C-19-safe poet visits

As lockdown eases, and schools start to open up again, we want to make sure that our Poets in Schools visits are carried out as safely as possible for teachers, students and poets. We surveyed our database of teachers and poets to see what makes a safe and successful Poets in Schools visit. Our key findings were…

  • Poets and teachers are still committed to working together to help students create their poetry
  • We will facilitate in-person visits according to schools’ individual C-19 safety policies, especially around working with smaller groups than usual and social distancing
  • We can tailor many versions of digital Poets-in-Schools visits to schools’ requirements, eg Zoom or video activities
  • The Poetry Society is big enough to have access to a wealth of poets, resources and ideas – but small enough to be able to offer schools an individual service. Email [email protected] to discuss what will work for you.

We asked Cheryl Moskowitz, a regular Poets-in-Schools visitor, to reflect on poetry’s power to communicate in the classroom at this time –

‘‘Poets can translate trauma’. This is the claim of poet Roger Robinson, 2019 TS Eliot Prize winner, in a recent article published in The Observer (14/6/20).

Teachers, on the other hand, are expected to be able to translate knowledge. Not an easy feat in a time of trauma. If teachers ever needed poets, and vice versa, the time is now.

This pandemic has given rise to all kinds of traumatic challenges and has put us all in a place of not-knowing. The restrictions imposed by the lockdown require us to restructure our working and personal lives. This has been particularly challenging for keyworkers upon whose daily services the whole of society relies, those responsible for our health, safety and education.

Teachers in particular have found themselves at the front line without much of the support found for the other service industries. School closures have left many teachers, pupils and parents to find their own way of trying to maintain continuity with work and study in isolation.

The technology for staying in touch is not always ideal, or even feasible in some cases. Most significantly the constantly changing guidelines, confusing rhetoric and speculation as to how best to manage the pandemic has sparked difficult and painful feelings, many of which we do not necessarily have the means or the facility to express.

Poetry has a vital part to play in facilitating communication and conversation.

This pandemic has affected us all, but we will process our experiences differently according to where we are, who we are and how effectively we can be helped to negotiate our circumstances and overcome obstacles to learning.

Poetry stimulates thought and creates the possibility for empathy and understanding.

It is not a surprise that during this time poetry has found its way into all kinds of media – early on in the lockdown BBC R4 newscasters shared poems that were important to them with one another and their listeners. Former UK Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy launched the international poetry project, Write Where We Are Now, to create “a living record of what is happening as seen through our poets’ eyes and ears”.

In a 2017 manifesto he wrote for The Poetry Review, Roger Robinson states that ‘human truth creates illumination in poetry’. I think the opposite must also be true, that poetry casts important light on human truth and experience.

As a poet with a long history of working in schools I’ve heard many teachers say that they find teaching poetry difficult. They are worried that if they do not understand it, they won’t be able to teach it. I like to consider these words, by nonagenarian poet W S Merwin ‘There’s so much about it that we don’t understand and we don’t have to understand it. It’s not about understanding.’ Granted he was talking about trees, not poetry, at the time but in my mind, the same rule applies! Poetry poses questions, provokes discussion, probes issues that would be difficult to address in any other way.

Who better to model the way poetry works to bring us to new ways of knowing ourselves and the world we live in than a real live poet, making a visit to your school in a virtual or a carefully managed, physical manner?

Not only does poetry work to translate trauma but it bridges the distance between creativity and learning. As current restrictions begin to ease, The Poetry Society is keen to bring poets and schools back together.’

 

If you’d like to enquire about a Poets in Schools booking, please fill out this form and we would be delighted to start a discussion about a visit.