Motatau Road is unlikely to strike a chord of recognition with many Bookwagon readers. However, the memory of 4:00 p.m. Friday afternoons of Speech and Drama in a brick and tile bungalow on a corner of this road chimed brightly with me this week.
We took a break to Ffairfach, a small village before the winding bridge across the River Towey to Llandeilo, courtesy of lovely friends. (We’d have had a longer stay if one of us hadn’t forgotten the key to our accommodation necessitating an emergency stay in a local hotel’s honeymoon suite; angst does not fit well with such surroundings.)
The landscape, weather and township’s offerings were magnificent. We knew time was scarce so determined that a priority destination should be Laugharne, home to Dylan Thomas.
There was a ritual to those Speech and Drama afternoons. I had been reluctant to attend, but my mother was determined to see if this intervention would build my confidence. The activities were not demanding, and I enjoyed the conversations with the teacher. What I loved most, however, was her suitcase of poems. Each week there came a moment when she would reach for the suitcase, unclip it, and let me loose upon scattered pages of typewritten poems that she had copied over the years, poems by Eleanor Farjeon, Alfred Noyes, Christina Rossetti, for example. I discovered many treasures, many of which crop up still in my day to day life with remembered lines or phrases. However, as my confidence grew, I asked for more; I wanted to discover more poetry, different poetry. That suitcase paved the way to my discovery of Dylan Thomas.
My teacher suggested that Thomas’s words would be too ‘hard’; in truth I didn’t really ‘understand’ them, but I understood the emotion and could visualise the pictures he painted with his words. From ‘Fern Hill‘ the first poem I was offered, my love for this bold, urgent poetry was sealed.
Dylan Thomas was not the only poet I loved, nor was Speech and Drama the only opportunity to extend my knowledge of and delight in this form of literature. We learned ‘The Eagle‘ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson by heart in Year 7, were introduced to the works of Allen Curnow whose ‘Time‘ can still be remembered in snatches. At each arrival home, to New Zealand, James K.Baxter’s words, ‘These unshaped islands on the sawyer’s bench/ Wait for the chisel of the mind.‘ pulsate. In Year 10, a maverick teacher had us enact ‘The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner‘ with desks piled precariously atop of each other to create the rambling shipwreck- it crashed, much to our delight. With other travellers, I coursed the waters of the Shannon alighting at W.B. Yeats’ printing press, realising his poetry anew. One of my most precious memories is performance poet John Hegley singing, while a girl danced, late into the night, long after his official performance at the Battersea Arts’ Centre was over. Wendy Cope and Seamus Heaney have created words I recognise through experience and feelings. Then there was hearing Michael Rosen’s dramatic recitation of ‘Chocolate Cake‘ to a mesmerised school, long after I’d first heard it at a meeting of the South Auckland Children’s Literature Association.
One of the best parts of the revised English programmes of study in the National Curriculum is the inclusion of poetry learning, from- ‘learning to appreciate rhymes and poems and recite some by heart/ building a repertoire of poetry learnt by heart, appreciating and reciting some/ listening to and discussing a wide range of poetry, recognising different forms of poetry.’ Poetry learning offers knowledge, authority, opportunity, attachment and reason. Poetry, in all its forms, is approachable for all ages. My parents long into their later years could still recite poems learned and loved at school, from John Masefield’s ‘Sea Fever‘ to Walter de la Mare’s ‘Silver‘. They were proud of their skills and the associated memories.
While teaching a Reception class in its first full week, I watched a young boy offer another, ‘I can read that book to you.’ He picked up Caryl Hart’s.Big Box Little Box The class had been introduced to rhyming strings in the morning and I had read this title through to them twice, then again after lunch at their request. Archie, at four, could recite the rhyming text, make connections with the pictures, predict and recall, and thus, ‘read’ the book. The precision of language was ideal.
Poetry is also deceptively easy to write; Michael Rosen urges teachers to unlock their own fears and allow their pupils to enjoy the words, the rhythm and flow. So:-
Emilia has a bad cof
Emilia needs antiybiats
For a week.
She has tishs
In her bag
She needs a hat
For a week too.
This week Bookwagon has the opportunity to celebrate National Poetry Day, September 28th, through working with acclaimed poet Michaela Morgan. We are delighted to be celebrating her industry and sharing her poetry with a live audience that we hope will remember the day, the poet but most of all, the words.
*from ‘Time‘ by Allen Curnow
(We invite you to browse through our proud collection of Bookwagon poetry titles by clicking on the tag, ‘poetry’ on the home page.)