Children's Laureate Joseph Coelho talks with the Queen about the power of poetry

Published on: 21 March 2023

To celebrate World Poetry Day, we brought together The Queen, a BookTrust supporter, and Children’s Laureate Joseph Coelho to talk about their mutual love of poetry, the joy of reading poems out loud and Joseph’s aim to get all children reading and writing poetry through his Poetry Prompts weekly videos.

Joseph: Hello. I'm Joseph Coelho, Children's Laureate, and I'm in a very special library today. I'm at the library in Clarence House, and I'm here to meet Her Majesty, the Queen and BookTrust supporter to talk about poetry.

Your Majesty, I wanted to ask, do you enjoy reading poetry and about your thoughts on the power of reading poetry out loud?

The Queen: Oh, I think it's wonderful. You know, it's a hundred years back, but when I was at school, we had to learn things by heart. And you think, 'Oh, goodness, I could never recite them now.' But little things you've learned as a child that you think are long forgotten, those suddenly pop up and suddenly these verses come back to get you.

And I love reading poetry, but if you read it out loud, it takes on a different dimension. I love the rhythm of poetry. I love feeling you're being taken along by a poem, that you're almost in it. And I think as a child, you learn so much from poetry because such lines that go together, they sort of sink into your brain.

Joseph: Yeah. They sort of were coming by the back door, and before you know it, you've learned it. I do love that aspect of poetry, that kids are just brought to life by it because it becomes this almost like 'round the fire' experience. And that's one of the reasons behind doing the Poetry Prompts as part of my Laureateship tenure.

Every Monday we release a video to get kids writing, and I get kids saying to me, 'Oh God, we we wrote this poem and we've written this poem.' And they have their display boards up in the classroom because often writing, I think, for many children can be quite a scary prospect. And so if we can just try and enable them to see that actually putting pen to paper doesn't have to be that scary.

And I feel very passionately about letting kids know that they are writers, too, because once they realise that they are writers, then it gives them a new appreciation of the printed word because their voices are valid and they start to explore and discover the voices of others.

Credit: Getty Images

The Queen: But I think with poetry, too, to get children writing poetry early is wonderful because to get them to be able to get the rhyming, getting the rhythm of poetry, it also gets some thinking in a different way, doesn't it?

Joseph: Yeah, but they do it automatically already, kind of, in the playground. You know, they have the wonderful rhymes and ditties that they come up with using lots of words that start with the same letter and as soon as they do, if I'm in a classroom scenario, I say, 'That's alliteration! And you can see the pride in their face, like, 'Ooh, it's a big word!' And I've done that.

The Queen: But how did you get started as a poet?

Joseph: For me it was Jean 'Binta' Breeze, who's a wonderful, sadly departed poet from the Caribbean. And she visited my school and she sat on our school stage, and she read this beautiful poem about the softest touch and I remember my whole class being completely awed into silence and just thinking, 'I want to do that.'

The Queen: And that's really lovely, isn't it? Were you taught poetry at school?

Joseph: We were taught to analyse it, but there were very few opportunities to do any creative writing or to write poetry. And that's why I think it's so important that teachers get time to just write some poems with the kids in the class.

The Queen: And again, doing these things, learning poetry, it gives some confidence if somebody can actually learn a poem and stand up in front of an audience and recite it. I mean, you're halfway there, aren't you?

Joseph: Yeah. And that skill is for life, isn't it? Whatever career you go into, you will need those skills. I often say to kids, like, you might not want to be a writer, but you will probably have to give a talk, give a presentation, give a speech or complain about something. And if you're writing, your skills are up to scratch. And if you feel confident in yourself, and you can convince others that you are right, it leads to a whole host of of benefits... and it's fun!

The Queen: What legacy are you hoping to leave after you finish being Children's Laureate?

Joseph: I hope to create more children's poets, but through the Poetry Prompts really hope to get more kids very excited about poetry and for everyone to just see it as something that we can all do.

The Queen: It's a lovely idea.

Check out the Poetry Prompts here

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