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Coming soon: National Poetry Day

September 28, 2009

National Poetry Day: 8th October 2009 – Theme: Heroes & Heroines

October is always a lovely month for poets and poetry lovers. It’s the season of Book Weeks for many schools, as they celebrate reading and the written word. It also brings along National Poetry Day — this year: Thursday 8th October.

In the week of this coming National Poetry Day, I’m delighted to say, I have been invited to visit Stoke Fleming Primary School, just down the road from where I live in the South Hams of Devon. I will be joining in their Book Week celebrations and opening their brand new, exciting library. To add to the fun of the occasion, I’ll also be reading and performing poems and helping some children to write their own.

Each year, National Poetry Day has a different theme. This year it’s ‘heroes and heroines’. From my early childhood, one of my heroines was the historical figure of Florence Nightingale. I read and reread my Ladybird book about her, and pored over the wonderfully painted illustrations. Florence Nightingale nursed wounded soldiers from the Crimean War back to health, and paved the way for modern nursing methods.

Another heroine was Helen Keller. Her early childhood was extremely trying. She survived an attack of meningitis, before the age of two, but lost her hearing and her sight to the disease. (This was long before the days of life-saving antibiotics.) Suddenly deaf and blind, she was locked away from the world, until a teacher arrived who broke through her isolation, teaching Helen to read and speak sign language. Helen Keller grew up to go to college, having also learned to read braille, and spent her life helping others with similar difficulties.

I decided to write these verses to commemorate these heroines. The short poems are both ‘clerihews’, a verse form invented by, and named after, the Reverend Edmund Clerihew Bentley. Clerihews are often whimsical, exhibit a deliberately comical clunky metre, but always consist of two pairs of rhyming lines (an AABB rhyming pattern). The first line normally contains the name of the person featured in the verse.

Florence Nightingale made her stamp
As “The Lady of the Lamp”,
But in her pocket she kept – have you heard? –
A pet owl, Athena: “The Lady of the Bird”?

Brave Helen Keller
Was a problem dispeller:
She learned to ‘hear’ – and had sight of a kind –
Even though she was deaf and blind.

Why not have a go at writing your own clerihew about a hero – living or dead, known to your personally,  or someone famous?

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