Poetry is just the evidence of life

If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash. (Keen readers may wish to attempt to identify the quotations hidden in the following article. (Answers on a postcard please.)

We probably don’t spend enough time reading poetry.  I probably spend too long intending to read it but then never getting round to it despite having a poem delivered to my inbox every single day.  Poetry is a road less travelled.  So, as we see a host of golden daffodils springing up along our river banks and in our gardens, it is only natural that our thoughts turn to this noble art form.  As this week spring turned to the sunlight, and shook her yellow head it should therefore come as no surprise that next week is our Poetry Week and March 21 is World Poetry Day.

Here at the BSP poetry is alive and well and we look forward to celebrating it next week in class and out.  We will be treated to Dylan Thomas on Monday morning in our Senior School assembly and on Wednesday we will enjoy pupil poetry in English lessons.  We hope to share with you soon our entries of the COBIS poetry competition; words of mercury indeed.

Poetry we are told is good for us and I hope that it is fun, for as we also know fun is good.  The success of Poems on the Underground (now in its 31st year) suggests that whilst we don’t often pick up a poetry book we do like bumping into poetry.  It gives the weary commuter the opportunity to engage in a moment’s reflection. This month the following can be found in a tube car near you:  Fear no more the heat o’ the sun by William Shakespeare, Funeral Blues by W.H. Auden , Delay by Elizabeth Jennings,  And suddenly it’s evening  by Salvatore Quasimodo, trans. by Jack Bevan, Green the land of my poem  from Mural by Mahmoud Darwish, trans by Rema Hammami and John Berger and  Otherness is All, Otherness is Love by Yehuda Amichai, trans. by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld.   Something for everyone, from old favourites to unfamiliar encounters.  Poetry gives us the chance to see through other eyes,  to experience before we understand. 

A quick chat about poetry in the Senior School lunch queue today suggests that pupils know a good deal about poetry and indeed that we have our fair share of poets.  Truly it is before, behind, between, above, below. During the recent tour of the Senior School with parents of Year 5 and 6 pupils we encountered not only iambic pentameter, and iambic trimeters but also iambic tetrameters; perhaps more crucially we could see the utter delight that comes from reading and reciting poetry to each other.  This has to be a good thing and perhaps we as adults should make time for a little poetry, be it on a ‘phone, in a book or on a wall.  Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, one might say and with that I am off to stand on the river bank where I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

Whilst I can promote poetry in the coming week I feel that on St. Patrick’s Day I should leave the final words to Seamus Heaney.

“Every time you listen to another person reading out a poem, in school or on a stage or in a studio, every time you read a poem aloud to yourself or in the presence of others, you are also reading it into yourself and them. Voice helps to carry words farther and deeper than eye. These recordings maintain a tradition of oral performance that is as old as the art of poetry itself.”

Seamus Heaney on Poetry and Performance

Nicholas Hammond

Sleep… Not an optional extra

I’m not sure that this will win me many friends in the lunch queue on Monday, but here goes.  
There is a common “go to” response which parents receive when they challenge their children.  It is the one that goes, “Well everyone else is allowed to (insert preposterous suggestion)…”  The reality of any given scenario is that some may be allowed to do whatever it was that was being questioned, but the vast majority won’t. Not every pupil will be on their iPad until midnight (or after), not every child sleeps in the same room as their ‘phone, the vast majority are not going to overnight parties, nor is the whole of the year group playing the Xbox until the early hours.  Children often say things to each other that do not reflect reality.   
Last weekend’s Guardian newspaper had a fascinating article on the rise of sleep disorders and sleep deprivation among young people. Sleep is a subject that becomes of great interest at this time of term as work piles up and there seem to be fewer hours in the day.  The medical study of sleep continues to generate facts supporting the view that sleeping is one of the most important things that we as humans do.  It isn’t an optional extra as some will have you believe.  As I go around school it is often very clear very quickly which pupils are not sleeping enough.  They can be testy, don’t concentrate as well and often they aren’t performing at their full academic potential.  Whilst sleep might not be a panacea, it seems to be potent stuff.  Not enough sleep leads to a raft of additional challenges for young people both mental and physical.  Perhaps staying up late is not such a great treat after all.  Dr Guy Meadow, a sleep physiologist warns that, “Some research shows that if children are sleep deprived by just an hour a night, it could reduce their cognitive academic performance by up to two whole years”.  Sleep it seems is a powerful performance enhancer; the brain does some of its most important processing work when the head is on the pillow and eyes are closed.  
Back in the day I read under the bed covers using the light of a torch.  Whilst Five on Treasure Island was a captivating read the book did actually run out of pages so there was a natural end to the staying up.  My mother was generally on the look-out and was never shy to confiscate both lamp and paperback.   Screen based games rarely end and they are designed to tempt the player into going just a little longer.  Another pressure on our young people alongside the adventures of Timmy the dog and his companions.  Mobile devices are also difficult for us as parents to confiscate because “everyone else is allowed to take their device into their room”.  It is a wearying argument to have at the end of a long day.  But if you want to be convinced that it is a discussion worth having, read the article.  There is also excellent advice on the Children’s Sleep Charity Website. Oh yes, and not everyone has their ‘phone or tablet on their bedside table. Honestly, I do hope that you have a good night’s sleep.
Nicholas Hammond