To anyone who thinks that poetry is mostly written by stuffy, old dead men, think again – because there’s a whole new group of poets taking the literary world by storm... and they’re kids.
Kate Clanchy, award-winning poet, writer and teacher for 30 years, has become a viral sensation for the poems she has been posting on Twitter this year – and they’re all written by the children she teaches.
Among these writers is Nadim Shamma-Sourgen, the famous ‘four-year-old poet’ (now five), who’s recently got a book deal. Clanchy met his mother, Yasmine Shamma, a lecturer in literature at the University of Reading, and began sharing some of Nadim’s poems on social media.
One of them, ‘Coming Home’, contains the lines: “You take off your brave feeling / Because there’s nothing / to be scared of in the house”.
Clanchy has now put her tips for writing poems into a new book, How to Grow Your Own Poem, to help all wannabe-writers – kids or grown-ups.
In the book, she begins with four published poems – and encourages readers of all ages to ‘borrow’ their form. “Now you are going to write your own version,” Clanchy writes. “All you have to do is bring your own experience with you and be true to it. Start with someone coming home home – a man, a woman, a boy. Who is coming home? How are they feeling?”
“It’s based on my teaching practice,” she tells HuffPost UK. “I’m a teacher and I’m also a writer, and for the last 10 years I’ve been working in my local comprehensive. It’s very multicultural – many of the children come from cultures where poems are an ‘everyday’ thing.
“To anyone who comes from Syria, for example, poems are very important – there’s a long tradition of singing or sharing them at home, with their families and community.”
Clanchy mentions a couple of her students – one of whom came to Britain from Syria, and, she says, “feels very affirmed and better” now that his poems have been published. Another, Clanchy says, is “a very good poet, but very dyslexic” – yet her poems have got her into university.
One of Clanchy’s students was a refugee from Afghanistan. Shukria Rezaei won a poetry competition at Oxford Spires Academy, when she was just 15, and went on to become a scholarship student at the University of London.
“Kids poems are authentic and truthful and they’re good – and there’s a hunger for things that are authentic and truthful and good,” Clanchy says.
“All the poems are asking for is a reader. People’s experiences are widened by reading them, and it’s a genuinely good way to use social media.”
What’s more, poetry can be a comfort in this current, challenging climate – for writers and readers. “It’s a very difficult and dark time – we don’t know what’s truthful, anymore; and we feel a loss of security because we don’t know whose voices we can trust.”
Clanchy says that in her experience, kids find bigger audiences than most adult poets, because they’re sharing them, phone to phone – and they’re happy about it, too.
“They like it very much,” she says. “I don’t usually publish their full names, and I protect their identities. Mostly, it’s a very affirmative thing for them.”
“Anyone can write a poem,” Clanchy adds. “And social media is a great way to put a poem up. You can fit it on a phone screen and read it easily and share it in the moment.
“Not all Instagram poems are good, by a long shot, but that doesn’t matter. To make a poem and be a poet is more accessible – and that will lead to good things. There’s no point being hierarchical about poetry, or thinking it’s ‘only for clever people’.
“Poetry is about our language and our own personal experience about community and individualism. You share your language with others, and in doing so, you create a new language. It’s about helping people hear themselves.”
How to Grow Your Own Poem by Kate Clanchy is published by Pan Macmillan.