Posted in Poet's Piece

Sue Hardy-Dawson – Language Rules!

The first guest poster on Poetry Roundabout is the excellent poet and illustrator, Sue Hardy-Dawson. Sue’s wonderful book, Where Zebra’s Go, is published by Otter-Barry Books.

I wrote this poem when I was feeling very sad and angry. I often find that writing is a really good way of exploring my feelings. I remember thinking that nowadays children spend a long time being reminded of what they should or shouldn’t do before they write. Of course there are lots of rules to remember.

Yet I don’t recall being asked to think much about them when I was a child.

I have always loved learning new words even though I have dyslexia, and struggle to spell most of them. Only in secondary school did anyone attempt to teach me what nouns, verbs and adjectives were. Later on I vaguely remember rhyme, similes and metaphors being mentioned and that was as much as I knew until long after I started writing poetry. Yet I had no difficulties in having ideas, in using language. I knew where words went and how to use them. How? Because I, just as you are, was surrounded by people who talked. Also my parents read to me and when I too learnt to read, I read everything I could get my hands on. I still believe reading well is the very best way to learn how to write well.

Just think for a minute how amazing our brains are. Did you know we actually begin to learn the rhythms of our native language listening through the walls of our mothers’ wombs? In fact, in the first seven years of our lives, the language part of our brains develops rapidly. This is why talking, reading and sharing poetry and stories is so important, even for the smallest of children.

So without even trying, you, like me, have been collecting words all of your life. Spoken language changes all the time and I still get excited when I find a new word. There are lots of really interesting things to learn about language. So should we be learning and worrying about the rules of grammar? Of course sometimes, when we need to. But not when we are writing creatively, then it should be something we only think about afterwards.

I know if I stopped to consider carefully every word I put on the page I would struggle to write at all or to enjoy it. When getting my ideas down I rarely pause to check anything other than that I can read what I have written. ‘Fine tuning’ (spellings, punctuation, even if it makes sense) is my very last step. Why? Because although there are lots of rules about writing; ideas ignore them. Ideas just want to get out and onto the page. Of course if you don’t listen carefully they will disappear. Ideas are tricky like that and later you will struggle to remember exactly what they were.

So remember what an amazing brain you have. Read everything you can and write for fun, write for yourself. Just have a go without worrying about it. Then perhaps, one day soon, I will pick up a book and find myself reading a poem or a story that you wrote.

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Author:

Poet and owner of Lola the alert dog. Author of Animal Magic, poems and scientific facts about wildlife. I visit schools, libraries, literary festivals, and organise poetry events.

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