The Power of Poetry

I love poetry. I’ve always thought of it as distilled language: as though ideas have been boiled down and condensed so that only the concentrated essence remains. Because of this, every word in a poem feels somehow as if it’s carrying extra weight, extra resonance, extra value. When reading a poem, my senses are heightened and alerted: it’s a thrilling, exciting feeling.

I first experienced this sensation in an English Literature classroom in the autumn of 1991 (or possibly the spring of 1992) when I first encountered the poetry of Sylvia Plath. I’d always loved books and reading, but when I read Plath it was like I finally understood what all the fuss was about. I remember reading Lady Lazarus and the hairs standing up on my arms and the back of my neck. My teacher lent me his copy of her collection Ariel, and I haven’t looked back since.

My collection of Sylvia Plath books, 29 years after first reading her work

My experience of “waking up” to poetry sounds exactly like the experience of our current Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage. On Desert Island Discs earlier this year, he described vividly his first encounter with the work of Ted Hughes:

“It suddenly struck me, in a very electrifying moment, that the world was a really interesting place. It could be packaged up in these little bundles of language, which, at the end of the day, are only black marks against a white page. But if you put them in the right order, you can make extraordinary things happen in somebody else’s head across thousands of miles, across thousands of years, and in complete silence. And the shock of that realisation and the primitive magic of it has never really left me. I still feel that when I’m looking at a poem: that I’m staring at some kind of circuit board of language, which makes a contactless contact with something in my head. I think I knew at that very moment, that poetry was going to be my thing.”

Simon Armitage on Desert Island Discs, broadcast 15th May 2020.

Over the years, I have taught poetry to hundreds and hundreds of students. I haven’t always succeeded in igniting the same passion in every single one of them! But I hope I have helped some to find the power of poetry, and to enjoy it for themselves – away from having to study it for GCSE.

This last week, I have been blown away to see exactly this happen at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. At the end of January 2020, Ms Cody from our English Department gave an assembly to all main school students on the theme of “Literature that changed the world.” At least one student was inspired to pick up the books Ms Cody described, to see what all the fuss was about. That student was Imogen Beaumont, who has gone from winning our House Poetry Competition in 2019 to becoming a Foyle Young Poet of the Year 2020.

Some of my collection of Foyle Young Poets anthologies from over the years

I have followed the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award for over 20 years. Since 1998, the Award has been finding, celebrating and supporting the very best young poets from around the world. It is firmly established as the leading competition for young poets aged between 11 and 17 years old. This year, a staggering 15,966 poems were entered. Young writers from a record-breaking 118 countries entered the competition from as far afield as Afghanistan, Ecuador, Mozambique, North Korea and the Seychelles, and every corner of the UK. From these poems, this year’s judges Keith Jarrett and Maura Dooley selected 100 winners, made up of 15 top poets and 85 commended poets. After Mr Lockett put the entry invitation into our newsletter on 3rd July, Imogen entered. Her poem, The sound of Shakespeare’s women, was chosen as one of the top 15. When you read it, you can see why:

The sound of Shakepeare’s Women

If Juliet was silenced

amongst a patriarchal nightmare and

Lavinia was two limbs down

with no tongue to tell their tale and

Ophelia was driven to madness

with no sense left to speak and

Cordelia was shunned by her father,

her pointless words falling on deaf ears and

Desdemona’s desperate truth

was shouted down by whispered lies,

Then Will’s trying to tell us something.

By Imogen Beaumont

Imogen’s poem is a powerful, skilful piece of writing. She told me she reads a lot of Shakespeare – and you can tell! The poem draws in repeated examples of female characters in Shakepeare’s plays who are variously silenced, ignored, or left voiceless.

Juliet pleads with her father in Romeo and Juliet to listen to her when he plans her marriage to a man she does not love. He ignores her pleas, and she is forced to take desperate measures. Lavinia, in Titus Andronicus, is raped and has her hands cut off and her tongue cut out so she can’t reveal who attacked her. Ophelia is driven mad when Hamlet, who said he loved her, ignores her and hurls abuse at her when she tries to help him. Cordelia tells her father, King Lear, the truth when he asks her to: as a result, she is disinherited and cast out from the family. Othello is tricked into believing his wife, Desdemona, has been unfaithful to him. She tells him again and again that it isn’t true, but he believes the lies and smothers her with a pillow.

Imi’s poem illustrated by award-winning artist and author Chris Riddell

In each case, the inability of the male characters to hear what the women are trying to tell them leads to tragedy. What Imogen does so skilfully is distil those stories down to their concentrated core, and connect them with one final line to our modern day experience. The #MeToo movement and the linked #BelieveHer hashtag show that, today, women’s voices are still too often ignored, silenced, or discounted. It would seem the lesson that Shakespeare was trying to teach over 400 years ago has still not been learned.

Imogen’s powerful voice has found just the right words, in just the right order, to connect ideas across hundreds of years and deliver that electric shock of meaning that only poetry can deliver. It’s a stunning piece of work. I’m really proud that our English teachers have had some small part in unlocking her talent: we can’t wait to see what she’ll write next, or where the next young poet will spring from. Could it be you?

Art Works of the Week 2019

Each week the Art Department displays a student’s work on the screens in school. We often include them in the newsletter too. I am always so impressed by the creativity and skill our students show in these works. As we approach the end of the academic year, I thought it was worth gathering them together for posterity. Enjoy!

art work 11th january Ronja Carlsonart work 19th November 2018 Jasmine Sweeting_art work 21st january Brooke RawlinsArt work 21st Septembe Francesca Kellaway HarveyArt work Alida Vetrugno 5th November 2018_art work Bori Gunyits 18th March 2019Art work Grace Hill March 2018Art work helena Avci april 22nd 2019art work Issy Pamment 7th January 2019art work of the week 14th September Daisy Wraight.Art work of the week Lorna Houghton February 4th 2019art work Sophie Smith 23rd October 2018Art work. Amy Hurst 1st December 2018Art work. Charlotte Spensley Dec 10th 2018

Child Soldiers, by Ailís Phillips (7WKH)

This is a student contribution to the Headteacher’s Blog by Ailís Phillips, 7WKH, with the theme of kindness. If you are a student at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form and you want to contribute to the Headteacher’s Blog, visit the Contributions page.

You probably think that war is terrible, but that it is something done by adults in far away countries and has nothing to do with children, like us.

Well I thought so too until I read a news article about child soldiers. You might think this was a one-off; just a particularly awful story. I investigated a little bit further and discovered it wasn’t as rare as I first thought.

Myths and statistics

The name ‘child soldiers’ is not exactly accurate as, though many do fight, some are used as messengers, porters, cooks, spies or for sexual purposes. There are many other myths surrounding ‘child soldiers’ such.

  • Myth: child soldiers are only used in Africa.
  • Reality: the UN estimated in 2016 that there were 20 conflict zones around the world that involved children
  • Myth: that all child soldiers are boys
  • Reality: 30-40% of child soldiers are girls
  • Myth: that children are all are forced to be child soldiers
  • Reality: although many are (especially by ISIS), some are lured by promises of education and/or money.

Not only is being a child soldier a terrible experience when it happens, but it will affect the children for the rest of their lives. Many will not be accepted back into their communities,  particularly in cases where a girl has had a baby with a soldier.

 

What can you do?

Although there isn’t much we can do to help directly, we can raise money and fund-raise or donate money to charities campaigning to end the problem of using children as soldiers, and to support ex-child soldiers. Two great charities working in this area are Child Soldiers International  and Warchild – as both help those affected.

I reached out to these charities by raising awareness of the problem, and now I invite you to do the same, to help other children who have never had the chance at life you had. Help them live the life that is being taken away from them and support others that do.

Living a life with epilepsy, by Jemma Bisdee

This is a student contribution to the Headteacher’s Blog by Jemma Bisdee, 11WCJC, with the theme of determination. If you are a student at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form and you want to contribute to the Headteacher’s Blog, visit the Contributions page.

When people hear the word “Epilepsy” they immediately think of seizures, medication but it is truly more than that. A life with epilepsy is not an easy life. But it is a life I wouldn’t change for anything. All my life I wondered what it was like to be “Normal”. I thought I could never lead the life I wanted with epilepsy. But I now realise how wrong I was to think that.

I used to struggle academically because I never had the support I needed. I felt like nobody would ever truly accept me for who I was because of my lifelong condition. I was at rock bottom, and I felt like there was no where to go. Then I finally realised that life is a gift and I shouldn’t let a condition get me down. I define who I am, not my epilepsy. I moved to Churchill Academy in 2016 in hope of support for who I truly was and for my condition. I can honestly say Churchill Academy has given me have a whole new lease of life. They taught me how to live a life to remember and at school you learn multiple lessons. Maths, English, Science and many more. But the best lesson Churchill Academy has ever taught me is how to love myself. Because of that I am forever grateful.

Living with epilepsy has taught me that in life you get thrown challenges. They can either make or break you. I’m happy to say that my experience with epilepsy has taught me that we are all warriors fighting our own battles. But as long as you stay true to who you are, you will come out the winner. My last seizure was six years ago but although physically epilepsy has not always challenged me, mentally it is a constant battle. But I can say I’m epileptic and proud, and whether its epilepsy or any other condition, it does not define who you are. Only you can do that. We are human beings, we are all beautiful in our own way. I hope that everyone can see that a condition does not change that. If you want something in life fight for it, because life is precious and it is a gift like no other.

To everyone who has supported me throughout my journey I can never thank you enough. My friends, my family and the staff at Churchill Academy. I am grateful for the life I have been given, and no matter what my condition holds in the future. Epilepsy is a way of life, but it’s a life I wouldn’t trade for the world. The world is your oyster, so go and grab it.

For more information about Epilepsy, visit the Epilepsy Society or Epilepsy Action.