The Child is Father of the Man

Poetry Please
Wednesday, 16th November 2022

It was with an air of anticipation and excitement that ‘Poetry Please’, a celebration of all things poetry made a most welcome return to school yesterday evening. After a couple of years of Covid-enforced smaller scale, online events of poetic performance, it was wonderful to see a packed out Performing Arts Studio as pupils, parents, teachers and guests gathered to celebrate the spoken word. Over fifty pupils (and one teacher – more about him later!) from years 7-13 performed poetry drawn from a wide variety of famous and lesser known poets, of diverse genres and forms, including plenty they had penned themselves. Indeed such astonishingly creative output from our very own pupil-poets is a healthy indicator of the school’s literary life; participation in the ‘Writing Room’ of Mr Newell, Director of Drama, and other in-school English and Literary societies, as well as external competitions are clearly paying dividends. Moreover, it is apparent from conversations with our pupils in class and around school that independently many of them are choosing to write poetry in their free time, finding genuine delight in the outlet it offers as a ‘hotline to our hearts’, as suggested by former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion. The moving, emotional nature of some of the pupils’ own poems on display certainly reinforces this view. Plenty of pupils have revealed whole anthologies of poems carefully typed up on their phones (the modus operandi for so many of today’s youngsters), or thoughtfully etched into notebooks and journals. I used to believe poetry should exclusively be written with pencil and paper, rather than typed into a mobile phone, but I’ve happily been proven wrong by some of our pupil poets. In a world where anyone can say anything to anyone immediately online, perhaps our young poets relish the opportunity to pause for thought and work in a medium where every word, line or even silence can communicate in a way like no other can. 

The evening was organised and hosted by the Farrell Society, Rossall’s Sixth Form Literary Society named in honour of the twice Booker Prize Winner and Old Rossallian writer J.G. (‘Jim’) Farrell. The programme was expertly coordinated and sequenced by Alicia, or “Miss Anandappa” as many of our younger pupils referred to her, such was the gravitas of her emails to them all. Our evening was adeptly hosted by Upper Sixth Formers Alice, Eleanor and Jessica who introduced us to the various categories of poetry they had grouped together: Poetry from the Romantic Era; Historical Poetry; Poems Featuring Animals; Poems About Nature and finally Poems About the Human Experience – the latter of which featured many of the pupils’ own poems. In the words of our hosts: “this evening we came together to appreciate the unique art of poetry and writing, from the Romantics to International poems, even hearing many original poems. Writing poetry is often regarded as a cathartic outlet for many, and a means to convey a message in a beautiful way.” 

There were too many performances, pupils and poems to mention them all in the credits, but I shall somewhat reluctantly (for fear of omission!) single out a few which have been talked about afterwards and that made a visible impact on the audience.  The importance of our pets was evidenced through the Animal section, with James’ recital of Gerard Manley Hopkins’  ‘Windhover’ a captivating performance off by heart (always more impactful!), whilst Tillie’s, Lizzie’s and others’ contributions made it rain cats and dogs! One such feline ‘Schrödinger’s Cat’ even made an appearance courtesy of aspiring physicist Hannah P., proving poetry isn’t just for English lessons – she brought some quantum physics to the evening, music to the ears of audience member and sole teacher-participant, Physics teacher and Housemaster Mr Dixon, who grabbed his chance in the open mic slot at the end of the evening performing with aplomb – off by heart too sir – 10 House Points to Pelican!

Ever wondered about the origins of those solitary items of handwear you see stuck on spikes and railings? Well, Ashley’s hugely entertaining rendition of ‘Lost Gloves’ addressed that very issue. Amongst the pupils own poems, the profundity of Mary’s poem ‘The Sun, The Moon, The Stars’, which was insightfully introduced as well as recited, will not be quickly forgotten by the assembled audience, nor will Sinmiloluwa’s mature musings upon the concept of ‘Potential’. Poetry is of course a universal language and by no means limited to English, so some French (Trang), Vietnamese (Nhi and Linh), German (Kai) and Ukrainian (Anastasiia) poetry brought a welcome international literary flavour to the evening. These students thoughtfully introduced their poems, performed them in the original language and gave a translation or summary for their appreciative audience. A strong sixth form contingent included Eleanor’s performance of Shakespeare’s Sonnet about his Mistress whom he will endeavour to love, warts and all; Eva’s incredibly moving recital of ‘Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep’ and Alice and Tayla-Daisy’s rendition of ‘Invictus’, the poem so beloved and oft recited by Nelson Mandela.

The opening rhyming couplet to Jessica G’s’ poem: “Imagine our thoughts were not our own/And every thought to us would never be known” grabbed the audience from the start and revealed an incredibly well written, philosophical poem which left us all with food for thought, as it later concluded: “So be thankful, be praising and never ungrateful/For these thoughts and feelings are the life that make us full.” Wise words indeed – we will try, Jess, we will try. Indeed such was the moving nature of the evening, the polished performances of our pupils and poets such as Hannah B’s ‘I Think About Saying Goodbye’ – we were left not wanting to, with my having to regretfully end the evening after a packed programme and plenty of takers for the ‘open mic’ slot at the end. I closed the evening with some words from William Wordsworth (Rossall’s first ever prize day speaker!), whose most famous poem ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ (the daffodils one!) was brought to us so eloquently by year 9 pupil Eleanor. In his poem ‘My Heart Leaps Up’ Wordsworth expresses his desire to maintain the enthusiasm and pure joy of youth throughout his life, concluding that: “The Child is Father of the Man.” As we departed into the dank, dark November evening, the adults in the audience, myself included, were left feeling precisely that sentiment, inspired and awestruck by all the young people who had performed so willingly, courageously and brilliantly.

Tom McNab

English Teacher