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The English Department at Hayesfield Girl’s School in Bath has recently enjoyed a Poetry By Heart competition. Here is their report…

Last Friday, something beautiful happened in the theatre at Hayesfield School in Bath. Twelve girls recited poems that they had learnt by heart and their words span a web though the spotlight. The event was the school’s Poetry By Heart competition and the audience was treated to a selection of performances that ranged from Blake’s classics to Ginsburg’s reveries and even some original works by the students themselves that held up alongside those works published before they had been born.

Founded by Andrew Motion and Julie Blake in 2012, Poetry by Heart is a national competition for 14-18 year olds where each competitor must learn and recite two poems from memory. The project was supported by the Department for Education until that funding was unexpectedly withdrawn last summer, since which time the core staff have worked unpaid to keep the programme alive and to try to secure replacement funding. The result saw the students not only displaying the courage to stand and recite without even a microphone between them and their audience, but each one of them truly embodied the poems they had chosen, keeping us gripped throughout their performances.

There is something special about recited poetry. It is part song, part thought, part storytime, and a lot of fun. We can all remember the rhymes, chants and word games we loved as children and Poetry by Heart brings some of this playfulness back into our use of language.

Holding a text in your mind, free of the paper it was printed on or the flash cards you have scrawled, and cutting it loose from all of that strain lets us see it in a different way: the sound reveals new meanings and feelings that you just don’t get when reading from the page. More than that, recitation gives us the chance to share the poems or stories we love and pass on that enjoyment to others. Our competition was as much a chance for our students to celebrate their learning as it was one for us to savour the literature they had chosen. Congratulations to all of our spectacular competitors! Roll on next year.