Dodos are Dead…but not the Poets! Well, the most anticipated literary event of the year is here, it’s in Birmingham, and we are very proud to be a part of it. Poetry Live is a conference that gives GCSE students a chance to meet the best of the British (and not only British!) poets, the crème de la crème of poetry titans. Or, to put it another way, the poets whose work was chosen by the AQA exam board to be studied for the forthcoming GCSE exams! Just before going on this trip, I was asked if the poems would be performed by actors, “because the poets are all dead!”, or someone else?… My answer was, “by real poets and live!” Poets that might even live amongst us or shop in the same supermarket! Or might perhaps teach us in the future. And so, on the 21st of January, our Smith’s Wood Academy students went to hear poems from their GCSE course being read by the original, very much alive, authors. It was immediately obvious that this is a completely different experience from reading the very same poem in a book; afterwards none of the students would be surprised to realise that poetry began as a performance art.
Suffice to say we were all amazed, impressed and entertained from the start, with a reading by an Oxford professor called Simon Armitage (“Remains”). To watch him was sheer joy: his emotions, his passion for language and his zest for poetry were obvious and palpable. He was followed by a rather less animated chief examiner; but if the flair of his predecessor was lacking, he still made a valuable contribution; the students were shown the nitty gritty of poetry analysis and it was a useful discussion point for break-time. Daljit Nagra (“Singh Song!”, a poem that featured prominently in last year’s exam) was refreshing in his delivery, charming and very charismatic. His was a bravura performance; a recital of three of his poems and a recounting of the full story behind “Singh Song!” Gillian Clarke, Carol Ann Duffy, Imtiaz Dharker, and Grace Nichols also appeared on stage; perhaps with a little less panache than Armitage or Nagra, but entertaining and interesting nonetheless. The pace and variety kept the students’ attention. However, surely the crowning glory of the event was a recital by John Agard; the most vivacious, flamboyant and confident performer. Although he has lived in England since 1977, his imagination was still steeped in the Caribbean, and who doesn’t want a little bit of sunshine on a sleety winter’s day in England? I think that most of our students were mesmerised by his performance- and challenged by his perspectives on modern culture. Our trip to Poetry Live ended as a resounding success, appreciated by staff and students alike. We came back confident that for the students to have experienced the poetry that they are studying, performed live by the poets, has benefitted them hugely. Not only equipping them with techniques they need for their exams, but also laying bare the emotions that can make poetry such a joy and a pleasure.
Poets are not all dead, after all!