The Poetry Society would like you to join them on an exciting journey through poetry, science and technology, spanning 13.8 billion years!
The Poetry Society, Stemettes and 59 Productions have launched a new poetry and coding competition for young people aged 4-18 and based in the UK. The deadline for entries is 23:59 GMT on Sunday 19 December 2021. Find out more and enter online at aboutus.earth.
The competition is part of a project called About Us, one of ten commissions for UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK. About Us is an epic new show for everyone who has ever looked up at the night sky and wondered about our connection to the vast universe. The show will tour the UK in spring 2022.
They want young people’s voices to be at the heart of the show. The winners of the competition will have the chance to see their work featured in the live show, which will be seen by tens of thousands of people, as well as win other amazing prizes, including goodies and talent development opportunities. The theme of the competition is ‘connectivity and the universe’, and they are inviting young people to reflect on the infinite ways in which we are connected to the universe, the natural world, and one another from the Big Bang to the present day.
There are two strands to the competition: young people can enter a poem, or an animation using the Scratch coding platform, or they can enter both. Poems should be no more than 20 lines long, and Scratch animations should not exceed 90 seconds. Entrants can create poems or animations about space and cosmology, cellular life, ecosystems, networks within the human body, linguistic connectivity, technology, the climate, or any other way in which life across the universe is connected. There are free poetry and coding resources for all key stages to help inspire them at aboutus.earth.
Developed in collaboration with poets and scientists across the four nations of the UK, About Us is delivered by design studio and production company 59 Productions who created the breath-taking video design for the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony; Stemettes, an organisation that brings young women and non-binary young people into careers in science, technology, engineering and maths; and The Poetry Society, one of the UK’s most dynamic arts organisation championing poetry for all ages.
If you have any questions about the competition, please get in touch at AboutUs@poetrysociety.org.uk.
Many creatures show amazing discernment choosing nesting sites for safety, or choosing between food sources for superior protein content, or choosing their mate for health, according to their brighter feathers and louder song.
This is the Vogelkop Bowerbird – from Indonesia. He is an unremarkable male, with his plain, brown feathers. A female might disregard him entirely for his attire. But he attracts his mate by dazzling her. He builds the most remarkable bower of all – and decorates by choosing adornments by colour, and shine. He places them just so – stands back and re-adjusts, tries another arrangement and starts all over again until he is satisfied. He is an artist.
It’s National Poetry Day today – the most exciting day in the poetry calendar, and I’m so proud to be a National Poetry Day ambassador, to let everyone possible in on the secrets of poetry. This is the poem I have given NPD this year on the theme of ‘CHOICE’.
Sometimes we don’t have a choice – we have to get up and go to school or work to learn or earn money, we have to eat each day to stay healthy, and we need to clean our teeth every day to keep our smiles in working order.
And sometimes it feels as if we don’t have any choice – perhaps we feel we need to say we like something we don’t because most people do like that thing, or we must behave in a certain way because we will be thought uncool if we don’t.
This poem is about choosing to be you – are there things about yourself that you feel others might not approve of? Do you care? Do you worry about it? How does that make you feel?
Here’s the poem in words instead of the shape of the nightingale:
Do you read the back, and choose something that sounds exciting, soothing, or interesting?
Do you look for books on a certain genre you enjoy, such as mystery, humour, adventure, detective, or horror?
Do you go by the cover, and choose a book which you want to pick up, which makes you glad or excited just by the illustration or design?
Do you open books at the first page and see if they grab you?
There are as many ways to choose a book as there are types of book to read, and no way is incorrect. But perhaps one day you could try a different way of choosing – take a recommendation from someone, pick up the first book you see with a cover you love, even if it isn’t one you’d normally read, or try a mystery if you mainly pick romance.
Here’s my poem about what you might find in a book – can you think of any books you have read that fit one of the verses?
In the Heart of a Book
I found myself a story
with a place in me to store it
I found myself a wide, new world
so set off to explore it
I found a scary monster
plus the way to banish it
I found a pool of sadness
and the strength to manage it
I found the dragon in my soul
learned the way to tame it
I found a new ambition
a path to take and aim it
I found a way to rest my head
while my worries all unplug
I found a curl of comfort
where each word was a hug
I found a web of wonders
things I dream about at night
I found a pair of magic wings
and flew into the light
From Being Me, Poems Abut Poems About Thoughts, Worries and Feelings, Liz Brownlee, Matt Goodfellow and Laura Mucha, May 2021
National Poetry Day is on Thursday this week – the theme is CHOICE. Today I have a poem about choosing words!
How do you choose just the right word for a poem? Do you use the one you first think of? Sometimes that IS the correct word – poem lines should be easy to read and use direct language.
But if you read the poem as a whole, and notice a repeat, or realise a word doesn’t express precisely what you were trying to say – or think of another word that is alliterative and makes the poem more interesting to say out loud – then it can be changed.
Nursery rhymes – we all know and love them. Who didn’t grow up with ditties like Hey Diddle Diddle, Mary Mary, Quite Contrary, or Humpty Dumpty? They’re part of the furniture of the nursery of childhood.
What is less well known is that many of these rhymes – some hundreds of years old – have themes and subject matter of a decidedly adult nature. One theory about Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, for example, is that the rhyme refers to Queen Mary I of England, the “silver bells and cockle shells” referencing the instruments of torture that she used to convert recalcitrant Protestants to Catholicism. Other rhymes have somewhat dubious content – like the Old Woman who lived in a shoe, with her multitude of children who could only be dealt with by a sound smacking and sending off to bed. As a child growing up in Kolkata, India, I remember being mildly frightened by rhymes such as this, as well as bemused by the very English world they created: Dr Foster getting drenched in Gloucester, the Grand Old Duke of York marching his men up and down the hill.
These rhymes are known and loved by generations of children. They form part of our collective childhood memory. But memory is a living thing, not a mausoleum. It should be added to, if we’re to have dynamic and not fossilized childhoods. Modern nursery rhymes are diverse and inclusive: Dennis Lee’s Alligator Pie, which gave Canadian children a whole body of nursery rhymes referencing their own landscape; or Jane Newberry’s gorgeously illustrated, interactive book of rhymes for young children, Big Green Crocodile, shortlisted for the 2021 CLiPPA award.
For older children, fractured and re-worked nursery rhymes provide a rich source for honing critical and analytical skills, for questioning clichés and exploring history. In my poem What Are Little Girls Made Of?, for example, gender stereotypes are turned on their heads in a joyous mish-mash, encouraging children to think critically about them, and to explore their individual identity:
Activities for KS3 pupils based on this poem could include: looking through newspaper and/or magazine articles and cutting out clichéd or recurring descriptions of men and women; are some adjectives considered “male” (handsome, strong) and some “female” (pretty, sweet) – what could be used instead? Or the children could create their own “fractured” nursery rhymes, replacing key words to turn stereotypes on their heads –
Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater
Had a wife and did mistreat her
She waved a wand and winked and eye,
And turned him into pumpkin pie.
Older children and teenagers would enjoy more grown-up nursery rhyme parodies, such as that of This Little Piggy Went to Market in Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (William Morrow, 2006). For a sample Year 7 lesson plan based on examining gender stereotypes in nursery rhymes and modern media, see the end of this article.
It’s also fascinating to unearth the hidden significance of nursery rhymes, the historical and political roots from which they have been cut loose to float free over the years. One theory about the nursery rhyme Three Blind Mice is that, like Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, it may refer to the martyrs, the Anglican bishops Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer, burned at the stake for their Protestant beliefs (and therefore “blind”):
Three blind mice
Paid a high price
The Queen’s beliefs they all three spurned
So at the stake she had them burned,
Those three blind mice.
For many years, the nursery rhyme Ring a Ring of Roses was believed to have its roots in the Great Plague, the “ring” of roses referring to the rosy rash that was one of the symptoms of the Black Death, the “pocketful of posies” the nosegay that was carried to defend against infection, “Atishoo, Atisshoo, we all fall down” referring to a final death. Although this explanation is now generally disputed by scholars, it does give the rhyme a dark relevance in the context of these pandemic days.
“A nursery rhyme shapes your bones and nerves, and it shapes your mind. They are powerful, nursery rhymes, and immensely old, and not toys, even though they are for children.” So says a character in Katherine Catmull’s exploration of myth, fable and nursery rhyme, Summer and Bird (Puffin, 2012). We who read, write and teach nursery rhymes must tread carefully in the magical forest, mindful of their power.
Piu DasGupta is a British/French/Indian writer based in Paris, France. Although poetry has been a lifelong passion, she turned to writing it quite recently. Her children’s poems have been published to date in magazines such as The Caterpillar, Northern Gravy, and The Dirigible Balloon. She is on Twitter as @PiuDasGupta1.
‘Blow Wind Blow’ a celebration. For librarians, teachers, parents and children – Thursday 29th July, 2021. 7pm.
‘Blow Wind Blow’ is a poetic and visual introduction to the many wonders of wind, the third in the ‘Wild Wanderers’ series for younger readers. Join poet Dom Conlon and illustrator Anastasia Izlesou for this celebration, hosted by the Manchester Children’s Book Festival and the Manchester Poetry Library at Manchester Met University. Dom and Anastasia will be in conversation with CLPE’s Charlotte Hacking and Plymouth Grove Primary teacher Sarah Thompson, to discuss how this beautiful book can have an impact in classrooms.
Children also welcome; there will be a reading of the book and we will also be sharing some creative responses from Plymouth Grove pupils, who have been working with the book. And we will be laying down a summer writing/drawing challenge for children to respond from home. To join this free online event please register on Eventbrite.
As part of the BBC Contains Strong Language Festival Coventry 2021, Coventry Libraries and Coventry UK City of Culture 2021 are recruiting for this exciting role:
Coventry Young Poet Laureate – 13 years or older and under 18 years old on 31 August 2021.
The Coventry Young Poet Laureate is an honorary post appointed by Coventry Library Service and the Coventry UK City of Culture 2021. The post will be run until 5 October 2023 at which date a new Young Poet Laureate will be appointed. Applicants must be able to work in English but having knowledge of other languages is welcomed.
When applying you will be asked to upload short poems, one of which should be about Coventry and a short statement about your interest in the post and what you think you can bring to the role. The deadline for applications is Monday 19 July 2021 at 12:00 BST
All children worry about all manner of things – some children more than others. They may have a store of big and little worries that they carry around, which just gets bigger if not attended to. One day a little worry added to the top may cause them to have what seems to be an out-of-proportion reaction. Talking about worries, writing them down, solving the ones that can be solved and recognising the ones that cannot, and putting them to one side can help. Here’s a little poem about worries, read by Sophia.
For our Book launch, we asked a few young people to read some of the poems from Being Me, which they did beautifully. Here is The Quiet Child, by me, read by Polly, from Being Me, Poems About Thoughts Worries and Feelings, Otter Barry Books.
Being Me, Poems about Thoughts, Worries and Feelings, by me, Matt Goodfellow and Laura Mucha, wonderfully Illustrated by Victoria Jane Wheeler, and published by Otter Barry Books.
The launch for this book of mental health poems was last night – what a lovely event it was.
Mental health problems among primary children are at an all-time high – and no wonder with all the pressures they have nowadays on top of all the thoughts, feelings and worries youngsters experience anyway.
We have attempted to cover a wide range of issues, poems to reassure, poems to find yourself in, poems hoping to start thought processes that might lead to asking for help, poems to open discussions between guardians, teachers, parents and youngsters.