Thinking about Children’s Poetry

Ahead of Winchester Poetry Festival which runs from Friday 7 October to Sunday 9 October, and because I’m teaching some poetry workshops for children at Trowbridge Town Hall on National Poetry Day (October 6), I’ve been re-reading a 2015 issue of Modern Poetry in Translation magazine  which had a focus on children’s poetry in translation.

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Shelley Boden will be leading a workshop at 10am on Saturday morning , 8 October, at the Winchester Discovery Centre –  Children’s Poetry from around the World – which will feature some of the poems published in this special issue of MPT.  Shelley will be using the education pack she designed for the  issue as the basis for a session which uses all the senses. She’ll be looking at poems about a moon hare and a Mexican ghost! This session is aimed at children between the ages of 6 and 10.  Tickets are only £3 per child with each accompanying adult offered a free place.

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Shelley Boden

The magazine includes a typescript of a wonderful conversation between MPT‘s Editor Sasha Dugdale, Russian writer and broadcaster Marina Boroditskaya, and British writer Michael Rosen about the importance of providing children with access to poetry.  Both writers have written extensively for children.

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Marina Boroditskaya in conversation with Michael Rosen in MPT magazine

Michael Rosen talks about a radio programme he made, based on the diaries of Kornei Chukovsky, a famous Russian writer of poems and stories for children, whose work was banned in the USSR in 1929 and for decades, after it was declared not to further the ideological aims of the Soviet Union.  Rosen makes an analogy between attitudes to Chukovsky’s work, and impositions put on children’s engagement with literature in the UK.  The writer sounds an alarm bell for an education system which makes little provision for any kind of “open interpretation or any kind of emotional or reflective connection between the child and the poem.”

Those of us with any experience of the current National Curriculum in the UK will identify with Rosen’s thoughts.  All the more reason, I think, for friends and relations of children to share poetry freely, encourage a less restrictive type of response and to take advantage, when possible,  of workshops like the one offered by Shelley Boden in Winchester.

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In the MPT conversation, Marina Boroditskaya is quoted as saying to Michael Rosen “It is a crime to make 7- and 8-year-old children ‘analyse’ poetry.”  She goes on to say “Asking them to dissect a poem to find out ‘what the poet means’ might kill their imagination and forever put them off reading poetry.”  She goes on to recount some of the horrendous restrictions being put on children’s access to literature in the current education system in Russia.

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Sasha Dugdale asks both writers “Why is children’s poetry such a vital genre?” and their answers go to the heart of what makes poetry important for all of us.  Michael Rosen says “Poetry can express big ideas in small spaces and this is convenient and fun.  It’s very good at not telling the whole story.  It doesn’t have to conclude and tie things up the way that plays and novels and films do.”

He goes on to say “Because of the musicality of a good deal of poetry, poetry has the possibility of creating feelings without saying explicitly what those feelings are.”  He continues “We see that poetry has the potential to offer young people a place that can be an exchange of ideas and feelings, it can offer them a way of being awakened to the potential of language rather than its limits.”

“Because it doesn’t have to tell the whole story, poetry can offer children the idea that there are ‘moments’ in life as well as ‘sequences’ and ‘consequences’.”

Marina Boroditskaya says “The jumping, dancing magic of rhyme and rhythm is something a young child needs like vitamins without which they get rickets or beriberi and can’t grow properly.”

Tickets for Shelley Boden’s Winchster workshop Children’s Poetry from around the World, on Saturday, 8 October at 10am, are available here.

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Images in this blogpost show I Wish….. a 2015 issue of Modern Poetry in Translation magazine which had a focus on children’s poetry.  In particular, these images are of Toon Tellegen poems and Ingrid Godon portraits from a Dutch/Belgian book called IK WOU which translator David Colmer has translated as I WISH in this special issue of MPT.

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