Political Poetry for the Young
How political is poetry? Can even the simplest poems prove political at some subconscious level? What age is best for introducing children to political ideas?
I'm currently participating in an online correspondence course about political poetry, with London group Live Canon. This week we've been looking at using very simple poetic forms as a political vehicle, and how the form and language of the poem can bring out, or mask, a political idea.
In education the thorny issue of whether Baa Baa Black Sheep should be allowed in schools has been debated for over a decade. In 2006 the BBC carried a news report "Pre-school children attending two nurseries in Oxfordshire are being taught a new version of Baa Baa Black Sheep - Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep." The Daily Mail reported in 2014 about an Australian school and asked the question "Is this the moment the world officially went mad? Lyrics of Baa Baa Black Sheep have been BANNED by kindergarten teachers because the nursery rhyme is 'racist'"
I do not have any issue with encouraging young children, or adults for that matter, to exercise their imaginations and sing about rainbow-coloured sheep, or lime green ones, yellow ones, burgundy ones, sky blue ones, but doesn't the total omission of the black sheep make more of a political statement than changing it to a different hue? What are we telling our youngsters about the colour black if they discover, because kids always discover what the adults don't want them to know, that in the olden days the sheep used to be black but it is no longer allowed to be so?
My political nursery rhyme re-invention takes Baa Baa Black Sheep into pretty predictable territory.
Baa baa black sheep
are you packing a gun
no, sir, no, sir,
just hangin' around the lane;
going to say farewell to my master,
be held by my dame,
explain to them why you thought I'd done wrong
ask them not to forget my name.
On one online forum I once noticed a comment saying "even the paper is white." This made me wonder, what is the more important, the white paper or the black ink? Where are the political points being made? In my fountain pen years I always chose black ink over blue ink because I felt it made a much stronger statement.
In this second week of Live Canon's political poetry course the writing assignment asks us to use another favourite school-type exercise, write a poem using the title "Recipe for a Better World." The poem should use recipe elements including ingredients and method, and your imagination can stretch as wide as it needs in what those ingredients and methods might be. Since losing my sight 9 years ago I frequently wish the whole world was blind, because the issue of what people look like seems to generate feelings ranging from niggles right up to violence and killings, which cannot be right — that would be my wish for a better world — why not try it, close your eyes for a day and find out what the world looks like.
Now you should give your children some political reading, such as this downloadable PDF of Marxism for Infants by Denise Riley. It was written in 1977, when I would have been 4 years old, and every four year old should have a good solid grounding in Marxist poetry :)
#Poetry #Politics #LiveCanon #DeniseRiley