Monday 18 March 2013

I've Got A Poem For You: Poems To Perform, collected by John Foster. Reviewed by Penny Dolan

As I've been head down in research reading or travelling for school visits, I haven’t any children’s fiction or picture books to share.

So, happily, I can mention one of my favourite poetry collections for schools: “I’ve Got A Poem For You”. 

John Foster, who chose these poems, has been writing and performing poetry for both children and adults for ages. As the blurb says, he is “the master of performance.”

I’d like every child to hear and feel the power of words in real life, not the invisible words from the screen.  Hearing stories and poems read aloud at school certainly influenced my love of reading and fascination with writing, so I am always thinking How does this word, line, paragraph or voice sound? Do the words do what I wanted them to do? John Foster’s book, used and shared, offers children that love of,  and care about, words.

The anthology has energy. The poems have life in them. Looking through the pages, I’m sure that John loves, knows and shares the words of every poem selected. 

Just as satisfyingly, the poems vary in style, subject and mood.  They range from Zephaniah’s “Talking Turkeys” to Auden’s “Oh What is that Sound” and even Shelley’s “The Cloud”, as well as one of my favourite poems by Michael Rosen: a poignant retelling of “Icarus”. 

There are quiet poems such as “I, said the Donkey” (Anon) as well as Ousbey’s glorious “Gran, Can you Rap?”, one of John’s own much requested performances.

The list of names suggests the range and quality of the poems too. Foster includes Tony Mitton, John Agard, Allan Ahlberg and Russell Hoban, as well as Kipling, Tennyson and Farjeon and many more. Not many women, but then that’s not so unusual in an anthology. The anthology uses poems over a time scale that might even please a certain Mr Gove - and indeed was published long before he arose to fame - but the poems still manage to shout enjoyment and “Speak me!”

The charm of this collection is that I can imagine these being performed. I can imagine teachers reading these poems aloud, children speaking these poems –  with single or several voices - and sharing the poem with others. These poems are enjoyable to recite, encouraging gesture. Good poems to have in the mouth.
Mine is the original edition, shown above, with Belle Mellor’s cover and wonderfully haunting illustrations inside.

 I’m very pleased that the collection has now been re-published, though I deplore the new and, to my mind, quite ugly cover. I so hope that Mellors illustrations are still there on the pages.

Please try to ignore that new cover and think of the words within.
For once I'm glad of the advice on the amazon image. Do look inside. 

Ready? Altogether now, along with Gareth Owen and John Foster:

Late Again, Blenkinsop?
What’s the excuse this time?
Not my fault, sir.
Whose fault is it then?
Grandma’s. . . . .

Penny Dolan


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