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MumsnetGuestBlogs (MNHQ) Thu 03-Oct-13 14:55:06

"Poetry helps children make sense of their world" - do you agree?

From next year, all primary school children will be learning poetry by heart. To mark National Poetry Day, Allie Esiri - who recently launched The Love Book, an app which aims to introduce teens to love poems - explains why she thinks they need poetry in their lives.

Allie Esiri

Author, The Love Book app

Posted on: Thu 03-Oct-13 14:55:06


Lead photo

The Love Book app: "poetry helps to crystallise emotion"

Poetry has fallen out of favour. Children tend to come across it almost entirely through the dreaded comprehension homework - and I think too that some booksellers, teachers and librarians can be a little bit scared of it. But like superhero movies, it is coming back. Michael Gove (love him or hate him) is introducing more poetry into the curriculum.

I’d like to convince you that our children will gain from this. From next September all children in primary school will learn poems by heart. Having a store of poems, children will grow up with a little juke-box of wondrous words inside their head, which will be there to console them as they lurch into adolescence and all the strong emotions that the state can bring.

Tom Hiddleston, who reads on The Love Book app, puts it thus: “I think poetry as a form is about the that simplest literature can get… all of the trimmings have been stripped away, and really great poets have got to the heart of the matter by using very, very few, brilliant words, to make you feel something, which, for most people, is inexpressible. So the size of their love, the loudness of it, the intensity of it; most people feel it coursing through their body - but only a very few people have been able to set it down in verbal form, that somehow gets close to what it feels like.”

The idea for The Love Book app grew out of the slightly surprising success of the first app I co-created, iF Poems. iF Poems’ aim was to introduce children to the joys of poetry through an interactive app, with poems read by actors they might like, such as Helena Bonham Carter, whom they knew as Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter, or as the mad toddler-tantrum-throwing Red Queen in Tim Burton’s Alice; or Tom Hiddleston, who plays the scene-stealing anti-hero Loki in the The Avengers films.

The line ‘blood burnt around my heart' takes me right back to the confusion of my sixteen-year-old, overwhelmed self, which was reassured by the poet's genius with words - and by the universality of what I was feeling.

I decided this new app would be specifically about love - an app for adolescents, and adults too. There is a poem on it by John Clare called ‘First Love’ which beautifully expresses the feeling of falling in love for the first time. The line ‘blood burnt around my heart’ takes me right back to the confusion of my sixteen-year-old, overwhelmed self, which was reassured by the poet’s genius with words - and by the universality of what I was feeling. There is, I think, something about poetry which helps to crystallise emotion, and I found this terribly comforting as a teenager – it helped me to make sense of the flood of feelings I felt - perhaps, even, to contain them. I wanted today’s teens to have this option too.

Perhaps they might also draw from their stock of words a sticking plaster - another section of The Love Book app deals with when love is thwarted, or when it’s over. I imagine the user of the app stealing a line to help with these desperate moments – perhaps the two-line poem by George MacDonald, which says simply, “Come home.”

So far, things are going well. The YouTube video we posted of Tom Hiddleston reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 (Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?) has had 35,000 hits in a week, and seems to be reaching people who had previously written off Shakespeare as ‘that dull class at school’.

National Poetry Day’s director, Susannah Herbert says “It’s like having a little Cyrano de Bergerac on permanent standby in the palm of your hand.”

Try it! From John Fuller’s ‘Valentine’: “I’d like to find you in the shower/And chase the soap for half an hour” or “I’d like to find a good excuse/To call on you and find you in./I’d like to put my hand beneath your chin,/And see you grin.”

Think the anti-superhero Loki could even win over Bellatrix with that line.

Do you read poetry - either to your children, or by yourself? Is it a good thing for children to learn poetry 'by heart'? Tell us what you think on the thread.

By Allie Esiri

Twitter: AllieEsiri

IHaveA Sat 19-Oct-13 20:50:44

I am afraid that I am in the a lot of poetry is crap Camp. I also think that poetry is a very personal thing and that everyone's taste is very different. The. Trouble with forcing poetry on teens is that it can put them off for life rather than encouraging them.

Incidentally, I have an 18 year old that reads poems for enjoyment, he generally enjoys playful funny poems rather than the self indulgent crap stuff.

I always read poetry to my kids when they were young but I was very selective. There is a musical lyrical quality in a lot of poetry that many children love.
Unfortunately, a lot of the poetry that they have been exposed to at school is dire and even the good stuff looses its attraction after having to analyse every single word of it.

holmessweetholmes Fri 18-Oct-13 07:51:54

No I don't think poetry helps kids make sense of their world at all. That doesn't mean to say that they can't enjoy it and appreciate it. I rather resent the reference to 'the dreaded comprehension homework'. I teach English and have spent the whole of this half term looking at poetry with my year 8 class - from sonnets to shape poems to looking at lyrics of Katy Perry songs as a poem, plus getting the students to write their own limericks and sonnets. Anyone who thinks classes just do dry comprehension questions is very out of touch with education.

penguinpaperback Wed 09-Oct-13 23:45:20

I think it's wonderful poetry will be given more time in schools. And if poetry is the 'cool' app on a teenager's phone it could be of some comfort when you're stood up or are at home on a Saturday night when everyone else is at the party. It might make you search out more poetry or perhaps write some poetry yourself.
We have nursery rhyme books and poetry books all over the house but reading this thread and some of the enthusiastic replies thanks has made me search out my old poetry books and I've treated myself to some new ones. I love listening to Poetry Please and the different reasons why a particular poem is special to someone.
Good Luck with The Love Book Allie.

TerrorMeSue Sun 06-Oct-13 19:55:59

No, I do not think it helps them understand the world. A lot of poetry is total crap.

Rockinhippy Sun 06-Oct-13 12:50:22

I do get that it's that way for you & therefore maybe for some DCs, but I honestly suspect that's the exception rather than the rule.

Though I do agree with you as far as the OP referring to love poetry - that to me makes it tosh

Rockinhippy Sun 06-Oct-13 12:47:31

In YOUR opinion,certainly not in my opinion - you write it as fact - it is. NOT

Though I think Bridget Jones might fair better grin

singersgirl Sun 06-Oct-13 12:44:01

Sorry, don't know why I typed Jones instead of Riley. Must have been a Freudian slip...

singersgirl Sun 06-Oct-13 12:42:54

Of course Dali and Bridget Jones 'help' people make sense of the world. We use them all as a filter to help interpret our experience. I can't see how, particularly if you've made a career out of art, you don't agree with that. And even if none of the art you make has helped you understand or express anything in any way (which seems odd), it's not true for everyone. Poetry helps me make sense of my world. It helps lots of other people I know too. I'm sorry I was patronising. I think using the word 'tosh' is patronising and judgemental. After all, it's not tosh for me. It's true for me. So it might be true for lots of children who haven't yet been exposed to poetry.

Rockinhippy Sun 06-Oct-13 11:20:07

Mmmm, Dali, Bridget Riley et al really help everyone make sense of the world don't they hmm

I love art, I have been lucky enough to make a career out of it, I love poetry & have even been published, I think it's all very important stuff,

But your reply is patronising, judgemental tosh hmm

singersgirl Sun 06-Oct-13 11:11:04

Of course poetry 'helps' people of any age make sense of the world. How can that not be true of any art? Anything that gives people different ways of understanding things, different ways of expressing their feelings, observations and beliefs, anything that makes them reflect more deeply or see something another way 'helps' them make sense of the world.

Perhaps the very literal posters who've responded so narrowly haven't read enough poetry. Of course it's not the only or even the most important tool to 'help' children make sense of the world.

Just because it's a minority interest among adults doesn't mean we should deprive our children of it. For some of them, it may turn out to be important. Loads of little girls (and some boys) do ballet; loads of little children do martial arts. Both of these are minority interests among adults. But we let them explore, learn, discover, strengthen their bodies.

Poetry lets them strengthen their mind. If it grabs them, there's a thriving adult poetry scene for them to join, from Spoken Word to poetry slams to traditional readings to open mic nights. In the last week I've been to 4 poetry events - the launch of a new book, the launch of a new issue of a magazine, prize readings for a big award and a workshop.

Look up Polar Bear on YouTube. Look up filmpoems. Listen to old recordings of Michael Donaghy, or Sylvia Plath, or Yeats. Read a poetry blog. Read an online journal. Be one of the 13,000 entries into the National Poetry Competition and have a chance of winning £5,000. Explore the resources at the Poetry Society. Look up the Foyles Young Poet competition. Read a poem. Write a poem.

I think the original idea is great but wonder why it has to be focused on love. When I was little I loved my children's anthology of verses and I chose poems to learn that helped me process many things - war (Southey's'Twas a famous victory, Browning's How they brought the good news from Ghent to Aix, the WW1 poets), death (If I have fears that I may cease to be, Ozymandias), time and change ((Thomas Hood's I remember, I remember), etc. I'd give more examples but I'm on my phone.

Rockinhippy Sun 06-Oct-13 00:27:33

Though thinking on that a bit more - DDs poetry has recently turned to rap - though some of the stuff she likes is very thought provoking & it's encouraging her & her friends to write it too

Rockinhippy Sun 06-Oct-13 00:22:50

In answer to the title question - absolute tosh, of course it doesn't help kids make sense of the world, what an absolutely ridiculous statement confused

That said poetry is too often a neglected & very enjoyable art, be that reading it, or writing it, it's something that my grandmother enjoyed & she passed that love down to me my DD love to both read & write poetry too, it's something of a family tradition, but not for the reasons you suggest by far - it can be thought provoking & enjoyable to read, cathartic & enjoyable to write - that's it

HalfSpamHalfBrisket Sat 05-Oct-13 12:29:55

I'm all for poetry appreciation - either by learning by heart (I do Pie Corbett's storytelling which means my YR children learn whole stories by heart so why not poetry?) or just listening to glorious poems.

But I am currently having a rolling argument with a Y1 teacher about making the children write poetry in Y1. I think that we should be helping the children to learn to write prose, lists, letters etc. but not poetry as it is usually <ehem> cliched doggerel at this stage. We can still teach the importance of choosing the right words, alliteration, assonance, mood etc when writing prose, and by discussing 'good' poetry.

Enb76 Sat 05-Oct-13 08:05:51

I love and I hate and if you ask me why,
I do not know, I only feel it
And I am torn in two

The above is my translation of a bit of Latin poetry (Catullus) from when I was 12 or 13. It's never left me. I think some poetry is amazing and know loads off by heart and it peppers my language. I think if children aren't enjoying poetry then it's down to the teaching not the poetry. Carol Ann Duffy has written some great children's stuff.

OTheHugeManatee Fri 04-Oct-13 21:14:28

Rote learning poems is good, but not because poems help children make sense of the world. That's a bit simplistic. Learning poems helps children expand their horizons; the obsession with making learning 'relevant' is a euphemism for a condescending attempt to predigest the world to fit horizons narrowed by youth and/or ignorance. Instead the aim should be to expand children's sense of what the world can offer, and the unfamiliar sentiments and stories in good poetry can help do that. Rote learning them means that they stick long enough that the bits that don't make sense the first year are still around when you have the frame of reference to make sense of them.

weblette Fri 04-Oct-13 20:25:26

I love poetry, I hated studying at uni. I know that if I'm upset there are familiar words and images that are such a comfort.
So for my 4dcs I always wanted to make it just part of their lives, not something to be analysed to death.
They've had the 'Poem A Day' anthology read to them from v little, we play with words, they know how much a part poetry has played in life for dh and I in various times in our lives.
Poetry does have a different voice. My dcs love comedic verse, they also love the wonder of Brian Patten's Dragon, the joy of Jabberwocky, the rhythm of Auden's Night Mail.
For all of you who sniff at the idea, think about the lyrics to your favourite songs. Majority would stand just fine as 'poetry'.

ErrolTheDragon Fri 04-Oct-13 18:26:20

Forcing children to learn poetry is a bad idea - could turn them right off. Encouraging them to read it, and learn if they want, is a great thing.

My DD enjoys poetry, and learning some - mostly comic.

I'm not sure to what extent it helps children make sense of their world - I've found that more as an adult.

KatieScarlett2833 Fri 04-Oct-13 18:02:31

No, sorry.
Poetry is what it is. Often tedious, occasionally interesting, never a blueprint for life.

zippey Fri 04-Oct-13 17:15:32

I think poetry is what you make of it. My child is 2 and she loves the Julia Donaldson rhyming stories as well as nursery rhymes etc.

As she gets older she will probably love other aspects of poetry.

I think poetry and story telling can really fuel imagination.

OddSockMonster Fri 04-Oct-13 16:18:40

I hated having to learn poetry at school. Only a small few of my class enjoyed it. And I'm fairly sure I made sense of the world by simply talking to people.

I can fully imagine it will be just the same for my son's generation.

plummyjam Fri 04-Oct-13 15:26:47

No not in the same way that musical lyrics do. Poetry with a good tune behind it is infinitely more powerful.

PeterParkerSays Fri 04-Oct-13 15:15:25

I think that it helps children to deal with feelings more than "their world" per se. Even stories with rhymes, such as "No matter what", can lead to discussions about unknowns - death, the dark etc.

strruglingoldteach Fri 04-Oct-13 14:17:49

Ah, but SolomanDaisy there are ways of presenting the learning.

Compare: 'Ok, class, here is a poem. We will learn it by heart because the government says we should. I will test you in 2 days and I expect you to be word perfect.'


'Here is a poem. It's one of my favourites; the line xyz gets me every time and makes me shiver because. Which words do you really like?' Followed at the end of the lesson by: 'I have a range of poetry books here, I'd like you to borrow one/look on the internet/bring in one of your own that you could share with the class- be prepared to tell us your favourite line.'

(Next lesson) 'Now we've really enjoyed listening to each other's chosen poems. It would be really great if we could share them with Class B, let's make it into a performance. We could even use some musical instrument to add atmosphere. How about learning the poems by heart? That way we could make better eye contact with the audience.'

Ok, I'm going on a bit but you know what mean!

SolomanDaisy Fri 04-Oct-13 12:45:45

Of course poetry helps you to make sense of the world. But you remember the powerful or magical stuff yourself, not because people force you to. My 2 year old can recite large parts of Hairy Mclairy and likes to shout the rhymes,but that's because it's fun. He wouldn't enjoy being forced to learn anything, obviously. More exposure to poetry is good, but forced recitation is bad.

nobutreally Fri 04-Oct-13 12:22:13

I love poetry, and my dcs do too - so many (little) children's books are poems really (the fabulous 'Pants' as an example that is lying on my floor as I type. DS was lucky enough to have a teacher who introduced them to Beowulf (in the context of Sutton Hoo) in Y4, and we read some of the Seamus Heaney translation together - he adored it, and occassionally wanders around muttering "off on the whale-road" or similar.

I'm not sure about making sense of the world, but I do think it can give them a joy in language, the playfulness you can get from words, the beauty of a well-chosen phrase.

I don't care one way or another about them actually learning poems by rote (ds can do a very good "Jolly Hunter ;-) - but I do wish there was more good poetry as part of reading schemes - my two are now 7 & 9 and despite weekly school library visits and regular school reading book swops, I think we've had 2 books of poems come home. And both were, frankly, rubbish poems. There are so many wonderful, funny, SHORT poems that beat Biff and Chip and the flipping magic key into a cocked hat.

I'll look out for IF though - not sure my two would want a love poetry app yet...

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