Poetry: The New Tools of the Trade?

Tools of the Trade coverBy Rebecca Pollard, Arts Admin Intern

‘Any healthy man can go without food for two days – but not without poetry’ – Charles Baudelaire

Here at The Reader Organisation we firmly believe that reading poetry (and prose, too) in a group setting – such as the shared reading groups we run across the country – is beneficial for the reader’s mental health and wellbeing. Not only is it a social activity, but it is proven to increase group members’ self-confidence and self-understanding.

Our belief in literature has been reiterated by the Scottish medical community who, in collaboration with the Scottish Poetry Library, have published Tools of the Trade, a poetry anthology which has been gifted to every graduate doctor in Scotland this year.

Whilst some of these poems specifically refer to medical life – Michael Rosen’s ‘These are the Hands’, and ‘A Medical Education’ by Glenn Colquhoun – many also deal with the ideas of moving on, moving forward, and dealing with difficult situations. These literary tools are not only invaluable for the mental health of the new doctors in providing a space to explore common medical situations (both humorous and serious), but there is also a focus on the patients’ view of medical life – and what doctors can do to improve this.

Arguably, many of the graduate doctors may never read the anthology;  however its presence both in their lives, and the fact of its actual publication demonstrates how integral poetry is for a person’s wellbeing, regardless of their occupation, interests, or personal situation.

If you have recently graduated, recently overcome an obstacle, or just need a bit of a pick-me-up during the working week, you might find this poem to your liking (and may have heard it recited at a recent graduation ceremony):


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.

W. E. Henley

The Reader Organisation’s Annual Report 2012/13

annual report 201213The Reader Organisation’s Annual Report for 2012/13 is available to read and download now on our website. Covering our activities and achievements from April 2012-March 2013, it’s full of headlines, highlights and Reader Stories from our work across the UK and beyond.

As we continue to develop our vision for the International Centre for Reading and Wellbeing at Calderstones Mansion House, our Annual Report 2012/13 showcases how far shared reading has come in the past 10 years, growing from its home in Wirral to reach across Liverpool and the wider North West region, London, South West and Scotland. The connection that comes from shared reading is now being felt in a number of varied settings, ranging from within the community to Criminal Justice settings to the corporate sector. Thanks to growing support we have been able to expand our activities to include a pioneering Volunteer programme across Merseyside, increased learning opportunities and publications offering what is at the heart of everything we do – great literature.

Looking through the report gives us much to reflect on, but undoubtedly the most powerful testimonies come from our Readers themselves, some of whom joined us at our AGM last November – the first to be held at Calderstones Mansion House.

“If you don’t talk about them and hear yourself speaking about it, it will stay in your head and you can’t get to a resolution. In the reading group we talk about things that people don’t usually talk about.” – G, shared reading group member, London

As we enter a 2014 with many exciting things in store for the reading revolution, it’s well worth taking a look at the strides that have been made so far.

You can read through or alternatively download The Reader Organisation’s Annual Report 2012/13 on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/who-we-are/annual-report.aspx

Featured Poem: John Anderson, my Jo by Robert Burns

We’re heading to the Highlands for our Featured Poem selection this week, by the country’s own Bard Robert Burns. An adaptation of a traditional song, Burns’s version of the verse takes an affectionate and rather poignant look at a relationship that has progressed over the years, contrasting the vibrancy of physical youth with a body that has aged. Clambering up a hill may have been replaced by a gentler ‘totter’ but the spirit has much to rejoice in with the promise of eternal companionship.

Some Scottish literature to lead us into a new month is very apt as at the end of October we’ll be taking our revolutionary Read to Lead course to Glasgow. Across three days we’ll consider literature in a new way by reading material together using The Reader Organisation’s shared reading model. Perhaps there will be some more Burns in store?

John Anderson, my Jo

John Anderson, my jo, John,
When we were first acquent,
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonny brow was brent;
But now your brow is bled, John,
Your locks are like the snow;
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson, my jo!

John Anderson, my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither;
And monie a cantie day, John,
We’ve had wi’ ane anither:
Now we maun totter down, John,
But hand in hand we’ll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo!

Robert Burns

Read to Lead Glasgow runs on 30th/31st October and 1st November – join us to discover literature in a new light with the only course that introduces you to the working practice of shared reading, with no previous experience with literature or education needed.

Find out more information on Read to Lead in Glasgow on our website. The final few places remain – book yours now by contacting Literary Learning Coordinator Sophie Johnson on sophiejohnson@thereader.org.uk or call 0151 207 7207.

Read to Lead this Autumn in Glasgow

Sharing Reading Experience MastheadRead to Lead Glasgow
30th/31st October, 1st November 2013
City Halls & Old Fruitmarket, Candleriggs, Glasgow G1 1NQ

Looking for a new start with literature this Autumn? Interested in using your love of reading to make an impact on the lives of others – and to discover more about yourself? The Reader Organisation is taking our revolutionary shared reading course, Read to Lead, to Glasgow this October and November.

Read to Lead is the only course that introduces you to the working practice of shared reading. A stimulating, enriching and inspiring three-days literary learning will enable you to run shared reading sessions informed by The Reader Organisation’s visionary practice. After the course, you will receive twelve months access to our exclusive and specially tailored Ongoing Learning provision, ensuring you can further your shared reading practice with support from staff and fellow practitioners.

We’re especially pleased to be bringing Read to Lead all the way up to Glasgow this Autumn as we have a real Reading Revolution going on there already. Our Glasgow Schools project is a three year transition project, funded by the Tudor Trust, which aims to promote, develop and deliver a culture of reading amongst children, their families and the wider community in the East End of Glasgow. Each week our Reader-in-Residence Patrick reads with over 280 children through group, one-to-one and whole school readings. Children who have never read out loud before in the classroom are doing so with confidence and enthusiasm, recommending stories and poems to their friends and contributing more to their studies, with shared reading sessions an important part of the fabric of school life.

Here is just one Reader story from our Glasgow Schools Project, of a child from St Mungo’s Learning Community:

When I first met H, he was incredibly stony faced and made little to no eye contact throughout the entirety of our early sessions. However, as we progressed he began to enjoy the short stories more and really valued having an hour without his brother or any of his peers close at hand. The big breakthrough for H came when reading the Skellig extract from A Little, Aloud for Children. H loved the suspense and horror of finding a decrepit man in his garage and was gripped throughout. At the end of the session when I asked him for a mark out of 10 he gave it an 8. When I asked him why only an 8 he said “I’d give it 10 if we knew who the man was”. When I told H that this was an extract from a longer story and that we could read it and find out if he liked he beamed from ear to ear and nodded, repeatedly saying “Yes!”.

Since then H has given the story 10 out of 10 each week, been really articulate in his responses to meeting Mina, his concerns for the baby and how it must feel to be Michael. Teachers overhearing from their rooms or passing by are astounded at how positive and enthralled H has been, especially as his default setting in class is to be so reticent and dour. Each week he remembers exactly where we have left off and sits smiling for an hour as we continue with the story.

You could bring about the same effects with people of all ages and backgrounds by joining us for Read to Lead in Glasgow this Autumn and beginning your journey into the world of shared reading. No former experience with literature or education is needed – just a belief in the social value of reading, a love of literature and lots of enthusiasm.

For full information on Read to Lead and how to book your place on our Glasgow course, see the Courses section of our website or contact our Literary Learning Coordinator Sophie Johnson on sophiejohnson@thereader.org.uk or 0151 207 7207.

Reading for pleasure puts children ahead in the classroom

068A new study has found that children who regularly read for pleasure are more likely to perform significantly better in school subjects than their peers who read less.

The research by the Institute of Education at University of London is the first study of its kind to examine the effects of reading for pleasure on the cognitive development of children over time. Researchers discovered that children who read for pleasure made more progress in maths, vocabulary and spelling between the ages of 10-16 when compared with those who rarely read. The reading behaviour of 6,000 young people was analysed, as were the test scores of children from the same social backgrounds at ages 5 and 10. The study discovered that children who read books often at age 10 and more than once a week at age 16 gained higher results in all three ability tests at age 16 than those who read less regularly.

Perhaps the most surprising discovery of the research is that a child’s own reading for pleasure was found to have a greater effect on cognitive development between the ages of 10-16 than their parents’ level of education. The effect of reading books often paired with going to the library regular and reading newspapers at the age of 16 made four times the difference to progress in school than the advantage gained from having a parent with a degree.

Dr Alice Sullivan, one of the researchers who carried out the study, noted:

“It may seem surprising that reading for pleasure would help to improve children’s maths scores. But it is likely that strong reading ability will enable children to absorb and understand new information and affect their attainment in all subjects.”

060All of The Reader Organisation’s projects with children and young people are focused on reading books for pleasure. We work both in schools in Liverpool, Wirral and Scotland fostering a love for reading, as well as in one-to-one sessions within and outside of the classroom. Our aims are to develop a life-long love of reading for pleasure in children and young people and to create a culture of shared reading amongst parents, carers and teachers. We’re developing a reading for pleasure revolution with teachers of the future at Liverpool Hope University, so the news that reading for pleasure makes a real difference to pupils is something we’re welcoming.

Many of the children and young people we read with on a regular basis have gained a number of positive effects from regular reading for pleasure. W, a looked-after child with learning difficulties is just one of them:

When I first started reading one to one with him, his reading ability seemed so low that I felt concerned about finding a book that would be appropriate for his age as well as his ability. As it happened, in our first meeting I had taken the book Skellig, by David Almond, which I had almost written off as being too difficult for him. However, he liked the cover, so I thought, well, let’s give it a go. I started reading it to W, and almost immediately, he was hanging off every word. He was just soaking up the story, and watching my face – I wondered if he had ever been read to before.

We have a reading ‘trick’ now, where W, when he is reading, follows the words with his finger and taps under words he doesn’t know. I then whisper the word to him, and he repeats it and continues with his reading. His reading is getting better and better, and his vocabulary is widening – but what is more important in our sessions is his enjoyment of the book. W is expressing more and more feeling and thought through the book.

W’s story shows that not only does reading for pleasure have an measurable effect on ability and comprehension, but it is first and foremost a fun and enjoyable activity that enhances a child’s confidence and brings out more of themselves.

Read W’s Reader Story in full, along with others about some of the children and young people we read with, on our website, where you can also discover more about our projects in education settings across the UK.

Roaming Readers: Ella Jolly spreads revolution in Glasgow

Over the summer I was thrilled to meet all the lovely people in the Scottish Poetry Library (SPL) who work tirelessly to spread the message of reading revolution across Scotland. So when Juliet Rees, the Education Officer for the SPL, proposed a joint venture, I eagerly agreed to Bibby Line Group’s involvement. With funding from the Scottish Arts Council and Glasgow City Council, this year the SPL organised poets’ workshops in schools and workplaces across Glasgow to celebrate National Poetry Day 2008 and its theme of ‘work’. On Wednesday 8th October, Bibby Financial Services Glasgow hosted one of these workshops.

The idea that everyone should down tools all in the name of poetry is quite an unusual concept. I’ve found that it can be difficult to get people into poems even when they’re away from their desks. Consequently, I was ever so apprehensive about the challenge of engaging people whilst they remained in front of computer screens, and next to buzzing phones.

And yet, last Wednesday, six employees in the Glasgow office warmly welcomed the Glaswegian poet Gerry Cambridge for the afternoon. We chatted about different poems we loved – and hated – by writers as diverse as Robert Graves, Philip Larkin and Robbie Burns. Gerry then exhibited some of his nature photographs and explained that for him, a poem, much like a photograph, can do a great job of providing new or unfamiliar ways of looking at seemingly common subjects. Gerry read a selection of his poems to us, some of which are written in dialectical Scottish. Field Days is particularly memorable and is reproduced here with Gerry’s kind permission:


Field Days


Old Davie still did much farm work by hand.

Tae thin neeps, ye gae up an doon thae rowse.

Leave jist yin each six inches, sae it growse.

The thought of lunch was a breeze-fanned island,

What is the time? our common famous question.

The shrinking patch of field still to be weeded

was joy and thought we’d be no longer needed.

He’d blow through his lips: Gerad, ye’re the best yin

O thae young uns that come here!

                                                   Or biggest fool

I sometimes thought, those languid days

After the last exams, when I skipped school.

But no jam pieces nor hot tea’s tasted more

Significant than that field’s, and strongest praise

The two green pounds each day’s end, my limbs sore.


During Gerry’s reading of this poem, the office phones rang, rang and rang again. Focusing on the poetry was difficult, to say the least.  Then a member of the sales term abruptly answered the persistent caller, responding with a curt ‘No, I’m in an important meeting’.

For me, these six words were revolutionary. Poetry had been recognised as ‘important’! And (dare I say it?) more important than work, perhaps?

Posted by Ella Jolly

Read more from Ella at booksatbibby