Rising Up Through Poetry
Author: Sam Hardcastle.
26th January 2021.
As I listened to Gorman delivering her poem, I couldn’t help but notice that her words reminded me of Maya Angelou’s stunning poem Still I Rise (I later discovered that Gorman credits Angelou with being one of her earliest influences). Angelou’s crafting of language is sublime and I have long revered her mastery of the English language through prose and poetry. But it is her poetry that stays with me, that has the greatest effect on me – one line from Still I Rise and I’m instantly flooded with emotion. It’s inspiring. It's joyful. It's magnificent.
Poetry has often had a bad press, especially with teenagers, many of whom have been known to refer to it as ‘boring’ (without realising that a little part of an English teacher’s soul dies, every time they do!) Boring – no. Misunderstood – possibly. Powerful – absolutely. Poetry is the most condensed form of literature – a collection of carefully chosen words, lovingly arranged onto paper, delivering a message. To me, once you understand the principle that poets are the same as authors – word artists who want to pass on a message of importance, of value, they just use less words to do so – poems become easier to understand and hear. And once you hear them, you feel them and once you feel them, your journey begins.
Recently, poetry has begun to have a renaissance. National Poetry Day cites Neilson’s Bookscan research that shows a 40% increase in the sales of poetry over the last five years and, surprisingly, 41% of buyers were aged 13 to 22. But it’s not just in print that we’re seeing an uplift. The Bookseller reported that the number of Instagram posts tagged #poetry, increased from 40 to 48 million from April to September last year, in no small part due to lockdown.
Why? Because when the nation was stuck at home, poetry was readily available online. Through their words, poets speak directly to the reader about their likes and dislikes; their hopes and dreams; their loves and losses; and can cover a range of concepts you may never have considered but can absolutely relate to. Much like reading novels, poetry helps console and create connections for people in isolation and brings a sense of calm to the chaos – a panacea of comfort and illumination, many of us need right now.
The creative impact
We’re also seeing the creative impact that reading poetry can have on pupils at school. Last October, for National Poetry Day, pupils responded to Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poem Sympathy (Angelou also used the first line from the poem as the title of her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) and produced some incredible pieces of work – some of which can be seen in the current issue of The Register. Our current year 11 (U5) pupils have also astounded us by creating dramatic monologues, tackling a range of topics, in response to their Unseen Poetry unit. Their work has made the English Department’s hearts sing! Writing poetry allows you to express yourself, to address worries and concerns and, in times of personal and societal duress, it can be a much-needed emotional release.
So, make time and immerse yourself in poetry. Rediscover the poems from your childhood and curl up in the memories. Search out new poets – taste their words, feel the rise and fall of the meter, explore the emotions. Share them with your friends and family – maybe it will encourage someone else to begin their love affair with poetry.
Because, if Amanda Gorman’s teacher hadn’t introduced her to poetry in the third grade (to help her overcome a speech impediment caused by an auditory disorder), then she wouldn’t have begun reading and reciting poems to discover her voice. She wouldn’t have found herself on the biggest stage in the world, delivering her message of hope, to reconcile a nation torn apart by turbulence. And we wouldn’t have found ourselves marvelling at her talent, talking about her breathtaking performance and remembering how poetry makes us feel. This is the power of poetry and, through it, we build and rise.
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