'It was the magic of hearing and sharing poems aloud that originally got me hooked': Joseph Coelho on poetry for us all
Published on: 27 February 2020 Author: Joseph Coelho
Joseph Coelho, author of Poems Aloud, writes about how performing poetry can bring us closer together.
There has always been an element of performance associated with poetry. It’s apparent from the language - we get the word ‘lyrics’ from the fact that poets would read their words to the strumming of the lyre. Poetry is a very flexible form and whilst there is nothing wrong with sitting quietly and allowing that voice in your head to do all the reading, for my money, poetry comes to life when it is read aloud. It is through the act of speaking poems aloud that poetry can be simultaneously shared with not just one reader but with multiple listeners. I don’t think I’m going too far to suggest that this shared act is almost spiritual.
It was the magic of hearing and sharing poems aloud that originally got me hooked on poetry. There is something incredibly life affirming about that moment when an audience leans in to savour every last syllable of a beautifully spoken word or line, something transcendent in that wilful silence as the many listen to the one and together they all share in a moment of presence and understanding. It’s as close as we can get to telepathy - to sharing not just an idea but a feeling, a sense, a heartbeat.
My latest poetry collection Poems Aloud, illustrated by the amazing Daniel Gray-Barnett, is all about celebrating the performance element of poetry in as simple a way as I could dream up. Each poem focuses on a different performance technique outlined in almost tweet-sized, easy to understand little info blasts that accompany each poem. My hope is that any child picking this book up will find a poem that they like and will give the associated technique a go. The technique might be simply increasing the volume of their voice as they read (crescendo) or having a go at reading a poem as quickly as a speeding rocket to get a feel for pace.
As with everything I write, I try to write from a place of truth and knowledge, so my inspirations are very often picked from my own passions, interests and experiences. I have visited India (my grandfather’s home) quite a few times and each time have always left reeling from the hustle and bustle of its cities. New Delhi is a particularly bustling crowded place, where friends walk the streets in groups holding hands and laughing. It felt like the perfect subject for a poem that focuses on reading with friends and incorporating some of the choral techniques of reading in unison and in cannon.
I’ve been very lucky to have had over 18 years experience working in schools both here and abroad. Over those years teachers have often professed that teaching poetry is hard! I couldn’t agree more - I shudder when I think back to my very first poetry workshops in schools as a 20-something trying to get young people excited about poetry when their only experience of it had been as a medium to be analysed and picked apart. Those early days were hard and I would spend much time scratching my head about how to bring these kids into the space I inhabit, where the writing of poems is a joyous, needed, life-changing experience. My breakthrough came in realising that they had to experience what poetry can do; I had to bring the London poetry scene to them by getting them to write and perform to one another whilst removing judgement and fear.
Keeping in mind what has worked for me in the classroom… there are adventure poems in this book, set in the world of an adventuring archaeologist (I’m an archaeology graduate so this had to be done) that encourages the reader to use actions during the performance as the protagonist scrabbles up a Peruvian mountain to discover a cave of bones. There are short poems designed to be whispered into the ear of a friend and creep them out, there are long poems demonstrating the joys of homophones and funny poems for the comedian of the class.
My hope is that this book will go someway in making the jobs of teachers a little easier by providing a simple fun way to engage children with the joy of reading poems aloud. With topics including travel, space, nature, feelings and magic there is something for every child in this collection, so I also hope that this book goes a little way in letting every young person know that poetry is for us all.
Joseph’s latest Poetry Collection Poems Aloud illustrated by Daniel Gray-Barnett is out this February. Published by Wide Eyed Editions Find out more about Joseph’s work at www.thepoetryofjosephcoelho.com