This week’s featured poem, The Voice by Thomas Hardy, has got thinking about reading aloud in Shared Reading groups, the importance of hearing the written word out loud in different voices.
It’s great news to hear that the connection between poetry and mental wellbeing is being highlighted, thanks to the launch of ReLit and their anthology Stressed Unstressed, a volume of 150 poems selected to ease the mind and provide solace in troubling situations. Amongst those who have identified poems that have helped them to cope during times of stress are Melvyn Bragg, Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry.
The members of our Shared Reading groups are experiencing the power as well as the pleasure of poetry on a weekly basis, from community groups in libraries to patients on mental health wards and prisoners in high-security units. Reading poetry aloud as a group gives people access to powerful language, thoughts and feelings about what it is to be human, and in experiencing these complex meanings with others they can start to build – or rebuild – a better understanding of themselves and the world. Whichever way someone is struggling – on a particular day, week or on a longer-term basis – a poem can help to reach out on a personal, emotional level.
The best way to feel what a poem is and can do is to read it, with other people.
Take, for instance, the women at HMP Low Newton who read Mattresses by Jean Sprackland:
“Mattresses talks about everyone’s life but has a darkness that resonates with the women reading here. On the first reading one woman can’t hear the mattress but only a tale of a broken woman, lost and discarded. The others listen politely, sensitively, but then the group move on, back to the text, and the talk returns to mattresses, how they are an ‘archive’ of the everyday and everybody. The same woman’s expression changes to one of surprise: the idea that there could be other things to the poem, any poem, than what struck her at first reading is a genuinely new one. Another, deeper, insight follows: “I saw me”. What had been evident to everyone else in the room startles this woman to a laugh, and you can see her visibly awaken to new insights about herself and the potential of poetry.”
Or a group member on a mental health ward in Manchester, who found comfort in I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by Wordsworth:
“On the morning of the group, he was on a 2:1 because he was ‘punching out and shouting at the staff’. He came in to the group, sat down and his focus was completely on the poem throughout. He was calm, reflective, and had read the whole of the poem aloud in a wonderfully clear voice. We were talking about places that we can remember that made us happy, and he told the story of going on picnics with his Mum, Dad and sister. By the end of the group, he only had one staff member with him, and showed no signs of aggression, upset, or distress.”
A great amount of the literature we use in Shared Reading groups deals with difficult subjects, evoking distress and often painful memories that do not seem on the surface designed to comfort or put the group member’s mind at ease. However below the surface different emotions rise up, showing how we sometimes need what is difficult to break through to the deeper part of us.
“We were reading war poetry and as I read John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields Ivy shifted in her seat, and I could tell before I finished the poem that she wanted to speak. One memory in particular, translated through the poetry, brought tears to her eyes as she shared it with the group:
‘I remember once I walked in on my Father as he was changing his shirt ready to go out with Mother. He shouted ‘Don’t come in, I’ll be down in a minute’, but it was too late, I had seen his side and there was a great hole there. I ran down the stairs to Mother crying and said ‘What happened to Dad? Did he fall down the stairs? And she said, ‘No love, that is a war wound’. I remember I was so upset.’
Her emotion at recalling the story of the wound demonstrated why, even though it took place when she was very young, this was an event which shaped her and has stayed with her over the years. I asked her if she was okay, if she was happy to continue reading the poems and she replied ‘Oh yes, I like them.’ When we read next Now to be still and rest, while the heart remembers by P.H.B. Lyon, she smiled and nodded and was keen to point out, ‘We celebrate every year, we never forget.’ “
Our research with partners CRILS at the University of Liverpool further demonstrates how reading poetry aloud can have powerful effects on people across all ages, backgrounds and life situations, from those living with dementia for whom poetry can stimulate emotional experiences in the present as well as rememberance and help to improve mood, to encouraging better social, emotional and psychological wellbeing amongst female prisoners. The shared reading of poems and literature has the effect of creating bonds and friendships, which our research has found contributes to a more positive outlook on life.
As the year is still fresh, here’s to more poetry, less stress and loneliness – and in reading together, sharing the comfort that comes from great literature on a wider scale.
One of our favourite days is fast approaching – World Read Aloud Day 2014 is happening on Wednesday 5th March, rallying the whole world to come together and share the joy of reading aloud to show that everyone has the right to read, sharing their voices and stories to change the world. The Reader Organisation is delighted to be linking up with LitWorld as a WRADvocate Partner for World Read Aloud Day 2014, celebrating the pleasure and power of reading aloud on a global scale.
At the heart of all of our shared reading groups and activities happening each week, for young people and adults alike, is a focus on reading for pleasure and meaning in a relaxed, informal and friendly environment. Reading aloud is a key element of all of our shared reading groups: not only is an experience created by bringing a story or poem alive in the room, but being able to read and listen to the literature allows us to relate on a deeper level, drawing human and emotional connections with the text and one another. Reading aloud is relaxing, empowering, socially connective and opens us up to other worlds.
“It’s even better than reading yourself – you’d miss things by yourself – but the big thing here is that when you read with a little group in a cosy atmosphere you pay more attention to the details, especially in poems. It’s great that we’re all individuals with different viewpoints on subjects, and that also triggers new ideas in yourself – you get different angles from other people, so it’s a very interactive experience of books.” – shared reading group member
“If you read by yourself, you only get your own interpretation of the book. If you read with other people and talk about what you’re reading you get other people’s interpretations of the books as well, which is always more interesting as it makes you look at things in a way that you wouldn’t by yourself necessarily. Everyone brings their own experiences to the book.” – shared reading group member
So how are we celebrating World Read Aloud Day?
On the day itself, we have a number of our open community shared reading groups running in Liverpool, Wigan, Wirral, the South West and London (in Kensington and Chelsea and South London). Come along and enjoy a good read, read out loud. There’s no pressure to join in the reading; listening is just as good. Find a full list of our open groups happening on World Read Aloud Day on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/reading-with-us
We’ll be sharing stories from our group members about how reading aloud has had an impact on their lives, as well as their reading choices;
We’re also building up a whole YouTube channel of reading aloud alongside Liverpool Learning Partnership in their City of Readers project. There’s already a ton of great videos up there, with readers sharing their favourite stories and poems aloud from a wide range of literature, and in the days leading up to World Read Aloud Day we’ll be showcasing a video a day from the City of Readers channel on social media, counting down to a wonderful day of reading aloud.
For World Read Aloud Day we’d love for you to share your own favourite with us aloud, by filming your selection and sending it to us for inclusion on the City of Readers YouTube channel. All you need to do is record yourself reading, save your video as a .wav file and send it through to us by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read anything from 2 to 25 minutes long, and please include your details and photo so we can make you one of our read aloud stars!
You find out more about World Read Aloud Day and sign up to participate on LitWorld’s website: http://litworld.org/worldreadaloudday
It’s one of our favourite days here at The Reader Organisation – National Poetry Day. Of course, we love to read and share poems every day of the year in our Get Into Reading groups, through The Reader magazine, our anthologies and much more, but we’re particularly excited to enjoy this nationwide celebration of poetry for everyone, everywhere.
This year’s National Poetry Day promises to be bigger than ever, with lots of exciting events taking poetry out onto the streets and even onto the London Underground – see a full list of events and find out if there’s something happening near you on the NPD website.
There’s no reason not to celebrate even if you aren’t near an event, as all you need to do is find a poem and read it aloud, passing the experience on to those around you. What better way could there be to commemorate National Poetry Day than by simply sharing a piece of poetry with someone you care about? This year’s theme for NPD is ‘water, water everywhere’ – a well-tread subject in the world of poetry. From lakes, streams and oceans, to boating, raindrops and sea creatures, there’s a wealth of classic and contemporary verses out there to help you get into the spirit of the day.
Here are just a few recommendations of water-themed poems that we’ve enjoyed here at The Reader Organisation:
And as an extra treat this National Poetry Day, we’re giving you another full-length helping of poetry on The Reader Online from Thomas Hardy. Enjoy the day, and have fun with some wonderful, watery poetry!
Under The Waterfall
Whenever I plunge my arm, like this,
In a basin of water, I never miss
The sweet sharp sense of a fugitive day
Fetched back from its thickening shroud of grey.
Hence the only prime
And real love-rhyme
That I know by heart,
And that leaves no smart,
Is the purl of a little valley fall
About three spans wide and two spans tall
Over a table of solid rock,
And into a scoop of the self-same block;
The purl of a runlet that never ceases
In stir of kingdoms, in wars, in peaces;
With a hollow boiling voice it speaks
And has spoken since hills were turf less peaks.
And why gives this the only prime
Idea to you of a real love-rhyme?
And why does plunging your arm in a bowl
Full of spring water; bring throbs to your soul?
Well, under the fall, in a crease of the stone,
Though precisely where none ever has known,
Jammed darkly, nothing to show how prized,
And by now with its smoothness opalized,
Is a drinking glass:
For, down that pass
My lover and I
Walked under a sky
Of blue with a leaf-wove awning of green,
In the burn of August, to paint the scene,
And we placed our basket of fruit and wine
By the runlet’s rim, where we sat to dine;
And when we had drunk from the glass together,
Arched by the oak-copse from the weather,
I held the vessel to rinse in the fall,
Where it slipped, and it sank, and was past recall,
Though we stooped and plumbed the little abyss
With long bared arms. There the glass still is.
And, as said, if I thrust my arm below
Cold water in a basin or bowl, a throe
From the past awakens a sense of that time,
And the glass we used, and the cascade’s rhyme.
The basin seems the pool, and its edge
The hard smooth face of the brook-side ledge,
And the leafy pattern of china-ware
The hanging plants that were bathing there.
By night, by day, when it shines or lours,
There lies intact that chalice of ours,
And its presence adds to the rhyme of love
Persistently sung by the fall above.
No lip has touched it since his and mine
In turns there from sipped lovers’ wine.
Peter Robinson, Professor of English Literature at the University of Reading, has written a poem to mark the imminent closure of HMP Reading, one of our Criminal Justice settings for Get Into Reading. Released in time for National Poetry Day, Time for Time was composed after Peter visited the group at HMP Reading, the place that inspired Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
You can read Time for Time on the Two Rivers Press website, which is also offering 25% off all poetry titles this National Poetry Day.
Read more about our project at HMP Reading by visiting the South East page of our website.
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 email@example.com or 0151 207 7207.