Poetry By Heart is a national poetry recitation competition for schools in England. It is for pupils aged from 7 years to 16+ (key stage 5). The Competition began in 2012 and is a government initiative with support from the Poetry Society and Poetry Archive.
I was delighted to deliver the very first Poetry Speaking Teacher Day Masterclass for participating teachers, in Darlington, back in 2013. The Masterclass was attended by NAWE members, poets and teachers who would be coaching the entering pupils.
I looked at 2 poems with them, Inversnaid, by Gerard Manley Hopkins and Hannaker Mill, both poems with a strong beat key to the individual word meanings but also the overall mood and content. Both poems presented challenges being spoken aloud for performance. We explored choral speaking, vocal and mental projection, articulation for intelligibility and sound and rhythm. Exploring rhythm and sound as a starting point for understanding and sharing really loosened the participants up. Some of them had had negative experiences of being made to read during their classroom English lessons, or even of being made to read a poem as a punishment. Gone are those days. Language is all there for exploring and for personal interpretation. The stuffy elocution label has long gone from anything associated with speaking verse.
The poet laureate and an impressive line- up of poets made up the judging panel for the grand final, at the National Gallery, London. The competition goes from strength to strength each year. Pupils choose their poems from a selection available on the Poetry By Heart website. The timeline anthologies and poetry showcases there are designed to support wide-ranging exploration of poems and poets, as well as offering connections with the national curriculum for English and its GCSE assessment. I'm thrilled to see how it's developed and that Choral Speaking is an official element in this year's competition.