Back in 2014, when Rachel and I decided to start publishing poetry for children, our general reasoning was that we’d always wanted to publish children’s books and that young readers of poetry were more likely to become older readers of poetry. We also conjectured that if young readers kept enjoying poetry into their teens then they were more likely to be able to transition into reading poetry for adults, instead of baulking at the jump between simple, straightforward poems aimed at 6-year-olds and more complex, knotty poems for adults. We felt politely passionate about it.
Since 2014, we’ve published three collections of children’s poetry (aimed at readers aged 8+) and run dozens of readings and workshops for children, including our Arts Council-supported nationwide Myths and Monsters tour in 2015. We’ve got our first collection of translated children’s poetry coming out in July, and Rachel is about to start teaching a course on writing poems for children at the Poetry School.
And now I want to scream passionately into everyone’s faces: ‘Poetry is REALLY IMPORTANT for children and we NEED TO TRY HARDER to get children reading and writing poetry.’ I’ve learned more about children’s literacy and I’ve seen first-hand the empowering effect that creating a poem can have on a child. I’ve also thought a lot about who literature ‘belongs’ to, and how sad and unfair it is that some rich, wonderful areas of human endeavour might be ruled out for some people because they feel it isn’t ‘for’ them.
If we learn how to read and love poetry while we’re young, and we continue to have access to poetry which feels ‘ours’ all the way from childhood through school, we might just retain into adulthood the feeling that poetry is something we enjoy and can turn to when we feel like it or need it. I can’t say ‘Poetry will ease your way into positions of power and privilege’ or ‘Poetry increases the chances of home ownership by the age of 25’, but I can say that reading and writing poetry enhances our understanding of the possibilities of language and the nuances of human expression and communication, all of which feels very important for success and happiness in life – too important to be reserved for the privileged few.
I’ve programmed some fantastic free readings and poetry-writing workshops at Verve next weekend (18-19th February), in addition to an open mic event for children (reserve places here!) and I hope that the children who attend will come away with the feeling that poetry is, or continues to be, for them.