A blog by Jim Carruth, Glasgow Makar, on poetry in primary schools. Writing for the Scottish Poetry Library on 20th January 2022. Featured image shows Jim Carruth credit Scottish Poetry Library.
One of the benefits of there now being a network of city makars in Scotland has been the opportunity to share experiences and approaches. We remain an endangered species but are hopeful for the future whether as part of an intensive breeding programme or not.
One area that we have all identified as being a great benefit is our various host organisation’s flexibility in letting us interpret the ask of the city. This allows for our particular interests and passions to come to the fore in delivering the role.
For me over the last few years as Glasgow Poet Laureate one of the big elements in my role has been the encouragement of poetry in primary schools. The most significant example of this has been the launching of the Lord Provost’s Poetry prize. This annual process has been running since 2015 and encourages Primary 7 School pupils across Glasgow to write poems on a specific theme. Examples of these have included “My Place”, and “My City”.
With COP 26 being hosted by the city the 2021’s theme was “Our World, Our Future” and we were simply overwhelmed by the number of entries submitted. Over one thousand pupils from 37 primary and secondary schools participated.
Many poems highlighted the worrying current state of the planet and the challenges it faces in relation to weather, pollution, fossil fuels and the decline in animals and plants. In doing so they displayed both an incredible in-depth understanding of the problems we face and a drive and desire to do something about it.
Then there are the words themselves – so much imagination and variety to explore this difficult topic. This was especially true of the shortlist.
Firstly, there were titles such as “Where are all the white bears Daddy?” and “My Magic Tesla” in which the writer went on to fill this car as a modern-day ark with a number of endangered animals then the solar system and eventually squeezing in their own hopes and dreams.
And in the poems the challenges facing the planet were often vividly described where “beaches choke on plastic”, “Fields of ash and embers scorch the pasture”, and a “world wilts away” – Powerful stuff.
One poem used the days of the week to say sorry for all the missed opportunities in our daily lives to make a difference, be it our excessive use of electricity and cars and our wastefulness in terms of food and water. Others used powerful refrains. “Close your eyes” was one of the lines used repeatedly in one entry to be followed by verses of alternative futures then it finishes with the line “Now wake up. What do you want to see?”
The children were also quick to call us and previous generations to account. One verse with one line simply says “How could you?”
It is a wonderful privilege to read the entries to the competition each year. This is not to say we have a thousand future poets in Glasgow based on this competition but it is about providing the opportunity for people of all ages to find their voice. I feel one of the key roles of being the city poet is to facilitate this flourishing and in the case of the future of the planet for us all at the beginning of a new year to go beyond words into action.