‘Poems of the Decade’ A Level Student Conference
On Tuesday 12th December, Sixth form A Level English Literature students attended the ‘Poems of the Decade’ A Level Student Conference in London. Inspiring poets such as Simon Armitage (Poet Laureate), Daljit Nagra & Ros Barber explored the way poets create and consider poetry. An interesting range of topics and speakers broadened the students’ understanding of poetry. The students enjoyed the opportunity to explore poetry beyond the classroom and meet iconic writers in person.
The poetry conference allowed English literature students to understand first-hand the meaning behind some of the poems we study. I particularly enjoyed listening to Ros Barber, the poet of ‘Material’. Her introduction was moving, in which she gave us a brief insight into her relationship with her mother and her tragic passing. As Barber read the poem, which was dedicated to her mother, it gave me a different understanding of what ‘Material’ is about. I appreciated her theatrical movements and her excitable intonation as she read the poem, since it made me focus on parts that I never did before. Her reflection on ‘Material’ and the motivations of writing it were insightful, and gave me greater confidence to write about it in exams. I liked how she discussed grief and loss, although before this conference, I never realised that she was using humour to avoid this grief, and so I am grateful that Barber shared that with us.
By Adesola, Year 13
Meeting Simon Armitage was really inspiring. He’s a famous poet, and being around him is like catching onto a creative vibe. His way with words is like a lively heartbeat. Armitage loves what he does, and that passion is catchy. Being with him makes you want to express yourself creatively. It’s like a push to rethink your own story and artistic abilities. The meeting connects regular stuff to something extraordinary, making you see the beauty in simple words and endless creative options. Having met the poets themselves is truly remarkable and awe-inspiring, it has evoked my emotions for the love of poetry outside of the English classroom and encouraged me to think in a complete different style.
By Tara, Year 12
Despite arriving late, Simon Armitage spoke with an air of class and eloquence that someone on time does not have. Armitage was casually smart and precise in his words yet brought a bashful humour along with him. Within his analysis he entertained the audience with dry humour yet always brought conversation back to his analysis. He offered up his own personal context to his work, revealing the intimacies he had with his own chainsaw and the wreckage that came with it. He is the persona in his own poem. His poem ‘Chainsaw versus Pampas Grass’ shows his own manic desire when moving house and buying a chainsaw to spruce up the garden but instead he got carried away and gave the chainsaw its own personality of destruction. Yet within his seeming mere recount of a chainsaw experience, Armitage delved down to deeper, unthought levels. His Poem has odes to the Garden of Eden within its theme of natural versus unnatural. He even went on to ode his poem to having undertones of the British Civil war. Odes we as a class had not picked up on. Armitage demonstrated to us as the audience the amount of depth, thought and resistance it takes to write a poem and all the layers we consider in class, all the undercover analysis, Poets have already thought of them. Armitage presented that it’s a poet’s world and we’re just analysing them.
By Rachel, Year 12
The conference as a whole definitely gave me more inspiration and support in poetry. I loved listening to all of the poets speak about their journeys and their backstories behind their poetry. It helped me understand the deeper meaning behind the poems and how they are meant to be spoken, which I really enjoyed. I especially give credit to Ros Barber for her emotional performance of reading her poem. The drive behind it created an art that makes you feel what she is feeling and I believe that is what made it really special to listen to. She spoke out about how she dealt with the grief of her mother by using ‘black humour’. Not many people can admit how they deal with grief or find it hard to speak up about it but she was very open and strong, which made you feel like you need to have more confidence in yourself. She was an extremely inspirational speaker and I loved her vibe and energy about poetry. In fact, I loved all the poets’ energy; they all brought their own style and tone, which I believe glued the conference together.
By Poppy, Year 12
The poems of the decade conference was highly educational in helping me understand some more context about the poems that were studying. In my opinion I enjoyed the talk from Ros Barber the most as her talk felt personal as she explained the context and history behind her poem ‘Material’. In her talk she spoke about her mother and shared some sentimental moments from her childhood explaining how her poems were a way to bond with her when there wasn’t anything else. The death of Ros’s mother was harsh on her, and she explained how her poem shows her grief as throughout the poem she tries to avoid the subject of death even though that’s what she originally set out to write about. Her talk gave the poem a deeper meaning as her emotions were evident and I liked how she was able to be raw with the audience about it even though it seemed to still be a sensitive subject for her.
By Nadine, Year 12
I felt deeply inspired by the emotional vulnerability the poets showed as they opened up about their work, especially Ros Barber. I loved how they offered an insight into their work explaining the truth behind what motivated their poems. Daljit Nagra opened up about his political poem, “Look we have coming to dover!” He spoke about the poem giving immigrants a voice and the importance of doing so, this moved me and encouraged me to stand up for what I believe. Meeting the poets felt really rewarding to me, it was amazing how lovely and helpful they were in answering any questions we had. I would definitely recommend the poetry conference to anyone because it has guided me into gaining a greater understanding of the poems as I can connect with the passion the poets pour into their work.
By Lottie, Year 12
Ros Barber spoke with such emotion and rawness to the crowd as she explored the context of her poem, ‘Material’. She focused much less on the analysis of the poem, but instead gave an insight into the context of the poem which was created due to the sudden death of her mother, which was such an intimate topic to be sharing. In her talk, Barber described it as a poem she ‘needed’ to write rather than something she wanted to. As an A-Level student, it was so beneficial to hear the reasoning behind the poem from the poet themselves, including minor details which only they would be able to know and share, as it helps me to further understand the poem. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing from all poets, but especially Ros Barber, as the depth of her loss and grief was felt not just through the reading of the poem but also from revealing her own vulnerabilities with the crowd as she shared with us the story of how she came to write it and also how it helped her cope and come to terms with the loss of her mother.
By Ren, Year 12