Recently, I’ve been on a hunt for a poetry book that housed poems I recall from my infancy-

Old Mr Allsorts lives down the street/ He has a purple nose and big flat feet…’ and
Old Tom tomato like a red ball
Basked in the sunshine by the garden wall.
Along came David, his mouth open wide
and Old Tom tomato walked inside….
Down down down the red lane,
We won’t see Old Tom tomato again.
David chuckled, ‘Ha ha ha
I like red tomatoes, please give me some more! ‘                       

I recite the latter in my head when pottering with our fledgling tomato plants. When the sun is high and the breeze may be tugging at our washing line, I say the words to another poem, remembered from my childhood, ‘Blue curtains, blue curtains you can’t get away/ Though the wind rushes past and says, ‘Do come and play’…..

Research and received wisdom have it that poems, nursery rhymes, lullabies and songs shared with and recited to babies offer them the best start in their literate life. Traditional rhymes such as ‘Old King Cole’ or ‘Mary, Mary Quite Contrary’, though from a time when rumours or news were shared orally, offer rhyme and song that are enticing. They are essential to the developing brain. They support the emergent capabilities in memory, and build the music of rhythm. There is a link between generations in sharing traditional rhymes, poems and songs also; something familiar and participatory. Knowing these forms of literature builds an individual and collaborative confidence, demands movement and participation, invites sharing of rhythm and words and builds a sense of a shared language. It supports reading and writing essentially.

We found a wonderful early years’ poetry compilation, ‘Over the Hills and Far Away‘ that includes verse and rhyme familiar to children and families from different cultures and languages across the world.

I discovered Michael Rosen as a child, through ‘Watchwords’, a poetry collection. I alighted on his poem, ‘I’m Alone in the Evening’ with its stirring images- ‘Later I’m alone/ when the bath has gone cold around me/ and I have put my foot/ beneath the cold tap/ where it can dribble/ through valleys between my toes/ and out across the white plain of my foot/ and bibble bibble into the sea. ‘ While all of Michael Rosen’s works have lasting appeal; I recommend his ‘Even My Ears are Smiling‘ (Bloomsbury),, as a family staple.

Caroline Kennedy, former US Ambassador to Japan, and daughter to President J.F. Kennedy compiled a superb collection of poems, ‘A Family of Poems- (My Favourite Poetry for Children’ (Hyperion Books for Children). This book was inspired by the practice adopted in her family by her late mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, whereby celebrations and anniversaries, including Mothers’ Day, were marked by the children having selected, and presented a poem they loved and wished to share with their mother and grandparents. This selection is truly wonderful, including poems by some of the 20th century’s stellar poets, including William Carlos Williams, e.e.cummings and Langston Hughes.

Poetry is accessible in so many forms, from song lyrics to short verse. It is easy to write; we too often get hung up on the need to rhyme, while narrative poems are fruitful, valid and attainable. Some of the most enjoyable poems I have read, written by professionals or amateur child poets are narrative, such as ‘My Brother is a Dog’, written by a 7-year old girl taught many years ago, with words I recall today. Her poem offered easy access to employment of literary devices, too. The great Gil Scott- Heron and Leonard Cohen were poets before incorporating their words of protest and passion into the songs that made their names.

Many schools have realised the power and pleasure provided by poetry, offering their students opportunities to participate in recitations, attend recitals, work with poets in school, develop poetry rhythm in performance, realise the wealth of poetry styles and origins, and select titles to read for their own pleasure.

Memorising poems is a useful addition to the English National Curriculum. Michael Morpurgo’s edited collection ‘Because a Fire was in my Head- 101 Poems to Remember’ (Faber & Faber) offers a great selection of works to share, enjoy and recall.

Britain continues to build upon its enviable poetic heritage through writers including Rachel Rooney, John Hegley, Benjamin Zephaniah, John Agard and Carol Ann Duffy. Their works are so different, yet demonstrate  skill and precision, and offer children, again, as in the best of poetry, an opportunity to enjoy, share and know this most wonderful form of literature.

This year, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry has included a number of Bookwagon selections in its annual award. We love the wordplay and historical references of Michaela Morgan’s ‘Wonderland Alice in Poetry’, feel proud to introduce Kate Wakeling’s thoughtful, funny observations in ‘Moon Juice’. James Carter has created a superb book for younger children in ‘Zim Zam Zoom’ with gorgeous sounds, images and imagery.

A recent popular children’s poetry book is ‘A Poem for Every Night of the Year’ (Macmillan). We learned that its sequel, ‘A Poem for Every Day of the Year’ will be published in the autumn. We hurried through the first title to see which poem had been selected for each of our birthdays and  anniversaries important to us. It is a splendid collection of verse from a wide range of sources or varying styles.

This was the poem selected from ‘A Poem for Every Night of the Year’ for World Poetry Day (UK) March 21st:-

Flowers and Moonlight on the Spring River by Yang-Ti (translated by Arthur Waley)

The Emperor Yang-Ti ruled the Sui dynasty in China from 604 to his death in 618. With its beautiful imagery of springtime colours, this is a perfect poem to read aloud on the 21st of March, the Spring Equinox.

The evening river is level and motionless-
The spring colours just open to their full.
Suddenly a wave carries the moon away
And the tidal water comes with its freight of stars.


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