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A Time to be Free …

September 6, 2017

Freedom can be seen as a basic human right, but none of us is wholly free all the time. We may be prisoners of fate or illness, commitment to others, the school classroom or the workplace, or prisoners of our own conscience or through the result of our own misdeeds and the law of the land. Freedom is the theme of this year’s UK National Poetry Day on 28 September.

My Schofield and Sims anthology, A Time to Speak and a Time to Listen offers many poems that talk about freedom and/or its absence. Here are some suggestions of poems to read and discuss to kick off your poetry day, or maybe inspire you to write poems of your own, at home or at school. You can find each poem easily as the numbers in brackets after each poem tell you which of the 100 poems in the anthology it is.

1. Explore how a lack of freedom – including freedom of choice – can highlight the benefits of being free.

Read A Final Appointment – Eric Finney (4) & The Tree and the Pool by Brian Patten (100)

In the first, the character Adbul tries to exercise his freedom. What does he try to avoid, only to walk straight into it? In the second, many different characters find their plans and wishes thwarted … by what?

2. Consider how we often more free than we think. All that holds us back is our own fear or lack of belief in ourselves. Imagine if you believed in yourself – believed that there was nothing you couldn’t do. How much might you achieve in your life?

Read Target by Rachel Rooney (25) and Taking a Chance by Roger Stevens (51)

Make a list of some things that you would like to aim for. How can you make yourself free to follow your hopes, aspirations, desires? Discuss what you might change to make better use of your free time?

3. Much of our lives we spend rushing … to catch a bus, to be in time for school, to buy something urgently before the shops close. It is helpful to free our minds of clutter and stress, and relax. Even sitting on a stationary train and looking and listening through the window (or in a traffic jam on a motorway) we can experience freedom beyond us. Stopping to look and listen at any time is worthwhile.

Read Adlestrop by Edward Thomas (99), where the speaker, trapped on a train, becomes aware of the birds’ freedom.

Now read Leisure by W H Davies (17) and Daffodils by William Wordsworth (43). Then Dandelion Time by Sue Cowling (61) and Where Go the Boats? by Robert Louis Stevenson (71)

Think of a place where you like to go to relax. Make notes of some of the sounds you can hear, sights you can see, smells you’re aware off. Now try and turn those images into a short poem about freedom. Try to convey the idea of being free (like Sue Cowling’s dandelion seeds flying freely by, or Edward Thomas’s birdsong), but write your poem without using the words ‘free’ or ‘freedom’.

4. Imagine not being free to walk out of your own front door. Imagine having no choices in your life. If we enjoy freedom and want it for ourselves, is it right to take freedom away from others? Discuss this with friends after reading this extract:

Auguries of Innocence by William Blake (91)

If you have the chance to look at these poems and ideas before National Poetry Day, think about creating an assembly for the rest of your school, with the theme of Freedom in Poetry.

If you don’t have a copy of this anthology in your school library, ask your teacher to follow this link. (There is an accompanying Teacher’s Guide, packed with ideas for enjoying all the 100 poems in the book.)

If you missed my most recent post (Free as a Bird) on this website, scroll down to find it and read some new poems that I have written especially for National Poetry Day 2017.

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