A News story by Ellena Schuster-Farrell 31 August 2018

This year, lucky primary pupils in London and Bucks will welcome their very own poet in residence to the region. Joshua Seigal, an award-winning poet and performer from London, will be bringing poetry to life for the children of Chalfont Valley E-ACT Primary Academy, Denham Green E-ACT Primary Academy and Braintcroft E-ACT Primary Academy.

Joshua has published a number of poetry books and has performed at dozens of theatres and festivals, including Edinburgh Fringe. Throughout the year, he’ll be leading workshops and giving performances at each of our academies, helping to develop pupils’ literacy skills in a fun and engaging way. The poetry that pupils devise over the course of the year will then be collated in a regional poetry anthology, which will be printed and made available to parents and children at the end of the year.

We caught up with Joshua to find out more about his work.

Joshua, your poems have interesting titles like “Johnny and the Mango”, “The Link That Wouldn’t Work” and even “My Bottom’s Gone Missing”! How would you describe your poetry?

In performance much of my poetry is humorous and makes extensive use of techniques such as rhyme, rhythm and repetition. I always try to make my performances highly interactive. I don’t just read a bunch of poems; I bring the audience into the performance. I try to make my poems relevant to the reality of children’s lives, and I focus on things that everyone can relate to. My most popular book is called ‘I Don’t Like Poetry’, because this is a phrase I hear quite often when I visit schools. The aim of this book, and of my work generally, is to show people that poetry can be enjoyable and thought-provoking. It can be meaningful for everyone.

What exactly does the role of poet in residence entail?

Much of my work involves visiting a school for a single day. This is great, but being a poet in residence enables a poet to form a more sustained relationship with a school. During a residency, a poet might visit a class several times, which helps maintain creative momentum. During my workshops, I encourage every pupil to write and perhaps perform their own poems. I work with children of all ages and abilities, and I believe that poetry has something to offer everyone.

Why should pupils be exposed to poetry?

Poetry can be very playful, and it affords a lot of freedom to be creative. Poetry can also be a helpful way of encouraging people to explore their inner, emotional lives. Especially when working with older children, I have seen some incredibly deep, powerful work being produced, which can be very cathartic. I also feel it is important to expose pupils to a range of poetry – funny and moving, rhyming and non-rhyming, old and contemporary. That way they can find something that appeals to them. I don’t think we should be too prescriptive.

How do pupils usually react to your workshops?

I have seen many children who, after a performance or a workshop, have immediately gone home and spent the evening writing poems. I have seen several children, including the most disengaged, stay in at break time to complete their poems, of their own volition. I have seen extremely shy children find the confidence to perform their fantastic poetry in front of the whole school.

Why do you think experiences like this are important for pupils?

Many pupils will not have met an author or a poet before, so it is important that they know that writers don’t just live in books; they are real, flesh and blood people. If children are to write, it is important not just to give them the skills, but also to give them the inspiration. Having a writer visit a school can be instrumental in inspiring and fostering a love of literacy, and in providing a slightly different perspective than that of a teacher. A writer can help any child find their own voice.

What advice would you give to parents or teachers who are looking to get their pupils excited about poetry?

Expose children to a wide range of poetry, and inculcate the idea that, when creating a poem, there is not necessarily any ‘right or wrong’ answers – it is all about the freedom to play with words and to explore ideas.