25 November 2021, The Tablet

Poetry, children and imagination

by Roger McGough

 Poetry, children and imagination

Roger McGough: ‘We squash the imagination for the sake of information’
Photo: Alamy/Neil Spence


We are born into a world of rhythm – from the heartbeat in the womb to the pulses of the seasons – and children have a natural sense of when a rhyme is coming. One of Britain’s best-loved poets argues that verse has a vital role to play in nurturing a child’s literacy and inventiveness

We are living in dark times: powerful nations at war with one another, or seemingly about to be; uninspiring, untrustworthy leaders; the pandemic, climate change, blah-blah-blah. Little wonder then that anxiety levels are rising exponentially, and among children especially.

Can poetry help? It certainly can. Reading and, more particularly, writing it can be an escape. It enables us to move out of our own limited world to a world of unlimited possibilities where we can be anybody, do anything. A chance to play the hero, solve the case, score the goal, even settle old scores. The writer, being in control of his or her own destiny, can guarantee a happy ending. Writing a poem can also be a way of telling others about our real lives, our fears and problems, because the very act of writing is a way of reaching out to somebody, for what is written demands a reader or a listener. And the key is one that we are all born with: imagination. A key that can be mislaid, lost or simply taken away, all too often by an educational system whose emphasis is on facts, information and qualifications.

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