Happy World Poetry Day
Happy World Poetry Day! Do you use poems in class? Who is your students' favourite poet? My students are used to having fun in class while reading, reciting or discussing a poem.
Those of you who follow my blog and e-zine INSPIRATIONAL ENGLISH know that I am a big fan of Josie Whitehead, an English poet whose voluntary work at a local primary school inspired her to write her first poem over ten years ago.
Josie's poems celebrate life and the beauty of nature in all seasons. On her website Josie's poems you can find over 1, 350 poems for kids and older students. Some of them come with a teaching tip or a recording to be played.
Here's an extract from the interview that Josie gave me for the January issue of the e-zine.
Hi Josie, your poems inspire young learners all over the world. Would you tell us how you got into writing?
In 2006 I decided to volunteer one hour weekly to visiting my local primary school to help in the classroom, as many retired people do. It was here, that a few months later, I met a group of children who encouraged me to write poems for them. In the following year I met new children who asked me to make a website and to put on here the poems which I’d written for the children in the previous year and to continue writing for them.
You used to be a teacher. Has this work helped you in creating poems for children?
I was a teacher of secretarial subjects, and I believe that teaching Pitman’s shorthand gave me a good phonological awareness, ie an awareness of sounds within words because you write actual sounds on paper with shorthand. It is this very ability that helps in writing poetry which has rhythm or metre, and the awareness of sounds for rhyming.
I believe it is of great importance for a writer to be authentic. How much of your real life and beliefs are depicted in your poems?
When I was a child, the Second World War was on. We didn’t have the books, games and, of course, TV that the children of today enjoy. We had to do lots of make-believe games, and invent our own stories. This probably helps with children’s story-poems. I am a Christian and many things in the Christian message also are important in other religions. So the poems in my spiritual/thinking section of my work, will reflect this. I hope that the poems will lead to discussion within the classroom and will help to bring unity in the world. This is important to me.
Writing poems is a beautiful way to use words. Many English teachers encourage their students to write poetry. In your opinion, what is the golden rule when creating poems?
I believe that in order to foster a love of an art form, one should familiarize oneself and love that art form for what it is. As humans we learn from those whose work we enjoy. I think that perhaps there is too much emphasis made on getting young children to write poetry (which, if done well is very difficult), rather than just listening first and then reading poetry and absorbing it in its entirety. We were never taught to write poetry at school, but I believe I absorbed a great deal by listening, reading and absorbing the poems of the poets whose work I loved. I only ever wrote one poem when I was a child, and I was 11 years of age. Although I’d never been taught to write poems, I can see from this one poem that I’d absorbed a great deal and the rhyme and the metre are 100% perfect, and the subject was something close to my heart – my little garden. It is on my website where you can see it.
Courtesy of Josie Whitehead
Finally, you also bring lots of joy into the classrooms in many countries by reading poems via skype. How can teachers find more about it and get in touch with you?
Yes, I love skype visits and so do the children whom I visit. I’ve made some really wonderful friends worldwide via skype as a result of my visits. Two little girls in Argentina did a picture to go with one of my poems, which was lovely, but imagine my delight and surprise when their teacher, Graciela, arrived at my home the following summer, carrying the picture. Now the children can see the picture on my wall when I visit their class. Details of arranging skype visits are with every poem on my website.
Thank you, Josie!
If you want to read Josie's poems, visit her website here.