An Anthology by the First Story Group at Oxford Spires Academy
ed. Kate Clanchy
London, First Story Ltd, 2011, 58p
This is an anthology of work by some of the students at the school I work at. I have never been prouder of them than when reading this short collection of poems.
Differentiation is about the experiences of these wonderful students. Love. Loss. Life. Death. They are emotive, intelligent and inspiring. I found myself becoming incredibly emotional over every single poem, for numerous reasons.
Some of these girls and boys have experienced incredible hardship. I already know the stories of some - those who have moved to England from Brazil, Pakistan, China. Others who have lost loved ones, or who have an unsettled home life. Life has not been easy on some of these students. It breaks my heart to read of the abuse and neglect they have suffered. And these are not words I use lightly.
And yet, despite the highly personal nature of these experiences, the words and rhymes created by these young people help the reader see the same things, feel the same feelings, and truly understand. There are words and phrases in there that we have all felt at some point.
Kate Clanchy did an incredible job of editing the anthology - the poems are ordered perfectly, so they easily flow from one to the other. You can also see the influence of the First Story group over the poems. Kate plans the sessions so the students all write in a similar style or with the same title for the first few weeks, building their confidence until they can come up with their own inspiration. Thus, some of these poems have similar themes, but this adds to the flow of the anthology.
For me, the best way to understand poetry is to know the poet. My favourite poems are not fantasy stories, or descriptions of people and places, but accounts of experiences and feelings. And in knowing where these words have come from, and in knowing who wrote them ... that is where the value lies in poetry.