Poeme'en - Double English

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Dom Conlon looks back at the horror of school poems and how to get children to actually enjoy poetry...

Maybe the cold sweat gets you first. Maybe it's the sound of your heart, thumping in your chest. Or maybe it's those eyes, those tiny piercing eyes which scour the room probing for weakness, looking for easy prey...

However you react to being chosen, one thing's certain - few of us ever like it. Being put on the spot is bad enough but being put on the spot to READ A POEM... well that's the stuff of nightmares.

I love poetry and I can tell you I was exactly the same as everyone else. Reading stories wasn't too bad. We could all fall into the the kind of monotone used to train robots to speak, but poetry was difficult. It was full of strange words like "o'er", "perchance" and "nonny". It tricked you into sounding like an idiot as you stumbled through the rhythm, and it made no sense - no sense whatsoever.

Many of us have bad memories associated with having to read (WHAT DOES IT MEAN THOUGH, WHAT DOES IT MEAN?) and write (DIG DEEP INTO YOUR SOUL, DEAR CHILD) poetry and so it's no wonder we avoid it. At best we might acknowledge it in the form of rude messages on Valentine's Day or in a soppy card for our mums. Not for us are the words of Wordsworth, Tennyson, Keats (or is that Yeats - I can never remember the difference) and, heaven forbid, SHAKESPEARE. Even teachers like to avoid poetry, perhaps wheeling out Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen to tick a few boxes whilst studying World War 1. And that's where the great poetic tragedy sets in - in limiting the idea of poetry to stanzas and dead poets. With the right teacher, Owen's incredible words can grip and inspire children (I've seen this first hand) but how often do they? How often is poetry taught through drama or music or art in order to help children feel the power of the words?

Being told what poetry to read (or teach) is the killer. If you want to enjoy it, and if you want children to enjoy it (which I do) then we need to find it in the most unexpected places. Don't dismiss Spike Milligan, Roger McGough or Brian Moses because they didn't live two hundred years ago. Don't dismiss music lyrics or performance poetry. Don't dismiss quick rhymes or picture books or poems on the Underground. Don't dismiss graffiti thoughts or Twitter poems. Poetry is everywhere. You just have to see it in your life.

Buy Dom's own poetry on AMAZON and read his Hallowe'en story here.