bookheart by wewiorka_wagner, under a creative commons licence.
Once there was a time in Scotland when everyone from pensioner to pupil could recite a scrap of Burns from memory – so the legend goes. Scots’ ability to quote reams of Burns at will seems to have a faded somewhat around the time rote learning fell from favour; the criticism was that it doesn’t encourage though, only parroting. There’s obviously something to be said for that point of view, but we at the SPL are in favour of children being taught to memorise poetry, and not just because, well, we like poetry. Recent studies have shown that memorizing poetry has health benefits. Irish researchers recently discovered that those who try out rote learning can actually recall more information overall. It also improves concentration and creativity, and it can slow down the rate off or even prevent cognitive decline.
What we don’t believe in at the SPL is forcing people to learn poetry. We’d prefer they’d learn for their own enjoyment, which explains why launched a pilot project last autumn, Poetry By Heart Scotland (PBHS). The initiative brought together students aged 14-18 in six different local authorities to learn and perform poetry in a three-tier competition. Students took part in school stage heats, followed by regional competitions where their performances were judged by professional poets. Winners progressed to the National Final which was held in March at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh and judged by poets, Diana Hendry and Tom Pow. Six performers entertained, impressed and delighted the audience with poems they had chosen from the competition database and a winner, Lydia Roy of Bishopbriggs Academy, was declared.
Teachers and students who participated in the pilot reported increased confidence both in terms of public speaking and literacy engagement. One student said that she felt she really understood her chosen poem through learning and performing it; she ‘felt’ the poem more than the texts she was studying for Higher English.
Participation in PBHS introduces under-18s to Scotland’s vibrant spoken word scene, giving them the chance to engage with and receive performance tips from professionals like Rachel McCrum and Jim Carruth.
Inspired by the pilot’s success we’re rolling out the competition to secondary schools across Scotland. It’s free for schools to register and give their students the opportunity to choose poems from the hundreds in our database. To maximize students’ engagement with the richness of past and contemporary poetry, we’re asking students to memorise and perform one pre-1914 poem and one post-1914 poem with at least one poem written by a Scottish poet. Our database goes right up to poems published in 2014!
First round competitions take place in schools and must be completed by 9th October 2015. Regional semi-finals take place later in the term, finishing by 22nd December 2015. Winners will compete at the national finals in early 2016. It’s definitely a worthwhile project to be involved in; as Lydia Roy, the winner of the 2014-15 competition, said, ‘Poetry by Heart Scotland was such a great experience and I would recommend that anyone interested in poetry – or just in being part of something incredible and inspirational – take part in the future.’
Schools who would like to register or anyone who would like more information, should contact Georgi Gill by emailing email@example.com.