In January 2011 I was in the audience at the Colston Hall in the centre of Bristol for Poetry Live, an event that was put on in order to help GCSE students from all of the local schools gain a greater understanding of the subject matter we were studying for section B of our upcoming exam, which was on English literature and Poems from Different Cultures.
Attendance wasn’t compulsory, but I didn’t think twice, and not merely because it meant a day away from normal lessons.And there were many of us in the audience in front of that famous old stage, and we had a great time, helping ourselves to excessive amounts of Haribo sweets and chatting in between performances.
The master of ceremonies gave a couple of sessions of his own, while introducing five of the UK’s leading poetry figures – Gillian Clarke, Simon Armitage, Imtiaz Dharker, John Agard, and the poet laureate herself Carol Ann Duffy.
I found them all very engaging, and it was good to put a face and a personality to the works we had studied in our anthologies. Agard in particular left a lasting impression on the audience with his charisma and effervescence, but all of them had their own unique delivery and read their poems with different mannerisms; from different perspectives.
Although gaining more knowledge ahead of my GCSE exams was the biggest priority on the day, as somebody who has a fascination with this field of literature, I was eager to pick up a few tips from each of them and learn how and where they get their inspiration. But regrettably I doubt that too many others in the audience left feeling something similar.
As far as I know, too few young people – particularly as you go further down the social ladder – take poetry beyond their school studies and the topic becomes something rather confined to academia. For example, I doubt very much that all that many people in the UK know that Carol Ann Duffy is the poet laureate, such is the lack of mainstream attention she receives.
It is all very well learning the necessary works and the techniques poets use such as alliterations, assonance and those ever reliable metaphors, but surely doing so needs to have some kind of future benefit. Once the time for studying these poems come to an end, they are often forgotten about forever and not reserved the sort of appreciation that they are probably due.
In fairness, the same also applies to the works of William Shakespeare and that of classic authors such as Charles Dickens or Jane Austen. Secondary school aged children cannot identify with them, and as a result they don’t gain any long standing appreciation. ‘Highbrow’ knowledge and interests aren’t valued as much as they used to be.
Only a select few take up poetry, as outside of an educational environment it neither promoted nor encouraged with any great gusto. The role of the poet laureate is a very prestigious one, but this day and age it is hardly recognised or understood, which for me is a shame. It is a very versatile form of art and one that is very pleasing when everything marries together perfectly, but unfortunately its profile has lowered and it doesn’t carry the same weight as other forms of media.
Poetry can be just a hobby or a pastime, as it is for me – and even then I don’t do very much of it. I devote a lot of my time to much more popular and ordinary activities that the average working class 20-year-old would do, but a liking for language remains ever-present and I really hope that it is something that many of my peers (at least secretly) share and put into practice – not just in the occasional humerous Facebook post.