitter conversations I followed about finding good poets to excite older kids on one hand and the draconian cuts to libraries (and museums/ community services) in the UK on the other. To top it all off and bring it all home we had the announcement yesterday that the new Queensland Premier had axed the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards (during The National Year of Reading no less!).

What's going on?! Has the GFC (not a real excuse in Australia) created or unleashed some form of universal, contagious mean-spiritedness? Is it arrogance or is it just a spectacular lack of imagination? When phrases like 'waste of taxpayer money' start being bandied around it becomes patently clear that there has been no real thought given to the knock-on effects such decisions set in train - disaffection and isolation within the community being something that should matter to any government. I suspect Winterson is right and that it's been a long time (if ever) since those making the decisions have done it tough. Words can be empowering just ask any rapper.

If there is an up-side to all these confronting events perhaps it's that it has forced me to re-evaluate and try and articulate why I value the place of literature in a world where things may otherwise by 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short'. On a micro-level it has sent me (children in tow) back to the local library to support their work and has encouraged me to revisit the poets who have inspired me in the past - T.S. Eliot, John Donne, William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Dorothy Porter, Gwen Harwood, Sylvia Plath, Seamus Heaney, W.H. Auden, Robert Lowell and so many more. It has also made me realise that my poetry reading is woefully out-of-date so if you have any suggestions I'd love to hear them.

You just can't take anything for granted can you?