When we asked followers of our Facebook page to tell us, using a gif, what they thought of the poetry lessons they had at school, a handful of smiling cats and excitable cartoon characters quickly got lost amongst the ‘meh!’ memes, shrugging shoulders and facepalm gifs.
How much of an impact does what we learn at school – and the way we learn it – have on our enjoyment of poetry as adults? We asked local poet and publisher, Connor Sansby, who organises the annual Margate Bookie slam:
“When I tell people I’m a poet, it’s not uncommon to see a grey fog cloud their rolling eyes. To a lot of people poetry means self-indulgent, overly emotional garbage or dry, dull academia. I can’t blame them, I felt the same for most of my life.
“It took three separate occasions for me to embrace poetry. The first was finding Inua Ellams on a music channel that’s now long gone, at 4am when I couldn’t sleep. That was an instant love, and I just assumed it was a single poet who is outstanding (he really is very good though). The second was finding the book of poetry written by the front man for alt-metal band System Of A Down. I was a teenage metalhead, so there was a sense of reverence towards the book. Looking back, I don’t rate him as a poet. The third was discovering the music of Sage Francis and tracing his career back to the world of Slam Poetry.
“The thing you’ll notice about each of those moments is they take place outside of school. I think the biggest thing that puts people off poetry is the way we’re taught. We’re not taught poetry by poets, we’re taught it by teachers who may have the best skills possible when it comes to breaking down text, but poet is a different beast. We need to be taught poetry by people who love it, who understand how it’s changed shape over the years. We need poetry that isn’t in the curriculum, most of all. The poetry we’re taught at school is so often not good poetry but instead “obvious” poetry; we’re shown it because it contains a certain element the teacher would like use to talk about, alliteration, assonance etc.
“I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told “I don’t like poetry but I really enjoyed your stuff” after gigs, and (I will never admit this again) I’m not unique. There are poets all over the country doing interesting, innovative, touching things that would connect with people, if it was just put in front of them.”
When asked if poetry has become cool since most of us left school, Connor is quick to point out it has always been cool, we just weren’t shown that in our classrooms. Companies like NatWest and Range Rover have recently built entire advertising campaigns based on poetry. Why? “Because they know that few mediums are as capable of creating an emotional bond,” said Connor.
If school put you off poetry or if it’s something you want to get back into, or perhaps you already love it, this could be the perfect time to check out the Margate Bookie. Our poetry slam has been headlined by Dean Atta, one of the growing legends of UK spoken word. Alongside him, ten poets from around Kent each performed for three minutes, hoping to beat off the competition and be crowned Kent Poetry Champion.
If one poet wasn’t to your liking, the next was on stage in minutes. Ten local poets, ten chances to change your mind about poetry.