On the first Monday of every month pupils across Secondary can be seen pacing up and down a small patch of school they’ve colonised for morning break, their eyes focussed inwards; they march up the stairs to class murmuring in time to their steps; friends armed with green books nod approvingly and admiringly; the lights and the camera and the parents arrive. Poetry recital!
A relaxing stroll through the pages of the book leads the pupil to their next poem.
“What am I going to hang out with this month? What is it going to bring to my life? Which new sounds and senses am I going to breath new life into?”
Each pupil kicks the month off by exploring their anthology http://www.poetrybyheart.org.uk/ edited by Sir Andrew Motion — it is an essential collection of over 200 poems, from Geoffrey Chaucer to Emily Dickinson, from Christina Rossetti to Benjamin Zephaniah, all carefully chosen for their suitability for learning and reciting. This is an anthology which celebrates the age-old pleasure of reciting poems – an anthology for all ages to treasure.
Pupils spend time with their poem; they read with their eyes but also with their mouth, listening to the sounds as they stutter and stumble their way through. Links to YouTube videos and recordings to each poem are available through QR codes in the back of their book. They can listen to their poems on their phones on the bus to school everyday!
Pupils love learning poems as a living thing. A living thing that enchants and bewilders. The main reason I give for learning poems by heart is that “It’s fun!”
Philip Pullman, author of the Dark Materials Trilogy, offers his reflections on those initial moments when reading poems aloud:
The experience of reading poetry aloud when you don’t fully understand it is a curious and complicated one. It’s like suddenly discovering that you can play the organ. Rolling swells and peals of sound, powerful rhythms and rich harmonies are at your command; and as you utter them you begin to realise that the sound you’re releasing from the words as you speak is part of the reason they’re there. The sound is part of the meaning and that part only comes alive when you speak it. So at this stage it doesn’t matter that you don’t fully understand everything: you’re already far closer to the poem than someone who sits there in silence looking up meanings and references and making assiduous notes.
Tips for memorizing your poem
Be strategic. Pick a poem with a pattern — metre and rhyme are much easier to learn by heart than free verse.
Be old school. Copy the poem out a couple of times — on actual paper.
Be hermetic. Turn off your cell phone and close your laptop screen — you need quiet.
Be relentless. Say the poem over and over — and over and over.
Be patient. Take it one line at a time, and don’t get frustrated if you forget lines.
Be weird. Don’t be afraid to practice on family, friends, mirrors, and walls.
Beware! Memorizing poems is habit-forming — you’ll want to learn more.
—Jason Guriel, Reader’s Digest
Monday nerves. Who goes first? Can we do it in one take? The parents filter in. Focus. Recite!
And then back again to FIND IT for March.