National Poetry Day
OK, it’s a day set aside by someone, sometime, to be a poetryful day up and down and across the islands we are living in and not forgetting that landload of poets joined to us by the Irish Sea.
As is usual with these sorts of occasion, it’s a good or bad thing depending on who’s doing the celebrating. In as far as I meet as many students who have been put off poetry at school as I meet who have been engaged by it in those brutal seats of unlearning.
I instinctively rebel against any suggestion of national co-operation on ‘special’ days. I think, ‘Right, if next Thursday is National Poetry Day for the British nation, I shall make it my own National Non-Poetry Day.’ However, one of my obligations as Cheshire Poet Laureate is to come up with, and deliver, an event for NPD. So do it I did.
Lynda and I had a prior-arranged short but long-awaited holiday scheduled – an extended weekend break in the Land of my Fathers. We were to set off in the late afternoon of NPD. This meant that an evening performance (other than one to an audience of newly shorn sheep, a ginger goat, some heart-meltingly-pretty flop-eared rabbits and a few hens on an isolated Welsh smallholding) from me was out of the question. And anyway NPD ain’t about me it’s about poetry.
I was talking to Amy one evening on the telephone. She told me that the month of October was Family Learning Festival. So, hand in hand with her wisdom and experience with kids, I designed a project that would cover both celebrations.
Right from the word go as CPL I wanted to do stuff for schools as web downloads and I sketched out a few projects in lieu of finding some support from the CCC. To my great and continuing disappointment there was no spark of interest shown by them. Then, through a chance meeting at a poetry performance I was giving at the launch of a library’s new educational DVD , I found an interested person.
Hey! Not only was she interested but she told me that she would copy anything I sent to her boss who was more directly responsible for what went on in the county schools than she was. Wonderful!
I whizzed off a couple of sketched-out projects and awaited their response. But
NOTHING. NOWT. ZILCH.
I left it for a decent interval (two or three weeks) before emailing them again. But again
NOTHING. NOWT. ZILCH.
And I still haven’t heard a word from them.
In spite of that brickwall, I was convinced it was the way to go. One little project can reach hundreds and hundreds of people in one fell swoop, far out-classing me mumbling my humble rhymes and reasonings to a cohort of converts in some October library.
After a bit of thought the Skwigmaroo Project was born for NPD.
1) I rang round until I had got 28 Cheshire primary schools interested. I emailed them a copy of my Skwigmaroo poem (ref an earlier posting) and invited the children to take a copy home and read it to their families, and do a drawing of a skwigmaroo underneath the poem. This was to fit in with the aims of the Family Learning Festival and my interpretation of this year’s NPD theme, ‘work’.
2) The children were then invited to invent an animal of their own and to make a poem about it. They were also invited to email their poems to me for posting on a notice board at the MMU, Alsager.
I have since been phoning round the schools trying to find out how many children actually took part but it is proving difficult: schools are busy places and messages aren’t always being passed on to the right people; those who say they are going to phone or email back often don’t etc. BUT on the figures I have collect so far AT LEAST 500 children took part and it might easily be in excess of a 1,000.
Inevitably, fewer children went as far as making a poem and emailing it to me but nevertheless I received poems about all kinds of invented animal:
the Geyco . . .
to name but a few!
I held one more event for NPD too. I, and a group of my 2nd Year undergraduate poets held a read-round at the uni. It was terrific. Some read their own poems, some read the poems of well-known poets like Stevie Smith, Edwin Brock, WB Yeats, and Roger McGough. They all read beautifully. It was fantastic to hear such a range of accents and to hear poetry read with such warmth and insight. Uplifting stuff. Above are the photos I took. Seeya soon.