'Look who's cool in the pool': Joseph Coelho on making poetry fun
'Look who's cool in the pool.'
I overheard the above on the street, an old man engaging with a tiny child heading out with mum, presumably to the pool. I don't know if this little rhyming phrase is from a poem he's read, something he overheard or a nugget of poetry he concocted on the spot: all I know is that it is poetry and in that instant it felt like the best way to communicate with this tiny child. It was fun, non-threatening, light hearted, funny and musical.
Poetry is so often all of these things and so often our go to tool (though we fail to see it as such) when navigating social interactions, when we want others to know that we're "ok" we're "fun", we're happy, we can make you smile.
Some ideas for introducing poetry to children
It's too easy to forget this natural and easy quality of poetry. We too quickly associate it with the obscure and hard to understand. It can be but it can also be delightfully simple, short and fun. Keeping this in mind can make the daunting task of introducing poetry to a classroom or in a community setting child's play. It can be a game of rhyming phrases....
Look who's cool in the pool
Look who's free in the tree
If a poem does not speak to us then that is fine; we move on and find a poem that does connect.
Look who's hot in the pot
Look who's bright in the light
Of a name based tongue-twister....
Robbing Rob rolls red rabbits
Robbing Rob rolls red racing rabbits
Poetry needn't be arduous or even introduced as "POETRY”: it can just be word play that gets you and the children thinking about words, exploring ideas and rhythm without the heavy intention of "doing poetry."
Changing perceptions of poetry
I have said in the past that poetry is innate in all children. It is innate in us all, it is language with the brakes taken off, the things we notice daily that go unspoken: the shapes in the clouds, the shades of blue on the train, the shared joke with a stranger.
Poetry is innate in us all, it is language with the brakes taken off, the things we notice daily that go unspoken
And yet poetry does not have to be simple, we don't have to apologise for its existence and present it as "cool" as "lyrics" or "rap" or silly, out of a fear that the "P" word will get the youth running. I have seen countless young people thrive off the challenge of reading poems with depth and multiple angles and obscure notions. I have seen young people obsessed with getting a sonnet or a sestina just right or sweating over that poetic phrase that will make any reader gasp.
We adults so often present poetry guiltily, apologetically cringing as we mumble the "P" word, doing no more then revealing our own fears. We have to stop and put down this fear that poetry is hard and lofty. If a poem does not speak to us then that is fine; if we don't "get-it" that's alright and perfectly reasonable to admit - we move on and find a poem that does connect. We don't expect to understand or to be even able to fully decipher the lyrics of a song yet for some reason we put poetry under special pressure and a lack of understanding of the subjective views of the poet become a source of shame. Letting students know that there is no right or wrong to poetry can be an extremely effective way to reinvigorate their passion for it: it becomes something that they can happily approach and use, and you've given them the permission to do so by letting them know that no permission is needed.
We need to change our ideas of poetry: at best they're so often wrong, at worst they spread our misplaced fears to our children and turn them off poetry.
A young person disconnected from poetry is disconnected from a birthright with the potential to enable them to explore and share their emotions, to root their mental health and to engage with the full gamut of much needed communication skills.
Find out more about Joseph and his poetry collections at his website.
Looking for some activities to explore poetry in the classroom? Check out our poetry resources.