A tour of the Children's Archive with Mark Grist

Over the years I’ve become increasingly interested in the lyrical nature of poetry. I find that the more I’ve taken in, the more I’ve developed a palette for playful use of language; particularly rhyme. The pieces I’ve chosen from the archive all highlight the joy that can be found in messing about with words. I hope that these pieces also go some way to show how alive British poetry is, both in voice and on the page.

First off, I was dead chuffed that this piece was on the site! As a child this poem had a major impact on me and made me realise how much fun can be had from playing with language. Dahl’s rhyme and meter help to frame a fantastical and grotesque world; where there’s no need for a child like Little Red Riding Hood to stick around waiting for an adult to rescue her. Added to that, any poem that bounces ‘Caviare’ off of ‘Grand Mama’ is well worth listening to.

This is rooted less in cultural protest than many of Johnson’s pieces, but exerts a sense of pride and strength throughout, particularly when you get to hear him reading it (what a voice!). I particularly enjoyed playing Johnson’s audio at the same time as reading the piece. It made me feel more active in taking in both the words, and the showmanship of his delivery.

At a conference last year the Chief Examiner talked at length about a student who had written in an exam about the shape of a poem when looked at from a different angle. He glowered at the students and insisted that ‘A poem turned on its side looks like nothing more than it is: a poem turned on its side.’ I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed with such a lack of imagination. Patten comes to the rescue with this piece: reminding us why poetry and examining bodies will perhaps never get along.

Having grown up in The Shetland Islands, I find Jen Hadfield’s poetry particularly moving. I love that, no matter the situation, she’s always capable of pulling me out of the daily grind and taking back to my Island - no mean feat considering the range of English cities I’ve lived in for the last twenty years! Her poetry haunts me, I suppose, and keeps bringing me back for more.

I’ve been fortunate to see Zephaniah read a lot – and have been a huge fan since I was a teenager. In fact, he’s one of the poets who first got me interested in writing. I used to play Zephaniah at the end of lessons to my students and ‘Reggae Head’ was by far the favourite of every class. Even some of my most outspoken students, who claimed to hate poetry, still loved to join in as they jostled out of the room.

For my sixth piece I thought I’d try using the ‘Browse by Form’ tab available on the site. It turns out that the Boneyard Rap this is the only ‘Rap’ currently available on the site. Whilst I don’t know if the rappers I’ve worked with would put it on their playlists, for me it was a real treat. Playful, rhythmic and a great example of what we can do when we stop taking ourselves too seriously. I’ll definitely be playing it to my students at the next opportunity.

About Mark Grist

Mark Grist is a teacher and performance poet. He was Poet Laureate of Peterborough in 2008 as well as The Chief Bard of the Fens in 2009 and winner of the Edinburgh Fringe Slam Championships in 2010. He’s currently touring the country as one half of the Dead Poets, a spoken word show that explores the relationship between poetry and rap, whilst completing an MA in Creative Writing at Goldsmith’s University and he’s developing his newest show, ‘Shetland boy,’ in collaboration with The National Arts Council. Mark can be contact via Book a Poet, www.bookapoet.co.uk.

Ask the poet

Judith Nicholls

Acclaimed children's poet, Judith Nicholls shows us round what her family have described as "the most untidy study in the world". She also reads several of her poems including the first one she ever wrote when she was just seven.