PoetryQuest is a national initiative developed by Children & the Arts that pairs up arts venues and schools with professional poets to increase awareness, access and knowledge around poetry and literacy. The aim is to work with schools where there has been little provision or opportunity to experience and write poetry.

Normally, Children & the Arts work with PoetryQuest venues over just one year, but the partnership with Square Chapel's community outreach team has been so successful that they have now collaborated over three consecutive years supporting 438 Year 5 and 6 pupils from seven local primary schools in and around Halifax, West Yorkshire. 

Schools have consistently worked with two local poets, Winston Plowes and Keith Hutson to provide continuity throughout the three years. The support and encouragement Winston and Keith have given to the teachers and children has resulted in both becoming poets-in-residence delivering regular workshops and mentoring the children. Winston was even presented with an embroidered tie and medal by the children, teachers and parents to thank him for his help! The poets managed to change attitudes to poetry and get children excited to continue writing, as one pupil explains:

I wasn’t really looking forward to doing PoetryQuest because I didn’t like (poetry) at the time. Now I think poetry is amazing! It was able to extend my mind to the fullest and even though it’s hard it’s definitely worth it at the end.

Pupil, Beech Hill School

Each year of the project started with a training day for the teachers giving them the skills and strategies to help them teach poetry in class, followed by a performance of poetry by Winston and Keith for the schools. A programme of workshops explored different kinds of poems, including Haiku, Kennings, Found Poetry and Sonnets, with the children writing their own poems using these styles. Confidence grew each week as each child was supported and encouraged to read their poems aloud to each other, culminating in a final public performance. In April, the children performed imaginative poems about speed, chocolate, teachers and animals at Square Chapel Arts Centre before a packed audience of teachers, family, friends and peers.

  

Jeremy Newton, Chief Executive of Children & the Arts, explains that alongside the sheer enjoyment of PoetyQuest the project is helping improve the opportunities for children in Calderdale:

PoetryQuest opens children’s eyes to the inspirational world of performance poetry and spoken word and by empowering children to write and perform their own poetry, it builds literacy, communication skills, self-esteem and confidence.

Jeremy Newton, Chief Executive of Children & the Arts

It is a sentiment echoed by poets Keith Hutson and Winston Plowes:

PoetryQuest is a bonding and friendship experience for the children: they learn to support each other, to listen – like an audience – to each other’s performances and to applaud each other. These things build a sense of togetherness – this is as important as the poetry and performances.

Keith Hutson, Poet

It's all been about getting the young poets to think differently about words. To get them to cherish how poems are created and realise there is no wrong way, just a different one. Sometimes they will be challenged, and sometimes they will guide and challenge me because I am ready to learn too.

I am always surprised what the classroom offers on a project like this. Just when you think you might have heard everything a Year 5 pupil stands up and the words 'Love is like a million marshmallows, floating down like parachutes,' appears.

Winston Plowes, Poet

The children involved will be producing a book of the children’s poems, with a free copy for every school and child taking part – it will be launched at a special event at Square Chapel Arts Centre in June.

The project has been made possible by a generous donation from Halifax-born Jonathan Moulds CBE.