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National Poetry Day 2020 – Resources and advice from poet Joseph Coelho

Writing poetry can act as a release valve, allowing trapped feelings to escape, says poet Joseph Coelho...

  • National Poetry Day 2020 – Resources and advice from poet Joseph Coelho

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I hear a voice fly on the wind.
A birdsong chorus that bids me sing
As I nest my heart in the weather.

A lullabying of shores, sandy with hope
And for this dream I caw and grope
As she bid me ‘come sail on this feather.

Two months into lockdown and the cabin fever had started to set in. The various fears of health, money, the future and family were all weighing heavily.

I’m extremely fortunate to live five minutes from the sea and the above poem came to me while the sun set and the tide made its way lazily away from the shore.

I walked the damp sand and found a feather lying pristine on this wet mirror reflecting a dramatic spring dusk sky.

The walk made me feel better but more than that, writing and sharing a poem (using the notes app on my phone) that summed up the search we are all constantly making for hope in these fragile times gave me a sense of acceptance with the current situation.

It was a zen-like feeling of, “This too shall pass.”

For me personally, writing over this period has been extremely helpful, writing poetry especially so. Poetry is slippery: it slides past our daily thoughts and concerns and sinks down into something truer.

Reading poetry can definitely have this same impact, especially when we find the words of that poet that speaks to us and our feelings and situation.

Many arguments have been made for the redemptive, healing power of reading and I wholeheartedly agree, but I want to encourage you and the children you work with to write a poem.

I think the times demand it. The struggles that we are going through are so unique and complex that we have to all work deeply on ourselves; on our challenges, our preconceptions, our own fears and internal worries. It doesn’t have to be a long poem and it doesn’t have to rhyme, but it should be true.

Taking root

I’ve been fortunate to have visited hundreds of schools over the last two decades and have lost count of the number of times that a teacher has told me that they write poems. This doesn’t surprise me.

There is an energy that teachers possess that aligns well with the writing of poems; an energy that has them (by necessity) being on high alert, noticing and observing the world around them in minute detail.

Poetry is a wonderful outlet for that drive to look, observe and notice. So, I invite you now to write a poem and get any little poets you know writing too.

Start with a walk. Get out into the great outdoors: a local park, a country lane, a stroll around the garden, a gaze up at the heavens from a balcony or open window.

Describe what you see and feel. What colours are in the sky? What smells are on the wind? Listen to the words that start to organically pop into your head: don’t fight them, don’t edit them, don’t judge them.

Let those words take root on the page and before you know it, you’ll start writing your truth – it might be funny, it might be sad, it might be bizarre or scary, but that’s OK.

Poetry is very much like a release valve, allowing feelings an escape – often feelings that we never knew we were holding.

Precious syllables

Often the blank page can be quite intimidating. If that’s the case with you, I suggest you try a form poem. We all know the classic haiku (three lines; five syllables in the first, seven syllables in the second and five again in the third).

You can quite easily take the haiku a step further by writing a haibun. This starts with a haiku and then tails off into prose or diary writing.

There are many variations on the form, but like all forms it is alive and needs to breathe and change, and that can only happen through your pen.

So, start with a haiku, describe a scene with those 17 precious syllables, and then allow yourself to run wild with prose building on the scene set in the haiku, unearthing the feelings and emotions that rest there.

Before I wrote the poem above, I didn’t quite appreciate how the current times had undercut my optimism with a slight cynicism; a cynicism that revealed itself to me with the idea of the inability to sail anywhere on a feather.

In acknowledging that feeling (that could only really be brought forth by stumbling across a metaphorical image) I was able to look at it, accept it, move on and get on with things; with work, with getting back on track with exercise.

I don’t claim that poetry will solve all ills, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. It allows us time to be present with our feelings and the new situations we find ourselves in.

Carry a notebook with you wherever you go to catch the inspirations when they hit or, like me, type them out or even record them on your phone. If you’re feeling brave, read one to someone and encourage them to write a poem too.

The 1st of October 2020 is National Poetry Day, so what better time to share a poem?

I’ll leave you now with my own haibun, inspired by my walk along the shore:

I find a feather
on the wet mirror-shore’s shine
that whispers a dream.

The sky had spun a cloud-web of pink and dusk as I plodded hopeless along, the sea cackling. The roll and tumble of the weeks gone by had left my waters cloudy. Each step in the wet sand seemed to suck, no footprint would leave an impression for long. So, I breathed in the salt in the air, weaved seafoam into my hair and stole a drop of the ocean’s strength.

National Poetry Day is 1 October 2020. Download a host of free resources for teachers, including KS1 and KS2 lesson plans and posters, from nationalpoetryday.co.uk.

Joseph Coelho is a children’s author, poet and National Poetry Day ambassador. His debut poetry collection Werewolf Club Rule was the winner of the 2015 CLPE CLiPPA Award. His latest verse novel, The Girl Who Became A Tree, is published by Otter-Barry Books.

Find him at thepoetryofjosephcoelho.com and follow him on Twitter at @josephacoelho.

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