More pages, stages…and poets

joe hakimLast Saturday I attended a creative writing day school with Joe Hakim and Mike Watts two Hull performance poets.

mike watts

They talked about the growing popularity of  the spoken word genre and performed. Joe described stage v page as an artificial distinction but later admitted some poems felt unsuitable for reading aloud. This was reassuring. In the current craze for linking person and poem, we need a place for silence.  Poetry is a personal, private activity.  Performance is public.  It says more about the person than the poem.  Open-mic events encourage the poet to package their personality. Words on a page have no vehicle other than the paper. They are fixed, waiting for the connection – for the resonance which lies at the heart of a successful poem. Extrovert stage. Introvert page.

I wonder how much this resurgence of performance poetry is about re-establishing human connection.  The oral tradition was essential for passing on information, long before Gutenberg or the World Wide Web. Today we have access to unlimited amounts of words, music, stories and entertainment. It is reassuring to dim the lights, sit down, have food, drink, friends and bring on the poet who loves the performance as much as the words.

There needs to be room in the world for poetry. A poem can speak about situations, draw attention to issues, give voice to the marginalised.  It can entertain, make you see the world in a different way. All good but while performance poetry is about the moment, we need to remember the words of a poem are for life.

Poetry on page or stage?

Performance poet Kate Tempest (aged 28) is the first person under 40 to win the Ted Hughes award for innovation in poetry for Brand New Ancients, ‘an hour-long spoken story with orchestral backing, in which Tempest imagines a world where we are all gods’ see Kate Tempest: the performance poet who can’t be ignored for more details.

Kate’s work arouses mixed feelings, or maybe it’s the status of winning of the award which has caused such strong reactions. The piece in the Guardian (and its comments) reflects some of this diversity. Performance poetry has never gone away but seems to be enjoying a resurgence of interest; the difference between the poem on the page and the poem on the stage can be remarkable. If Kate succeeds in engaging more people in poetic practice it can only be good. Kate is well named!

A trailer for Brand New Ancients can be seen here with lots of other examples of Kate’s work on the same link.


Make Google your best friend this Christmas

Christmas Google logo


As well as the free online poetry resources mentioned in previous blog posts, there are also multiple examples of poetry OER.  these are teaching and learning materials which have been licenced for reuse and repurposing under a creative commons licence  For more information on OER – or open educational resources – visit A good starting point for poetry OER is the OER Commons website at The keyword ‘poetry’ returns over 200 links at

Another option it to key poets and poetry into YouTube or TeacherTube.

Make Google your best friend this Christmas.

The classics can wait. Make poetry fun.

Government funding of £500,000 to promote poetry in schools sounds fantastic. Spending it on a new national poetry recitation competition for 14 to 18-year-olds has potential. But asking students to memorise and perform a poem such as Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold, Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley or anything by Shakespeare will not help young people to engage with contemporary poets or poetry. Most of all, it isn’t encouraging them to explore writing poetry and learning the art of maximum expression in the minimum number of words.

I haven’t seen the list. Benjamin Zephaniah may be there, Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy or anyone of the recognised poets from the past 50 years would be good. But associating poetry with lines like ‘Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain’; is removing it from every day language and disguising its potential for relevance. The classics can wait. We need to make poetry fun and culturally defunct English is not the way to do it.  Teenagers to recite Ozymandias off by heart in schools

Letting the noise of thinking subside

Chase Twichell writes poetry and practices Zen. In No Imaginary Fences, Twichell compares zazen and poetry saying they might seem to come from different planets, since one is languageless and the other expressive, but both are primarily concerned with the quality of attention one pays to the world.

‘In zazen, we sit without moving and study, without judgment, what the mind does. The mind is very, very busy! It dislikes silence and stillness. It thinks, and thinking gets in the way of seeing things as they actually are, free of all of our associations and distractions. To me, writing poems requires the same kind of concentration, and the same patience, to let the noise of thinking subside.’

Sometimes poetry sneaks in when you least expect it. The chosen words are more than the sum of their parts. The gestalt of a poem is not constructed. It arrives, using the words as its bridge. The task is to make the best possible choices for that bridge. Letting the noise of thinking subside might seem like the wrong direction; writing is an act of doing rather than not-doing.

Twichell has an answer for this.

It’s said that poetry goes where prose can’t, and I’d add that Zen goes where poetry can’t. But poetry gets closer than anything else.

This short video A Day in the Life of a Zen Monk includes the practice of zazen.