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Learning poetry by heart: do you, would you, could you?


The government wants kids to learn poems by heart but is it the best way to appreciate poetry?

If you have been keeping your eyes peeled and your ears open recently you may have heard that the government is launching a new campaign to get kids to learn poems by heart. Yes, you heard me. When you get to year 10 at secondary school your school might enter you into a national competition and you will have to learn at least two poems entirely off by heart.

There will be some of you who might be thinking that memorising a poem sounds like an absolutely impossible task. Others of you (the brainboxes with great memories) will probably be dancing around the room, singing "easy-peezy, lemon-squeezy, just two poems? That's pretty measly!"

You will be able to choose the two poems you learn by heart, but only from a selection of 130 poems. And there are more rules. One of the poems you choose will have to be written before 1914. This means you could be learning poems such as "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight", one of the oldest poems ever written. Or you could be reciting the amusing (but also grim) "A Frog's Fate" by Christina Rossetti, which tells a moral tale about a frog who didn't listen to the signs of danger and ended up suffering from the consequences.

The other poem you choose will have to have been written after 1914. There is a much wider list of choices for this, which is great as many are funny and also easier to understand. One of my favourites is Carol Ann Duffy's "Originally" which talks about the emotions a child goes through when they lose something dear to them.

If you turn out to be good at memorising poems you could progress to the national championships and get crowned the UK winner, which really would be something to boast about.

What you will find from learning poems in this way is that poetry can be incredibly fun and will stay with you throughout your adult life. The government hopes that this campaign will get more kids enthused about poetry. Of course, the danger is that by making young people learn poems line by line, teachers could be turning you all into mindless zombies who will be doing nothing more than repeating words they have remembered as a result of endlessly reciting the poem in their head. Is this really the best way to enjoy a poem?

We would love to hear what you think. Are you looking forward to the challenge of having to learn two poems by heart? Or are you hiding under your duvet out of fear at the prospect of being made to memorise poetry?

And for those of you who are big poetry fans already, which poems have you already learnt by heart? Are you learning any right now?

Email your thoughts to childrens.books@guardian.co.uk and we will post what you say below. You can find all of the poems we've spoken about, plus the rest of the 130 in the selection at www.poetrybyheart.org.uk

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