This week I’ve been hearing as well as reading poetry. I was one of the judges of the Poetry by Heart competition at St Augustine’s Catholic College, Trowbridge, a local secondary school. Poetry by Heart is a national competition in which school pupils aged 14 – 18 learn and recite poems by heart. Schools hold an internal competition, in order to select a pupil to enter the county contest, from where winners go forward to regional contests and, lastly, there is a grand final competition in March at Homerton College, Cambridge.
Here’s a lovely blogpost with pictures from St Augustine’s. I really liked the way the school made an event of their own competition and encouraged a large number of young people to participate in poetry, both as performers and as an attentive audience. Judging was a tough but thoroughly enjoyable experience and I was very pleased to be asked.
After spending several hours in the company of vibrant, talented and interesting teenagers, it was all the more shocking and unsettling to read an excerpt from a recent poem by Danez Smith, summer, somewhere, published in January’s Poetry magazine, available to read and listen to here and also featured in the January podcast available here.
summer, somewhere is Smith’s response to the police killings of young black men and boys in America, the regularity of which, in part, has been brought to the world’s attention because of media coverage of the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting of Michael Brown. Smith’s poem is powerfully moving. His technique is wonderful. He has such a light touch. I think it’s Don Share, on the Poetry podcast, who draws attention to the poem’s playful rhythm and language which, for me, emphasised the youth of those murdered.
Smith’s poem imagines the boys somehow reborn by death, in a place where being black no longer holds the same dangers and concerns that it does in modern-day America.
…… please, don’t call
us dead, call us alive some place better.
They boys are free to wander, to buy sweets, and to be safe. It’s all the more devastating to know how unreal the paradise is, given how often we hear of yet another young black person shot dead.
paradise is a world where everything
is a sanctuary & nothing is a gun.
The only way to be in paradise, for these boys, is to be dead.
do you know what it’s like to live
someplace that loves you back?
The poem is a masterclass for anyone wanting to write a political poem without preaching or resorting to a rant. Its innovation and grace are gentle and compelling: a must-read for anyone concerned with issues to do with race.
I’m a recent fan of podcasts, by the way, having been given a portable blue-tooth speaker for Christmas. I was able to listen to Poetry magazine’s podcast while I was cooking dinner. I’m also thrilled that I’ve discovered a shop in Bath – Magalleria – which stocks Poetry magazine and many other poetry periodicals. I’ll write more about it in a separate post.