Memorise a poem – reciting one can be as calming as mindfulness.

i News asks; is poetry dead? The government doesn’t think so: state schools are compiling lists of poems that they think all children should know by heart, after Ofsted launched an investigation into the cultural knowledge children take with them when leaving school.

This is a subject close to my heart says Allie Esiri. 

For years, I’ve promoted poetry through anthologies of verse, apps, live events, and articles. Part of the logic behind the recent decision is that learning the same poems means we always have something in common, no matter what our backgrounds. This is an idea that cuts across political lines.

But just what is the point of poetry, anyway, and why should we be memorising poems in school?

We talk a lot about ‘mindfulness’ these days. Well, reading a poem, and giving yourself over to the movements of rhythm and meter, is an excellent way to bring about peace of mind. But better still is reciting a poem. Forming each phrase for yourself, and focusing on the lines that follow, there is little room for unbidden thoughts, and you truly lose yourself in the words. This kind of experience might be more valuable now than ever.

It’s no coincidence that mindfulness has risen in parallel with digital technologies. I’m no technophobe — indeed, I set up ‘iF Poems’ and ‘The Love Book’, two apps for fans of poetry — but we are clearly realising as a culture that it is important to take our eyes off our screens from time to time. 

Poetry is an essential part of a rounded education. Reading it aloud promotes confidence, and working to understand it encourages us to be sensitive to the complexities of ideas — and not to look for overly simplistic solutions.

Poems help us feel less alone — teenagers discover in great verse that they are not the only ones who have felt hardship or pain. And there is evidence, too, that learning poetry keeps our minds sharp. Alzheimer’s patients often respond well to poems and pieces of music they learnt when young. They’re with us for life.

Learn how to read poetry by heart and recommended poems here. Memorise a poem – reciting one can be as calming as mindfulness.

Is poetry still relevant today? Are children interested in it? How can schools promote this genre? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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