Guest piece: ‘Why I Write Poetry and You Should Too’ from the writer of ‘Bright Bursts of Colour,’ Matt Goodfellow.

I think that poetry is often a vastly neglected area of the school curriculum. Reading, writing, and enjoying poetry should be a regular part of a pupil’s literary diet, not something squashed into a spare week at the end of a half term.

For anyone needing some poetic inspiration, you need to take a look at the CLPE’s (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) fantastic CLiPPA award. Each year they select some of the most exciting new poetry collections for children with an expert panel selecting the winner.

One of this year’s brilliant nominated titles was ‘Bright Bursts of Colour’ by ex-teacher turned poet, Matt Goodfellow. Today, he’s sharing with us why we should all try writing poetry.

Why I Write Poetry – and why you should too

By Matt Goodfellow

It’s my belief that poetry is absolutely the best vehicle for children (and adults!) to talk about their thoughts, feeling and ideas ‘in their voice, about their life.’ Poetry is ‘rebel writing’ – unlike any other form of writing in that it doesn’t follow rules – nor are there any age-related expectations, meaning the rigidity and structure and need for toolkits and checklistsoften found in English lessons (and I’m not blaming teachers for this – it’s down to those in charge of the education system!) can be done away with. 

In simple terms, when you’re writing a poem, you, as a rebel writer, make the decisions as to whether you’re going to use punctuation and capital letters; you decide how to pattern the page with your words; you decide if you want to use similes and metaphors; you decide if you want to employ rhyme, repetition, and rhythm or not. And for me, the most powerful thing is that you can write poems in your own distinctive voice: the thinking voice in your head, the voice that you talk to friends and family in – that’s your unique cultural heritage – so use it when you’re writing about your life. When I write poems, I write about my life, lives that I’ve seen – and stuff I make up – all in my voice! 

Bright Bursts of Colour reflects who I am. There are silly poems like ‘A Special Badger’ and ‘Nuts.’ There are poems about lives I saw in my 12-year career as a primary school teacher, like ‘Strest’. There are poems about my life as a child growing up with a complicated and difficult home life – see ‘Split.’ There are poems about my mum dying – ‘Mist.’ There are frankly weird poems, like ‘Hot Stuff.’ Rebel writing lets you write about whatever you want, however you want.

In my experience, the only time people are nervous about poetry is when they think it is one thing. But poetry is an infinite amount of things. The best way to start exploring this and opening doorways to poetry’s uniquely shape-shifting power is simply to get poetry into lives and classrooms on a daily basis. As a teacher, I always had a class reader on the go, but also had a good pile of contemporary poetry books on my desk – some single author collections like Bright Bursts of Colour and some good quality anthologies. Every single day, I read a poem out. Sometimes I’d share the ‘shape’ of the poem on the page under the visualiser, other times I’d just read it out. Within a few days, the children in my class (and my colleagues in school who were also doing the same) began to realise that every single poem is different. Just like every life! 

Without any extra work, being face to face with poems every day began to fire my ideas for poems I could write with the children in my class. I’d pick out shapes and patterns we could use as a template from the poems I’d read out – and then slot in the children’s lives, their experience, their words into them. The PSHE curriculum meant we were already adept at discussing our lives – and that became central to the poems we wrote – rebel writers, writing ‘in their voice, about their life.’ The brilliant thing was to watch how quickly children began to innovate on the shapes and patterns we used as a starting point – and therefore began to create brand new forms, brand new poems – their poems. 

I was then able to share my ideas with my colleagues and steal some of theirs as well!

Try it – open the doorway to poetry and become a rebel writer – you know you want to!

Bright Bursts of Colour is published by Bloomsbury Education and illustrated by Aleksei Bitskoff. It was shortlisted for the 2021 CLiPPA, CLPE Children’s Poetry Award.

Excellent advice there from Matt about how to weave poems into day-to-day school life and spark a love of poetry amongst pupils and staff.

Poems are great in that they tell a whole story in a matter of minutes. Having a quality collection of poetry to hand to share in odd moments, framing poems to put around the school, getting pupils to regularly select poems to share with their peers, sharing poems in assemblies, are all good ways of getting more poetry into your day. I’d also encourage any literacy leads to take a look at their school’s book spine and ensure that a variety of poetry is built in regularly and progressively over the school year.

Library Girl.

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