Changes: National Poetry Day

by Matt Goodfellow

I always enjoy the challenge of writing a poem for a particular theme, and as one of the National Poetry Day ambassadors, I know that every year there will be something new to write about for the celebrations that take place on National Poetry Day (Thursday 4th October). This year, the theme is ‘change’ – which is a huge topic to think about, and this is a challenge in itself. How do you narrow it down? Human changes? Seasonal changes? Change is all around us, all of the time. So I had to sit down and really think hard.

I had lots of different ideas about how to approach the theme, but my mind kept coming back to how we as humans sometimes change to suit the different environments we encounter. In my experiences as a primary teacher (I worked in the classroom for over ten years) and a writer in schools, I often meet children who struggle to ‘fit in’ and who feel the need to try to change who they are in order to conform to the ‘norm’ or, as in my poem, disappear from view entirely. These are children who need support, encouragement and kindness in recognising their unique qualities and individuality – the ‘fire in their eyes.’ 

So the idea is set. Now comes the writing – and, of course, inherent in writing is change. A finished poem is often completely unrecognisable from a first draft. Line order changes, rhyme schemes can change or disappear completely – ideas that seemed brilliant yesterday change to something clunky or unclear the next day. And all of this is the wonderful challenge of being a writer – sculpting and shaping your work into something that you are happy with. Having said that, I know that many writers feel a poem is never completely ‘finished’ and will continue tinkering with and changing words long after it has first been published.

Reading through the brilliant Poetry For a Change anthology which has been published by Otter Barry, it is incredibly interesting to see how my fellow poets have considered the idea of change. In the book, there are caterpillars and werewolves (as well as my chameleon kids!); poems about sunflowers and summer holidays. And the interesting thing with poetry is that your viewpoint on each poem can change with each read. A seemingly simple poem can become more textured and complex with each read and similarly a poem that on first read seems impenetrable can become looser, revealing some new clue or signpost every time you come back to it.

My personal favourite of the lot is, ‘Becoming the Eagle’ by the wonderfully gifted, Jan Dean. Look it up – read it out loud. Read it quietly to yourself. It will change you.

One of the lovely things about writing for National Poetry Day is that we also get to pick a poem by another writer which deals with the same theme. And this year, I chose ‘The Way Through the Woods’ by Rudyard Kipling. I love this poem. I love the rhythm and flow of the words, and the reminder how quickly change can happen. Everything must pass.

So now it’s over to you: read the poems in the book, and watch the videos of poets reading their work on the NPD website – see what they mean to you. Do they stimulate any of your own thoughts about change? If so, get your notebook out (if you’ve not got one, get one!), write your ideas down and play around with them. Let them settle on the page for a few days and then come back to them. What you’re looking for are the indefinable nuggets of gold. A word, a phrase, a line that catches your attention and makes you want to write the poem. Guess what? You’re a writer!

Best of luck on the journey – and if you don’t like what you’ve written… you can always change it!

This is a guest blog by Matt Goodfellow and the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG. Watch Matt read from Poetry for a Change here

Matt Goodfellow‘s acclaimed debut collection, Carry Me Away was released in 2016 and his most recent collections are The Same Inside, written with Liz Brownlee and Roger Stevens, and his highly-acclaimed Chicken on the Roof was published by Otter-Barry Books in 2018.  

Matt worked as a primary school teacher in Manchester for over a decade before embarking on his poetry career.  His high-energy performances and workshops have delighted, excited and enthused thousands of children in schools, libraries and bookshops across the UK. His performances and workshops are fun, creative and interactive – leaving children (and adults!) engaged, energised and eager to write and perform their own work.

Matt is a National Poetry Day Ambassador and has an original poem in the first ever official National Poetry Day anthology Poetry for a Change, published by Otter-Barry Books. 

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