Sunday, March 01, 2009

Writing in Perth

Back from the Apropos Poetry Festival in Perth, and feeling zapped. The time zone difference is fairly small - two hours - but enough to disrupt sleep patterns, and then suddenly you're home again and still sleep-tardy. I got really sick of waking up at 4am and then at 6am, and not being able to get back to slumberland again. On two mornings, I went to the hotel gym instead, thinking it might help. Wrong. I would have done better using the "pillow talk" form next to my bed and asking for a better pillow from the multitude of choices available (this was a 5 star hotel).

The poetry festival was rich and varied, and gave me much to think about. By the time I came home, I'd written at least ten poems. I attended sessions on publication, new trends, performance, the influence of country/place, community arts, poetry in schools and whether you can pursue poetry as a profession or not. Plus I ran two workshops myself, and spoke on the schools panel.

It was a great pity that only four teachers came to the schools panel discussion. The fact that they made the effort was wonderful, and it would have been even better if another 20-30 teachers had attended. Because the ones who were there ended up feeling a bit like they were manning the barricades! Not intentionally, of course, but those of us who do school visits and workshops are very aware of the woeful situation of poetry in schools, and the discussion tended towards the gloomy. With good cause, but that didn't make the teachers feel any better, I guess.

I ended up compiling a long list of great suggestions for encouraging poetry in the classroom, most of which were contributed by those teachers who came along. A big thank you! I added some more of my own the next day, because I really couldn't stop thinking about it. I still can't.

Why is poetry given such pathetic lip service in so many schools? For every school doing wonderful things, there are 50 where the teachers avoid it. A report I was given from the UK pointed out that if teachers don't like poetry, don't read it, don't know how to teach it, of course they won't include it in their English studies. Our panel members talked about being poetry evangelists, of starting a poetry virus. I still think a lot of it has to do with resources and good training. You get anyone excited and interested in something, they'll be happy to pass it on and create equal enthusiasm.

I often meet poets who talk about being brought up in a household or attending a school where reciting and reading poetry was an everyday occurrence. That wasn't the case for me. I came to poetry late, but I just figure I have lots of great reading still ahead of me. But all the same, if 98% of our kids, especially those in state schools, are not being introduced to the joys and thrills of poetry, who will be reading or writing it in twenty years time? Only the kids who went to private schools where poetry was given room to grow? What was your experience at school? What is your kids' experience right now?


Kristi Holl said...

I only remember one teacher in grade school doing anything with poetry. And she made it fun! The only poems I know (classics like Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," or Wordsworth's poem about daffodils) were learned that year. It was my first inkling that STORIES were inside those poems. But few of us think of sharing poetry because so little poetry was ever shared with us.

Kristi Holl
Writer's First Aid blog

Sherryl said...

That is such a common experience - one teacher showing you poetry in a way that allows you to "own" it in your own way. And then it stays with you forever.

BookChook said...

I went to a wonderful NSW state school in Year 5 and 6. There I was encouraged to read and write poetry. We also discussed poetry and learnt many poems by heart. I remember The Inchcape Rock, Australian Sunrise, Clancy of the Overflow and Bellbirds. Most of the words have stayed with me, but so have the rhythms, the metaphors and the feeling behind the words.

Later at High School, I had a wonderful English teacher who introduced me to poets like Hopkins. I have many of his sonnets lurking in the recesses of my brain still too. Not because we were required to learn them, but because we read them so frequently while we were attempting to analyse why they worked so well.

I was an ordinary Aussie kid, but I met teachers who knew how to share their delight and passion to the extent that it ignited mine. Lucky me!

Sherryl said...

It really is about the passion, isn't it? Another teacher who had no idea about poetry may well have killed Hopkins et al for you for life! (as has happened to me).