On Friday the GCSE Poetry Live event was held at the Dominion Theatre in London. Poets such as Carol Ann Duffy, Gillian Clarke, Simon Armitage, Grace Nichols, Imtiaz Dharker and John Agard read their work to an audience of GCSE students and teachers from schools all over the country. I attended the same event back in 2010 with Year 11 pupils from work, but this time was much more engaging not only for myself as an adult and a poet, but for the students. As any parents out there might agree, getting teenagers interested poetry is a hard task.
Being a fan of Grace Nichols I’ve had her collection, The Fat Black Woman’s Poems, for many years, but I took the opportunity to get my copy signed backstage during a break. I was flattered that Grace thought I was a student… not too bad for a 32 year old to be mistaken for someone half their age! In addition to reading her poems which appear on the GCSE syllabus (one of my favourites is ‘Price we pay for the sun’ from The Fat Black Woman’s poems), Grace read a new poem soon to be published, in memory of Nelson Mandela.
Simon Armitage was a favourite with the students on the day, with interesting anecdotes for each of the poems he read. During the question and answer session at the end of his reading, a girl asked what advice he would give to aspiring poets. At first he answered with a resounding, ‘Don’t’. He elaborated by saying that (referring to the established poets): ‘We’ve pretty much got it made. We don’t want anyone new coming along with their fresh ideas and their fresh way of looking at things’, before admitting that he was ‘joking’ and on second thought ‘half-joking’. He then continued with his ‘real’ advice to ‘Read lots – you can’t be a writer if you aren’t a reader’. He also mentioned that ‘a writer should know their likes and dislikes’. All very true. Hopefully some of our younger generation will listen to his advice and take the poetry world by storm by coming up with some fresh new perspective on poetry and break all the conventions!
I enjoyed Carol Ann Duffy’s reading better this time than previously, probably because of her inspiration by Greek mythology, as in ‘Medusa’ (she didn’t know who killed Medusa, however, and appealed to the teachers to explain to their students – I was happy to tell my Year 11 girls of the gorgeous and heroic Perseus!) and ‘Hour’ with its allusion to King Midas and his golden touch. My own poem about Medusa was published in The Blue Hour Magazine in June this year – you can read it here.
Of course, the organisers of the event left the most dynamic of the readers for last. John Agard always receives a standing O with his explosive way with words. Really fantastic to watch live. It’s also thanks to the Poetry Live event that I learned how John Agard and Grace Nichols are a poet couple! Aww!
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