Thursday, 8 October 2015

checkin' out some poetry

Copyright: <a href=''>aleksan / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Youthful memories of poetry take me back to my FantasticoDad painfully trying to get me to memorise Macavity the Mystery Cat by TS Eliot and reciting Ozymandias by Shelley. Gove may be a fan of the learning by rote but back then I couldn't see the point. Until I came across Michael Rosen, Jackie Kay and Roger McGough. Poets that didn't drill dull words onto the page making my eyes swim or search for meaning on subjects that I didn't understand. Rosen and McGough wrote hilarious, naughty, outrageous poems about parents and schools and Kay was the first poet that enabled me to deal with my feelings as a black kid in an all white town.

Fast forward a gazillion years and this year has seen me passing the wonder (yes I succumbed)  of Macavity to my girls - which they loved it, took it school and everything - and sharing the beauty of Ozymandias with a bottom set in year 11 who not only explored the poetic techniques of this 19th century poem but argued with each other about the message within the poem. Year 11s - they'll argue about anything but what a buzz in the classroom!

With nearly twenty years of teaching English to teens and within that a stack of poetry, the one poet that always creates excitement, laughter and pupil participation to the classroom is John Agard. His poems leap off the page and bring a multitude of subjects and issues to enjoy and discuss. But the best way to experience his work is aloud, whilst I can offer a passable Caribbean accent, there is nothing better than listening to the poet himself. Either online or even better still on stage Guyanese, Agard's tone dances and explodes with rhythm and rhyme and minute pauses where we have to fill the gaps. My first experience of seeing Agard with GCSE students at the yearly Poetry Live was akin to witnessing what I expect it was like at the Smash Hits Poll Winners party back in the 80s. This poet is an absolute legend for these kids. They sat enthralled, repeated lines back at him on cue and buzz-talked about him all the way home.

Over the years the syllabus has allowed me to teach 'half-caste' and 'checkin' out me history' where we discuss the role of British history and what culture and identity meant to the students. But the one that resonates with me is 'Flag': a poem which, everytime I teach it, makes me lose track of time and throw lesson plans out of the window as students discuss the pros of cons of patriotism. A poem that's certainly not just for Black History Month as its relevance arises on Remembrance Day or any major sporting event for that matter. A poem that I often use alongside Owen and Sassoon.

People may theorize about the gap between the respect and understanding of young people and the older generation but every time I have brought his poetry to a classroom, this sexagenarian (the kids love that one!) bridges gaps and awakens minds. And then fun of all funs...they start writing the darn stuff.

Check him out yourself today. Happy National Poetry Day!

This post first appeared on post40bloggers: Education