About the Competition

Introduction

What teachers say

What poets say

2019-20 competition guides

Frequently Asked Questions

What students say

Andrew Motion

Poetry By Heart is an inspiring competition for students in schools and colleges to learn and to recite poems by heart.  Not in an arm-waving, props-supported thespian extravaganza, but as the outward and audible manifestation of an inwardly-understood and enjoyed poem.

The competition is a pyramid of participation from individual classrooms to whole school/college contests, then county contests, regional semi-finals and the grand final. In the process, pupils foster deep personal connections with the poems chosen and bring poetry alive for their friends, families and communities.

Poetry By Heart successfully engages young people from diverse social backgrounds and all types of school in personal discovery of the pleasures of poetry. Teachers who have organised Poetry By Heart competitions have told us it:

*was a catalyst for new approaches to poetry teaching, learning and enjoyment
*helped them to raise the profile of poetry in school/college
*helped them to focus pupil attention on the sounds of poetry as part of its meaning and pleasure
*gave their students a valued opportunity for local and national recognition

They also said their students:
*enjoyed poetry more
* were more willing to take on new challenges
*had a better understanding of how poetry works
*were better able to use memory techniques
*were more confident about speaking in public

 

A poetry buzz

“The competition and all the fantastic supporting resources have generated a poetry buzz across and beyond the school. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it has changed the lives of the young people who have taken part, offering them the opportunity not simply to engage with poetry but to own it, inhabit it, and share it.”

A challenge

“Some students sign up who say they don’t even like poetry! They want to compete because it is a challenge. Learning a poem by heart appeals to lots of different types of students and often to those we least expect.”

A leveller 

“It’s egalitarian – in our school it is rarely the top set who win and the confidence and pleasure it gives the lower ability students is undoubted.”

An essence of who and what we are 

“Poetry explores the essence of who and what we are. Young people spend much of their time trying to understand themselves through technology which can be destructive in the way that it distances them from that essence.”

 An opportunity to perform in public

“Opportunities such as those offered by Poetry By Heart are increasingly rare. If we are to produce articulate young people who have the confidence to stand in front of large groups and present, to lead business and industry confidently we have a responsibility to prepare them and support them for public scenarios.”

 A risk

“I ran the Poetry By Heart competition at two schools and it absolutely galvanised interest, broke through gender boundaries and gave an incredible range of pupils, from macho Rugby players to painfully shy pupils the chance to be rewarded for taking risks.”

 A living encounter 

“It has massively increased our awareness and enjoyment of poetry: it brings poetry ‘alive’, off the page and into people’s hearts.”

A boost

“I teach students with special needs and it gives them a huge boost when they can remember a whole poem by heart AND perform it. On top of the impact on self-confidence, it supports cognition and learning.”

A navigation aid

“In an age of growing anxiety, stress and mental health concerns, poetry, especially that which has been learned and internalised, can play a vital role in equipping students to navigate the choppy waters of adolescence.”

A lasting impact

“It gave our students the opportunity to engage with poetry in a different way. They genuinely loved it. Students did assemblies, poetry readings and brought in poems that they loved as part of the preparation. This had a lasting impact.”

 

It was the most electrifying performance of poetry from the past I have ever experienced, a very special day. Hearing the work of dead poets live and kicking was an absolute treat. The finalists inhabited their chosen poems so completely that a magical thing happened: the poems inhabited them. They spoke from the heart. Their enthusiasm, their delight in the language inspired everyone in that room. This was serious fun.

Patience Agbabi

 

The poems we learn when we’re young stay with us for the rest of our lives. They become embedded in our thinking, and when we bring them to mind, or to our lips, they remind us who we are as people, and the things we believe in. They become personal and invaluable, and what’s more they are free gifts – there for the taking. We call it learning by heart, and I think such learning can only make our hearts bigger and stronger.

Simon Armitage

 

Learning a great poem by heart is a simple and sure way of expanding your universe. If you want to give young people tools and techniques to expand their brains, learning poems by heart is a great way to do this. There is, of course, another advantage – once you learn a poem by heart, it becomes yours. The rhythm and music of each line lifts off the page and into your body, the sense and emotion unlocks and opens up your world.

Francesca Beard

 

The oral tradition… demands not only the griot but the audience to complete the community: the noise and sounds that the maker makes are responded to by the audience and are returned to him. Hence we have the creation of a continuum where meaning truly resides.

Kamau Brathwaite

 

A memorised poem is a great work of art that you own forever, a priceless piece of cultural capital. This competition is like an open invitation to students to go into an art gallery and leave with their favourite Van Gogh. I think the element of performance is brilliant. Not only will it give students a real understanding of the music of poetry, it will also do wonders for their self- confidence.

Adam Foulds

 

… the most important truth concerning the teaching of poetry is the value that attaches to a few poems intimately experienced and well remembered. If, at the end of each year spent in school, students have been marked by even one poem that is going to stay with them that would be a considerable achievement. Such a poem can come to feel like a pre-natal possession, a guarantee of inwardness and a link to origin. It can become the eye of a verbal needle through which the growing person can pass again and again until it is known by heart, and becomes a path between heart and mind, a path by which the individual can enter repeatedly, into the kingdom of rightness.

Seamus Heaney

 

May I suggest that we must always be desirous of creating spaces in which people might meet themselves, and know themselves, and celebrate themselves, and are even able to say back to us: thank you for giving ourselves back to us… spaces that exist outside the actual words….?

Kei Miller

 

To learn a poem by heart is to make a friend, one that will stay with you for the rest of your life. And like the best of friendships, a poem got by heart will comfort, cheer and sustain. This is what makes this terrific project so valuable – after the excitement of public performance, every child who takes part will carry their chosen poems with them into their future.

Esther Morgan

 

The student performances gave a new depth, a fresh angle to some of my favourite poems.

Daljit Nagra

 

It isn’t possible to understand poetry, which is a musical skill, without hearing and internalising some of its tunes. Poetry By Heart is a practical way to encourage this in schools and I think it could remove some of the confusion (and anger) people feel when confronted with poetry. Poems, unlike prose, are memory-efficient. That doesn’t just mean they go easily into the memory and stay there. It means the memory goes easily into a poem and grows there, perhaps infinitely.

Alice Oswald

 

… [a] poem is just a little machine for remembering itself… Whatever other function a rhyme, a metre, an image, a rhetorical trope, a brilliant qualifier or stanza-break might perform, half of it is simply mnemonic. A poem makes a fetish of its memorability. It does this, because the one unique thing about our art is that it can carried in your head in its original state, intact and perfect. We merely recall a string quartet or a film or a painting, actually, at a neurological level we’re only remembering a memory of it; but our memory of the poem is the poem.

Don Paterson

 

Taking a poem into your heart makes it part of you. Saying the poem aloud makes you part of its life in the world. This is a rich and nourishing relationship that can last a lifetime.

Jean Sprackland 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s fun, it’s free, it’s a national poetry recitation competition for pupils in England.

Poetry By Heart is a national poetry recitation competition for schools in England. It is for primary school pupils aged 7-11 (key stage 2) and secondary school pupils aged 11-14 (key stage 3), 14-16 (key stage 4) and 16+ (key stage 5). There are 2 different competition options: individual recitation, and group/choral recitation. Pupils choose their poems from a selection available on the Poetry By Heart website. The timeline anthologies and poetry showcases there are designed to support wide-ranging exploration of poems and poets, as well as offering connections with the national curriculum for English and its GCSE assessment.

By taking part in Poetry By Heart pupils explore poetry widely. They find poems they like, learn them by heart and perform them to others.

Download the primary and/or secondary competition guide, score sheets and certificates here.

You are also most welcome to talk to us for advice about any aspect of your Poetry By Heart competition, or about Poetry By Heart’s poetry resources. We can also set up a skype chat with your team to answer all your questions.

info@poetrybyheart.org.uk

0117 905 5338

Choral/Group Recitation

 

What are the rules for this?

Choral or group recitations are to be entered in the Poetry Celebration competition category (the other category is Individual Recitation). The Poetry Celebration category has been designed to be as flexible as possible to accommodate your creativity, imagination and specific school context. This is the first time we’ve offered a choral/group recitation option and we’re interested to find out what you and your pupils can do with it. So, are there minimum or maximum group sizes? No – you decide what works best! Do pupils have to recite individually within a collective performance or do they have to all recite together? Up to you! Must pupils stick to the lines exactly as they are or can they be adapted? The words must stay the same, but if you wish to use line or phrase echoes, as a sung choir might, go for it!


GCSE poems

 

Can my pupils enter the competition by learning 2 GCSE poems?

They can learn them all if they want to! And we’ve designed Poetry By Heart to be as flexible as possible so you can tailor this to what will work with your pupils. Here are the options.

1) Have a 2-round school competition. If you want to strike a balance between getting all your GCSE pupils involved in learning 1 or 2 poems by heart, but you still also want to enter a school winner in the main national Poetry By Heart competition, why not have a 2-round competition. Get everyone learning 1 or 2 of their GCSE poems, as you prefer but 1 of them must also be included in our collections. You have a first round Poetry By Heart competition and pick the best. This could be, say, the top 2-3 in each GCSE class. Then challenge these pupils to learn a second non-GCSE poem from the relevant collections, making sure one of their chosen poems is pre-1914 and one is post-1914. As long as 3 of them elect to do this, you have the basis for a second round Poetry By Heart competition and the winner can go through to the national competition.

2) Enter the Poetry Celebration competition. This competition is for all the bespoke, customised, do-it-your-way Poetry By Heart events, competitions and projects. If you want to run a Poetry By Heart competition in which your GCSE pupils learn 1, 2 or 15 of their GCSE poems, individually or together in pairs or small groups or as a whole class vocal choir, go for it! If you want to run a non-competitive Poetry By Heart performance event, with an audience of young pupils, or parents, or community members, go for it! If you want to fold learning a poem by heart and performing it into drama improvisation, or radio production, or anything else, go for it! All you have to do is figure out a way to show us what you did – a video, an event programme and a report with photos, or whatever – send us that and we’ll pick the very performances, projects and events in the country for a special prize, and an invitation to the finals.

 

Individual Recitation Competition

 

If pupils trip over their lines and want to start again, are they allowed to do this?

As long as you apply this fairly and consistently to all pupils, yes. The same would apply if there were some unexpected interruption during a pupil’s performance, eg someone having a coughing attack, or the builders outside suddenly deciding to start a little angle-grinding job. Do what is right and fair.

 

Reciting in other languages

 

Can pupils who have additional languages, as a mother tongue or other tongue, recite poems in languages other than English?

Yes. We’ve designed Poetry By Heart to be as flexible as possible so you can tailor this to what will work with your pupils. Here are the options.

1) Have a 2-round school competition. If you want to strike a balance between celebrating the poetry in all your pupils’ languages, but you still also want to enter a school winner in the main national Poetry By Heart competition, why not have a 2-round competition. Get everyone learning 1 English poem included in the relevant Poetry By Heart collections, and 1 mother/other tongue poem. You have a first round Poetry By Heart competition and pick the best – at least 3 of them but perhaps up to 8 or 9. Then challenge these pupils to learn a second English poem from the relevant collections, making sure one of their chosen poems is pre-1914 and one is post-1914. As long as 3 of them elect to do this, you have the basis for a second round Poetry By Heart competition and the winner can go through to the national competition.

2) Enter the Poetry Celebration competition. This competition is for all the bespoke, customised, do-it-your-way Poetry By Heart events, competitions and projects. If you want to run a Poetry By Heart competition in which your pupils learn and recite mother/other tongue poems, individually or together in pairs or small groups or as a whole class vocal choir, go for it! If you want to run a non-competitive Poetry By Heart performance event, with an audience of young pupils, or parents, or community members, go for it! All you have to do is figure out a way to show us what you did – a video, an event programme and a report with photos, or whatever – send us that and we’ll pick the very performances, projects and events in the country for a special prize, and an invitation to the finals.

 

Can we take part?

 

Schools in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and the world

There are national competitions like Poetry By Heart that we know about in the different countries listed below. Get in touch with them if you want to take part. We’re want to help as many other schools as possible to take part and we’ll have more news about how in December 2019.

All-Ireland – Poetry Aloud

Canada – Poetry In Voice/Poésie en Voix

Jamaica – Talk the Poem

South Africa – Poetry For Life

USA – Poetry Out Loud

Wales – Eisteddfod

 

Other types of schooling eg PRUs, Hospital Education, Home Education, Tutoring

Yes, as long as you have a competition following the Poetry By Heart guidelines with at least 3 pupils. Read the competition guides and get in touch for more advice. We want to include all pupils and the Poetry Celebration Category should be able to accommodate more or less whatever you want to do!

 

Teachers’ competition

 

Which poems – and how many – do I learn for the teachers’ competition?

As long as you choose a poem that is on the Poetry By Heart website, you can enter the Poetry By heart teachers’ competition. You can learn-along with your pupils if you want to, choosing a poem from the same collections that they’re choosing from, or you can choose from any other collection on the website. Learn as many as you like, but to enter the competition you just need one eligible poem!

 

 

At the Poetry By Heart national finals, we took a camera and some questions and spoke to the students from different backgrounds and different schools, unscripted, about their experiences of Poetry By Heart. Above is the video we made at the 2016 finals event, below the one we made at the 2015 finals event.

 

 

 

 

Ever since I first started reading poetry in earnest, more than forty years ago, I’ve always thought its meaning has as much to do with sound as it does to do with sense. Poetry, crucially, is an acoustic form. It’s emotional noise. That is why it’s often able to move us before we completely understand it. Its sounds allow us to receive it in our hearts, as well as in our heads.

It has always been my hope in setting up Poetry by Heart that we would give young people the opportunity to enjoy a wider range of poetry than they usually find in their preparation for exams.  We want to offer new ways of finding pleasure and confidence in a part of the curriculum where such things can be in short supply. The sort of pleasure and confidence, in fact, that adds tremendously to young people’s self-esteem, to their verbal skills, to their powers of communication, and so to a more fulfilled life and greater opportunities.  The competition is an end in itself, but it’s also a gateway, a beginning.

Poetry By Heart is designed to put the emphasis on learning by heart, not on learning by rote. It is about understanding and remembering the deep recurring truths about our experience as humans, in terms that are especially beautiful and resonant, It is about doing this in a pleasure-filled way. And it is part of the same benevolent revolution in poetry-proving and poetry-teaching that formed a part of the original intention in founding the Poetry Archive during my ten years as Poet Laureate.

Most of us have some recollection of being made to learn things when we were kids ourselves, and most of us can remember bits or all of those poems in our older age. This tells us several things, I think. It tells us how important it is to learn good stuff, so that our heads are full of nourishing words and not full of junk. It tells us this good stuff changes its meanings in very interesting ways as the years pass and the words stay in our memories. It tells us that despite or because of the effort involved in learning by heart, we as humans have a primitive appetite for it. It makes us feel good. It makes us find ourselves.

When Samuel Johnson was ruminating about the value of literature, he said it helped him ‘enjoy and endure’ his existence. Those two words form the foundation of our competition. We want it to be fun, as it encourages pupils to discover new pleasures and fulfilments, but we want it to be serious as well: an excitement and a dare. To demonstrate, in fact, the marvellous form of two-way travelling that poetry allows us: into ourselves, and out into the world, at one and the same time.