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‘So many of our children had a loss to mourn. Isn’t that what poetry’s for?’

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In an extract from her new book, poet and teacher Kate Clanchy recounts how a school poetry club enabled often traumatised pupils to find their inner voice

• Read an interview with Kate Clanchy

Thirty years ago, just after I graduated, I started training to be a teacher. I wanted to change the world and a state school seemed the best place to start. Certainly, it wasn’t a compromise or a stopgap career: I had no thought of being a writer then.

Soon, I was much too busy to write, even if I had thought of it. Teacher training is hard, a crash course not so much in the study of education, but in the experience of school: in the taking of the register and the movement of chairs from room to room; in the flooding sounds of corridor and stairs; in the educational seasons, from the tempering heat of exam week to the crazy cosiness of Christmas; and, above all, in the terrifying confidence trick that is classroom discipline. It’s a bodily experience, like learning to be a beekeeper or an acrobat: a series of stinging humiliations and painful accidents and occasional sublime flights that leave you either crippled or changed. If you are changed, you are changed for life: your immune system will no longer raise hives when adolescents mock you; you may stand at the door of a noisy classroom with all the calm of a high-wire walker, poised to quell the noise with a twirl of your pole.

Related: The Very Quiet Foreign Girls poetry group | Kate Clanchy

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