Nurturing new poets

Saumya Choudhury

Poetry, with its lyrical cadence and evocative imagery, holds a special place in literature, offering a unique avenue for self-expression and exploration of the human experience. Yet, in many educational settings, it remains underappreciated and overlooked.

As both a poet and the founder of Delhi Poetry Slam, I’ve dedicated the last 10 years to breathing new life into poetry and capturing the imagination of young minds. My journey has a lot to do with poetry as a speak-and-listen art form rather than the primary emphasis being on reading.

Photo courtesy: Delhi Poetry Slam

And I have to say that I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of poetry in unlocking the creative potential of young minds. Poetry facilitates self-expression, bringing out sensitive topics with ease and cultivates deeper understanding among students. Drawing from my experiences gained through years of conducting workshops in schools, I find some strategies very useful for teaching poetry effectively and also motivating students to write their own verses. So when Teacher Plus invited me to contribute an article to their delightful magazine on the topic, I was thrilled and eagerly jumped at the opportunity.

Children are natural poets, instinctively attuned to the musicality of language and the power of imagination. Unlike adults, who may be hindered by self-doubt and preconceived notions of what poetry should be, children approach the art form with unbridled curiosity and enthusiasm. From the whimsical rhymes of nursery rhymes to the introspective verses of adolescent poetry, young people engage with poetry on a deeply personal level, using words to make sense of their emotions, experiences, and surroundings.

During a workshop at American Embassy School, New Delhi, I witnessed a group of third-graders eagerly composing poems inspired by their favourite animals. With crayons in hand and excitement in their voices, they crafted verses brimming with vivid imagery and playful language, delighting in the joy of creative expression.

Poetry provides a safe and accessible outlet for children to explore complex feelings and ideas, such as self-discovery and bullying, allowing them to express themselves freely without fear of judgment or criticism. Through poetry, students can articulate their hopes, fears, dreams, and aspirations, forging a deeper connection with themselves and others.

At Delhi Poetry Slam, we host an event once every month. With humble beginnings in 2013, we quickly gained momentum with lots of interest in participation from teenagers and youth in Delhi. A decade later, youngsters audition online, weeks prior to the event, hoping for a chance to perform their original poetry in front of a like-minded audience.

At one such poetry slam event hosted by Delhi Poetry Slam, a shy 14-year-old took to the stage and recited a deeply personal poem about her struggles with bullying and self-esteem. As she spoke, her voice trembled with emotion, but with each word, she grew more confident, empowered by the knowledge that her voice mattered and was heard.

Furthermore, poetry cultivates empathy by inviting readers to step into others’ shoes and see the world through different perspectives. Through exposure to a diverse range of poetic voices and themes, students develop empathy and understanding for people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, fostering a more inclusive and compassionate society.

In a classroom discussion about Langston Hughes’ poem titled Harlem, students engaged in a thoughtful exploration of the poem’s theme of racial injustice towards Black people in America. Through dialogue and reflection, they gained insight into the lived experiences of being discriminated against and the importance of eradicating social evils.

Effectively, teaching poetry begins with creating a supportive and inclusive learning environment where students feel empowered to explore their creativity and take risks. By incorporating a variety of teaching strategies and techniques, teachers can make poetry accessible and engaging for students of all ages and abilities.

During a workshop at Springdales School, New Delhi, I introduced students to the concept of found poetry*, challenging them to create poems using words from newspapers, magazines, and other texts. As they sifted through the pages, searching for words and phrases that resonated with them, they discovered the beauty and power of language in unexpected places.

One approach to teaching poetry is through performance, which adds a dynamic dimension to the reading experience and captivates audiences with the rhythm and cadence of the spoken word. By encouraging students to recite poems aloud and experiment with voice modulation and expression, teachers can help them develop confidence and fluency in their oral communication skills.

At a poetry workshop hosted by Delhi Poetry Slam, students participated in a series of improvisational exercises designed to enhance their performance skills. Through role-playing and dramatic interpretation, they brought poems to life, infusing each line with emotion and energy, much to the delight of everyone watching.

If you’re a teacher looking for new ways to encourage poetry in your classroom, I’d recommend a competition. Children and teenagers love competitions, even if they offer small prizes. The Wingword Poetry Competition is a competition for children, across the country, to participate in, offering lots of prizes. Entries come in from nooks and corners of India. This competition not only offers the prospect of winning a financial reward but also huge encouragement and recognition to beginners, for example being featured in nationally leading newspapers and getting published in an anthology. The success of this competition shows that it can be done at smaller levels: in your school, or classroom, or even locality.

Poetry has always been a powerful and transformative force. It offers students a means of self-expression and exploration. By adding an element of fun to poetry in the CBSE curriculum and also providing students with opportunities to engage with the art form in meaningful and creative ways, teachers can cultivate a lifelong appreciation for literature and empower young people to find their voice and share their stories with the world.

Who knows? You might just inspire the next generation of poets, storytellers, and dreamers.

*Found poetry is created using only those words or phrases selected from another text.

The author is the founder of Delhi Poetry Slam, an organization encouraging youth to express themselves through spoken word poetry. She is also a poet and speaker. She can be reached at info@delhipoetryslam.com.

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