‘Robots are red…’: celebrating young people’s poetry

To celebrate National Poetry Day, our Young Writers Programme Manager, Fay Lant, shares some of her favourite poems created by the young people she has worked with this year.

Passing tests is important but if we were to choose the two most important skills we want children to leave school with, creativity and self-expression would be up there. After all, once most of our jobs have been made extinct by machines, it is these most human of attributes that will continue to be valuable.

I have the absolute joy of seeing first-hand the creativity of the young people we work with, and how poetry helps them to express themselves, their ideas and their feelings. Through our poetry projects, young people have come up with lines including:

“A canvas, splashed and dotted, frayed and worn, lies above us” — by Alfie
“She rips and crashes and smashes to ashes
All the buildings that stand in her path as the public scatter erratically”
 — by Debbie
“the lullaby swish of the ballet-shoe leather” — by Kimi

It’s the creative thinking that has gone into these lines that makes them enjoyable to read. What is so fantastic about the new research we have published today to mark National Poetry Day is that we overwhelmingly heard from children and young people that they like being creative and many of them actively find opportunities to express that creativity.

The brilliant news for teachers is that poetry provides a unique opportunity to develop pupils’ creativity and also their writing skills. It is particularly good for supporting vocabulary selection, structuring writing and conveying a message succinctly. What a shame then that some KS2 moderators will not accept poems when assessing Year 6’s writing, taking the view that it won’t provide evidence of the required success criteria. Even just in the short extracts above we can see examples of various clause structures, use of adverbs and correct spelling of challenging words, including those with silent letters.

The lovely thing about these poems is that the young people who wrote them chose what they wanted to write about. Alfie’s poem conveys his interest in space with a subversive twinkle in his eye; Debbie chose to compare the Great Fire of London to a lion because she felt that most accurately conveyed the devastation that she understood the fire had caused; Kimi shared how dance can help people cope with difficult feelings (“Dance for every cry unspoken”).

We also heard from children and young people that they like the opportunity poetry offers for self-expression. This backs up our own experience where we regularly see young people using poetry to describe experiences and emotions that they have not previously been able to put into words. One child we worked with told us that, compared to other types of writing, poetry is “more about emotion — you can feel what I feel, just by reading”.

This National Poetry Day, I’d like to celebrate the fantastic creativity and self-expression of the young people we work with. Here are two of my favourite poems produced this year by teenagers in Bradford:

The Final Frontier

A canvas, splashed and dotted, frayed and worn, lies above us.
Empty and grand, a huge black blanket hugging everything, a white eye glaring down with searing, lifeless heat.
The universe.
An ocean with no edges, a place within which simple stones and sprawling gas can create flourishing worlds where life becomes aware, with time, that it was not made by a tall man with a beard.
Pulsars dance like rapid cosmic lighthouses, a gleeful remnant of a furious crimson sun. Black holes sit quietly and mysteriously, an invisible pit for all but light to make deeper.
Flea like, ugly pieces of steel hop back and forth between miniscule rocks spinning around a little yellow spot.
This is the cauldron from which existence itself was conjured, using nothing with potential.
And, in yet another standard spiral galaxy, in another standard solar system, on a damp little rock in the middle of nowhere, there’s a spotty little fourteen year old that needs a haircut.
Why on earth would I write about that?

By Alfie Parker

Am I here for me?

It’s quite the task
Wear something loose, not too tight
Something good and not too bright
Cover your head, hide your hair,
Otherwise boys will run after something so fair
You can bet they’re going to keep trying
There’s no denying
She needs saving
But her heroine’s been
Caving –
Caving in
As her tears rolled down her chin
Her world’s shattering
Affection scattering
Her porcelain skin’s been bruised to perfection
Her complexion’s a reflection of the lack of affection
She’s been given
Let’s forget for now, and talk another day?
I’m not sure quite what to say
All the times I spent with you
Not knowing you would abandon me too
Is it some form of protection?
Am I a parcel waiting for collection?
Till the day my father’s choice came to the door,
To hear the oath I swore
What’s this mark on my cheek?
Is it the punishment to speak?
Can I not be me?
Have you taken my right to be free?
Why should I hide?
Is it truly for my father’s pride?
Is my heroine my mother?
My protector? My brother?
Am I here for me, or am I here for you?

By Zahra Maryam

Read our report, A thing that makes me happy: Children, young people and poetry in 2018, and celebrate National Poetry Day on social media #NationalPoetryDay.