24th June 22
Mrs Glendinning finds the very best of Poetry by Heart: a celebration at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Monday 20 June 2022…
One of life’s pleasures is hearing poetry brought to life – performed aloud. Last Monday, the Poetry By Heart team, who coordinate a nationwide annual poetry competition, took poetry by heart to incredible heights by inviting all their finalists to recite their chosen poems on the famous Globe theatre stage. I was lucky enough to be invited to watch, as we plan to take part in the competition as a school at Claremont Prep next year.
The finalists, clad in their uniforms or dressed in their own clothes, had each chosen one or two poems from a huge range on the Poetry by Heart website. They had learned them and recited them by heart, recording themselves and sending in a video to the competition for the March deadline. Every year, children enter from every type of school from all over the country.
Shortly after 9am under a cobalt blue sky blazing with the force of the June sun, people began to flood into the open air pit where the groundlings would once have stood about to hear a Shakespeare play at The Globe. After a welcome by Julie Blake, the Co-founder and Director of the competition, dozens of poems were recited by children aged 8-18, as solos, in groups, and in whole classes. The air was thick with sound and the walls resonated with words. Tiered balconies swelled with teachers, performers, their classmates and families as faces looked on at the burnished columns and wooden boards, ears attuned to familiar and less familiar verses.
What did I notice through witnessing so many wonderful performances? That a consistent delivery at full volume throughout the performance is vital so that every word can be heard. That movement can be useful if it helps to convey the message (but unrelated movement is distracting!). That popular poems (some of which were performed several times) can sound wooden, a fresh interpretation is essential. This means that, when we are looking to learn a poem by heart, choosing the right one is vital.
Daljit Nagra, poet and advisor to the Poetry By Heart team and a judge on the day, said that Poetry By Heart is ‘a reminder of why poetry exists… to please… to be read and, above all, it exists best… if it is read aloud, and personalised so it feels as though it could only have come through that one person who is presently speaking the poem; in a sense, for the duration… they are the poem and the world of the poem.’
Simon Armitage, who is Poet Laureate, spoke and took questions at the end of the event. He had some useful insights for our aspiring writers. He said: ‘You can’t be a writer without being a reader!’ His advice was to find a poet that you like, read lots of their poems, and your voice will merge with theirs. Although he never aspired to be a poet at school, Armitage said he was touched by a poem a teacher had shared with him, Bayonet Charge, about a soldier in combat, by Ted Hughes. He liked the lines:
In what cold clockwork of the stars and the nations
Was he the hand pointing that second?
He said it still fascinates him. He also told the children that poetry is like a secret club. He said he is relieved that not everyone is a poet as it would be dull and he wouldn’t want to be part of it. He said it is a sort of ‘opposition’, which makes it exciting. There will be more information about the competition in September but, if you are interested, look it up on the website.
Head of English and Humanities.