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Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award

Does this smell like a good poem?!

Joanne Bowles is the Senior Librarian at Tor Bridge High School, Plymouth and she is a 2017 teacher trailblazer, acting as a mentor and sharing lesson ideas for school librarians and teachers wishing to enter their students for the  Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. 

Here Joanne tells us about the poetry week she runs in school.

"I run the annual poetry week at my school, a celebration of all types of poetry which we try to involve all year groups in and run across the curriculum.

Running the poetry week doesn't make me a poetry expert. I find a lot of poetry difficult to understand, and I'm honest about this to my students.I make poetry a learning experience for all of us – the result is that the students can, and often do come up with another meaning for a poem I thought I understood!

One of the most important parts of the week isn't sharing the library's collection of poems but instead getting the students writing and editing their own poems.  It’s an exercise in writing with their fingers and their ears, as they begin to listen to the words they write, which helps them when they do read poetry as they gain a different interpretation and a deeper appreciation of the words on the page.

Another important part of the week is running a competition. This is less daunting than you think. Having an annual theme is very helpful in focussing the mind and I use this to create the competition, a lesson plan, and quizzes for the whole school.

We are a large academy compromising 4 schools so we try to create a sense of competition between them – who submits the most/best entries.  Tutors and school heads become very competitive, which gives an excitement and buzz to poetry week. 

Having the support and resources available through The Poetry Society has helped me immensely with planning - bizarrely, this year I found myself creating my own lesson plan for The Poetry Society, 'Does This Smell Like a Good Poem?', which involves exploring some of the ideas in Cyrus Larcombe- Moore's poem 'my ghost', which was one of the winning poems in the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. The lesson plan uses our sense of smell rather than our sight and hearing as a way to understand the poem and to help us with our own poetry writing. Smell invokes a strong human reaction that contributes to imagery, metaphor and structure. 

If you’re thinking about running your own competition, do not underestimate the power of chocolate as a prize! Remember though prizes are not everything, I have found that simple recognition as a winner or getting on to the shortlist really does enthuse even the most reticent students. If you’re entering external competitions aim high, an international competition like Foyle offers 100 top winners – reaching that top 100 is a great and realistic aspiration to give a class. 

Students can have the wrong idea as to who writes poetry, the themes and where poetry exists to be read, seen and heard.I’ve played a variety of YouTube videos/clips of poetry readings in the library during lunchtime.  Students don’t need to sit and listen formally to this – they can flit in and out or just catch bits of it whilst they are looking for books.  It captures those students who might normally avoid a formal poetry reading experience, but also offers a non-judgemental space for those students who might not want to admit they like poetry to their friends.

Promote the writing and sheer appreciation of poetry by getting students and staff to read aloud their favourite poems at assembly, during lunch and in the library.

Once you have opened their eyes to what poetry actually is, students will recognise this in rap and grime. The same applies to song lyrics. Give them the current number one with the title missing and read it aloud as a poem. Once you have got students listening to this and beginning to break it down and analyse it, then you have them hooked and more willing to tackle ‘heavier’ works.

Poet mentors and poets-in-residence are a great help. We have had a visiting poet for the last two years coming in to perform and run workshops – this has ranged from whole year group performances to small group work. Competition winning poems, need to be celebrated, but don’t just publish them in the library or classroom. Create unusual and eye-catching displays around the school so that all students and staff can see the results.  That means toilet doors, the changing rooms and outside spaces – and use props to draw their attention. If you’re going to have a permanent display then make sure you refresh the poems and the look of the display to keep everyone’s attention. I have even made bookmarks with the poems. When students come to borrow a book from our library, I put one in each book. 

Above all poetry should not be reserved just for poetry week but promoted as a fun and engaging pursuit throughout the entire school year. " 

Joanne’s lesson plan ‘Does This Smell Like a Good Poem? is available free at Resources for Teachers

The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is the most prestigious award for writers aged 11-17.It is an annual competition that welcomes poems on any theme and entry is completely free.Since it began in 1998, the Award has kick-started the career of some of today’s most exciting new voices. Past winners include Sarah Howe, HelenMort, Jay Bernard and Caroline Bird.

Winners receive a fantastic range of prizes, including mentoring, a residential Arvon writing course, Poetry Society membership and books.The Poetry Society also continues to support winners’ development with performance,publication and internship opportunities.

Find out more and enter your students’ work before the closing date of 31st July at foyleyoungpoets.org  


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